How do young couples and singles experience sex and intimacy?
In the Open and Bare series, VICE engages young singles and couples – each with their own story about how they experienced intimacy and excitement – to talk about their sexuality and love. They also literally undress for a picture taken by nude photographer Jonah Brown.
In this edition we talk to Janes (23), who is bisexual. This means that you can only have sex with people with whom you have a romantic relationship. Janes tells us about dating without sex and how it feels like a freak your whole life.
VICE: Let’s get straight to the point: How is love?
jeans: I always say I feel like I’m living in a rom-com. I had some relationships that I later realized were really bad. No hate, but my mental health suffered greatly. My former partners saw love primarily as a cure for their loneliness, not a way to complete each other’s lives. After a while, I wasn’t myself anymore, but I became the person I had to be for them.
What exactly does that mean?
My ex-partner was quite critical of my body. It was also often thought that my style of dress was inappropriate – I’ve always liked old, crazy sweaters. Another ex was not particularly confident about the fact that I came across as ‘feminine’. I’m not binary and I’m more in touch With what people in the West see as “feminine”: I like to wear earrings, for example. I changed because of that relationship: After a while, my friends said they didn’t know me anymore. Right now I’m dating mainly because I want to experience the world through different eyes, not with the intention of getting into a relationship. Also because I love building romantic relationships. I don’t feel sexually attracted, I just want to meet people.
Your term for this is “lack of sexual orientation.” What does that actually mean?
It falls under the umbrella of “asexuality,” where you feel less or no physical attraction. You also have something like aromatic, where you can have less or no romantic feelings for someone. Removing sexual orientation means that passion and person are more important in a romantic relationship, and physical attraction hardly plays a role. This physical attraction can arise from an emotional connection. The latter is often a requirement before you feel anything physical. What asexuality means to someone, varies greatly from person to person.
Does sex eventually become important once you have an emotional connection with someone?
I struggled with this for a long time. I often saw sex as a way to be intimate with someone. Now I’ve found out that sex isn’t really necessary for me. I think it’s fine to do that, but I don’t feel anything about it. If someone I love wants to do it, I will do it because I want them to be happy. During sex, I often think about what I would like to have for breakfast, what I still have to do that day, and whether I still have to answer emails. I don’t mind sex, but it doesn’t bother me.
Could you be attracted to someone?
Yes that’s right. For me, attraction is completely related to personality. For example, I never have a file celebrity crush It was. I can see that the person is handsome in theory, by our standards. But it does absolutely nothing for me.
By the way, you mainly like “male” people, so you have a type in that.
I think it’s because women have always been my allies and not potential partners, even in my youth. Falling in love with them feels like betrayal. I am very intimate with my girlfriends. Sometimes it feels like we can be a couple, but the dynamics aren’t the same as I have with the male characters.
You are also on Tinder. How do you know when you can pass someone right if looks don’t matter to you?
I mainly focus on CV. Does anyone have the same taste for music as me? Or a beautiful vision of life? In addition to appearance, you can also infer other things from someone’s photos. For example, if someone takes nice trips or surrounds himself with many friends, it can be interesting for me to get to know them.
Eyes that radiate happiness can really appeal to me. I can like someone on the train doing something cute or smiling a certain way. I am very attracted to happy aura.
how beautiful he is. Do you ever tell people you’re bisexual?
Yes, of course. My Tinderbio is a huge wall of text. It happens that people are averse to it. It’s a knockout race with multiple hurdles: some people drop out because I’m nonbinary, others because I’m bisexual. Sometimes he asks me what exactly I have in my pants. Someone has also told me that they don’t know how to date me because sex is not important to me. Within the gay community there is pressure to be too sexual. I often like to have very deep conversations on dates. Many people find this very difficult and sometimes very intense. Dutch men tend to be emotionally closed off.
Since childhood I have learned that sex is an essential part of romance. How did you find out that this is not the case for you?
That was a really bad experience, a battle with myself. When I was young, I was often called “gay” or “poof”. I didn’t get it, because I wasn’t really attracted to anyone until I was eighteen. I saw my friends go through stages in which they developed their sexuality, and because of that I felt pressure to explore that as well. But I actually didn’t want to, and that made me anxious.
I had the idea that freedom and sexuality are linked: you must try sex, or else you will be oppressed. Gender is seen as an important part of feminism. Furthermore, many non-sexual acts are viewed as sexual, such as men holding hands. It is also often thought that your relationship is only good if the sex is good – sex is the way to confirm that you like each other.
Because of this pressure, I ended up having sex with people. I later regretted it because I wasn’t ready at the time.
How did you end up with the term “demisexuality”?
When I was 17, I had a ridiculous side hustle, hoeing potatoes, which involved pulling potatoes from the ground onto your knees with your bare hands. There was a heat wave at that time. I was depressed and was very heavy, which made this work very physically stressful for me. I befriended a boy with a sun allergy, who felt like he was dying every day. As a result, we were very unhappy and connected. This friend is part of the LGBTI community and he knew a lot about him. When I told them how to experience love, and asked them questions about it, they came up with very valuable information. I didn’t know what to look for on the internet because I didn’t have the words for it yet. Thanks to that friend, I got the vocabulary to express what I was feeling. I have my own experience with bisexuality and bisexuality, but it helps to read about it. Before that I was an unhappy child.
Was this related to your search for your identity?
I’ve had chronic depression since I was eight years old, in part due to attention deficit disorder. I grew up in Duqm, a city in Friesland, where I didn’t really know people like me. As a result, I always felt neglected. Before I knew the term “non-binary” I went through many different classifications because I was searching a lot. I doubted for a while whether I might be trans, but I never felt the need to change my body.
I was also very explosive. I often sat in my room screaming and crying, and then all the pent-up sadness came out. The treatment didn’t really help me at the time. I was bullied a lot. When I got out, things were thrown at me. Once my house was sprayed with eggs. That’s why I was indoors mostly. You played a ridiculous amount. I gained more and more weight, until I no longer recognized myself. When I graduated from high school, I wanted to change something. Then I lost 23 kilos in two months. After that I felt more free.
There are times when I still struggle with my body. I have some saggy skin. Sometimes I find it hard to see myself as I am. On the other hand, I have come to the point where I understand that I don’t have to be everyone’s taste, and that I can also live happily and comfortably as I am. My body doesn’t have to be pretty, but I have to make sure I can do nice things. My depression has robbed me of so many important moments and milestones, making me want to try and do all sorts of things now that I feel better. Additionally, it has ensured that I have formed valuable and deep bonds with the people I surround myself with now. It makes me feel strong enough to keep working over and over again. It can be a bad experience not knowing who you are. I am happier than ever because I put so much effort into this endeavour. I now know a lot more who I am and what I want.