'Demisexual,' 'biromantic': LGBTQ youth adopting wide array of labels

LGBTQ youth used more than 100 different terms to describe their sexual orientation in a survey conducted by The Trevor Project.
By Thomas Ilalaole

"Bisexual polyamorous," "greyromantic demisexual," "biromantic homosexual" — these are just some of the increasingly nuanced labels LGBTQ youth are using to describe their sexual orientation, according to a new report by The Trevor Project, a crisis intervention organization for LGBTQ youth.

Summer Hoagland-Abernathy, 21, identifies as demisexual biromantic.Mike Rundle / The Columbia Chronicle

The report is based on data from the project’s 2019 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health, which surveyed tens of thousands of LGBTQ youth aged 13 to 24 across the U.S. from February to September 2018. Using responses from nearly 25,000 of the those surveyed, the researchers found that 1 in 5 LGBTQ youth used a term other than lesbian, gay or bisexual to describe their sexual orientation. In fact, respondents provided more than 100 different terms to describe their sexuality.

"A lot of other surveys that exist, particularly some that are done on the federal level, only capture gay, lesbian and bisexual," Amy E. Green, director of research for The Trevor Project, told NBC News. "If we had done that, we would’ve essentially mislabeled or not allowed for the expansion of identity for 20 percent of our sample."

Myeshia Price-Feeney, a research scientist at the project, said that the LGBTQ youth surveyed were "looking for ways to identify both their sexual and romantic attraction." She described a romantic attraction as an emotional attraction toward another person, where there’s a desire, for example, to spend time together and build a relationship. A sexual attraction, on the other hand, is based on sexual desires. Price-Feeney said these two things can be related, but they can also be distinct.

"They were using labels such as things that were falling on the asexual spectrum, but also giving a romantic label for that — ‘asexual aromantic’ or ‘asexual panromantic,’" Price-Feeney explained.

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Those who identify as asexual, according to The Trevor Project, may have little interest in having sex, even though many of them desire emotionally intimate relationships. Aromantic refers to "people who experience little to no romantic attraction, and are content with close friendships and other nonromantic relationships," while panromantic refers to "a person who is romantically attracted to others, but their attraction is not limited by the other person’s sex or gender."

Summer Hoagland-Abernathy, 21, a student at Columbia College Chicago, identifies as "demisexual biromantic." Demisexual, according to The Trevor Project, refers to those who "only experience sexual attraction once they form a strong emotional connection" with another person. Biromantic refers to someone who is romantically attracted to men and women.

"Finding the language to express sexuality is as important as expressing it," she said. "I found the language to say that I'm biromantic and not bisexual. There is an important differentiation there, and that is the level of sexuality involved in this orientation."

Robert Mooney, 24, identifies as demisexual.Courtesy Robert Mooney

Robert Mooney, 24, a U.K.-based journalist, said he first realized he was demisexual while in college.

"I was in a relationship, and on a regular basis the idea of sex in relationships was a talking point," Mooney said, noting that the idea of having sex with someone before he was emotionally connected made him uncomfortable. "It freaked me out, but after a bit of Google searching, I finally found a label that I could identify with and learn more about."

Cara Kovacs, 29, a relationship coach in New York City, also describes herself as demisexual.

"I identify as demisexual because I find it very difficult to get joy or pleasure out of intimacy that does not come from a deeply emotional and connected space," she said.

Green said The Trevor Project plans to use the data from the report to help educators and health professionals better engage with LGBTQ youth.

"Those stakeholders who work with youth or who conduct research on youth need to expand the ways that we ask youth about their sexual orientation so that youth are not forced to choose a box that doesn't fully capture their identity," she said.

"I think as our community continues to expand, and we have more research and knowledge about us, we are better able as a community to understand ourselves and understand our youth," Green added.

As for Hoagland-Abernathy, she said having her nuanced sexual orientation recognized is an affirming experience.

"Fitting in is one of the scariest aspects of life for a lot of young people, and in a community that is recognized as one of the most inclusive, everyone who identifies with it should feel that they are safe in this space," she said.

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