Those who prefer casual or anonymous sex to repeated-partner play have likely, at some point in their sexual journey, contended with the wrath of slut-shaming culture. But for some, the preference for emotion-free sex is more than a celebration of sexuality and bodily autonomy; it’s a sexual orientation. Behold: fraysexuality.
“’Fraysexual’ is a term that describes someone who experiences sexual attraction towards people they don’t know or don’t know very well,” says queer- and polyamory-inclusive sex educator Lateef Taylor. And that sexual attraction they feel towards strangers or new acquaintances can wane as time goes on and they get to know the person better.
According to Western Aces, an asexuality resource guide originally created for Western Washington University students, fraysexuality can be considered the opposite of demisexuality, or the sexual orientation in which someone doesn’t experience sexual attraction until an emotional bond is formed. What demisexuality and fraysexuality have in common, however, is that both fall along the asexuality spectrum . “Fraysexuality falls under the asexuality umbrella, because it names an experience of sexual attraction that falls outside of ‘the standard way,’” Taylor says.
What fraysexuality is not
Having a fraysexual sexual orientation has no bearing on the gender to which a person is attracted nor the experience of attraction (or lack thereof). It also has no implication on a person’s romantic orientation or preferred relationship style or structure.
“Someone can be gay and fraysexual or straight and fraysexual,” says sex and relationship coach Caitlin V., MPH, who identifies as fraysexual. Likewise, someone can be fraysexual and also experience romantic attraction to people of any gender or genders—or not. (This is known as one’s romantic orientation.)
Someone can be fraysexual and also experience romantic attraction to people of any gender or genders—or not. (This is known as one’s romantic orientation.)
Someone who is fraysexual may also be aromantic, meaning they don’t experience romantic attraction, but they could also be biromantic, homoromantic, heteroromantic, or any other romantic orientation. “Losing interest in someone sexually once you get to know them does not mean you lose interest in them romantically,” says Taylor.
Fraysexual folks who do experience romantic feelings may also have a preferred relationship structure, meaning they could prefer to be monogamous, non-monogamous, polyamorous, or in swing relationships. V. notes that some people (herself included) experience their preferred relationship structure as their own type of orientation.
What fraysexuality can look like IRL
For V.—who, in addition to being fraysexual, is pansexual, heteroromantic, and non-monogamous—life is full of connection, good sex, and a loving marriage. She and her primary partner, who have been together six years and married for two-and-a half, are in a non-monogamous relationship.
They met through mutual friends, and were acquaintances for about a year and half before they started dating. V. had moved to another state, but connected with her now-husband one night when she was back in town. “Our mutual friends saw a window of opportunity for us to get together and gave us their master bedroom for the night,” she says. The next morning, they woke up and talked for hours.
Their relationship has since been through a number of different iterations before getting to its non-monogamous structure. “For a long while, I tried to make myself fit into a polyamorous framework, but being non-monogamous was a way better fit for me,” V. says. Polyamory denotes multiple romantic and emotional connections as well as sexual ones, she explains, while non-monogamy simply names the ability to have extra-marital sexual interactions.
While non-monogamy is a big part of how V. gets her sexual needs met, it’s not the only way. “Even though I identify as fraysexual, I still experience sexual desire for my husband,” she says. “We have built a container for our sex life that keeps me highly invested through experimentation and novelty.”
Could you be fraysexual? Here are 5 steps to help guide you to the answer
1. Reflect, reflect, and reflect some more
“Start by thinking about how your interest in people sexually has ebbed and flowed,” says Taylor. Don’t limit your thoughts to just the people you’ve had sex with, but rather consider anyone you’ve felt sexually attracted to at some point.
“It’s also common for someone who is fraysexual to think they’re asexual when they’re in a relationship because they’ve stopped experiencing sexual desire for their partner.” —Lateef Taylor, sex educator
Looking back on her past sexual experiences and urges, V. realized that she’s always been most sexually attracted to people she barely knew. “In college, I found it easiest to hook up with people in clubs I might not otherwise have been socializing with,” she says. After college she entered into a string of unfulfilling monogamous relationships. With each, as soon as they got emotionally close, she found herself looking at others. “I thought this meant I should explore open relationships, but even as I entered those waters, I still only found myself wanting to sleep with acquaintances,” she says.
According to Taylor, “it’s also common for someone who is fraysexual to think they’re asexual when they’re in a relationship because they’ve stopped experiencing sexual desire for their partner.”
2. Consider how you felt while reading this article
“As soon as I read the definition of fraysexuality, I felt an enormous wave of relief rush over me,” says V. The learning empowered her to embrace ebb and flow she experiences in her sexual feelings and understand that other people experience the same, which provided a sense of support and community.
That said, if you felt aligned with or comforted by the existence of fraysexuality, that does not in any way obligate you to identify as fraysexual. Identity markers you claim for yourself are always yours to choose.
3. Do internal work to unpack feelings of shame
In our society, there’s a lot of shame associated with casual sex, sex with strangers, or sex outside of a committed relationship with the intention of building emotional closeness. But those activities are vital for someone who is fraysexual to feel fully expressed, says V. If you are—or think you could be—fraysexual, she says it’s important to acknowledge that you may have internalized sex-negative messages about casual and anonymous sex.
To help explore those feelings, journaling with a prompt like, “What were you told about when it’s okay to have sex, and with whom?” may be beneficial. And working with a sex-positive, queer-inclusive therapist, and following sex educators on social media can also help.
4. Introspect on the importance of sex in your life
In theory, “someone who is fraysexual can be happy in any kind of relationship style,” says Taylor. “It ultimately comes down to how important sex with someone they’re sexually interested in is to them.” If someone fraysexual places a low-value on sex, they can absolutely be in a happy, monogamous relationship. And someone who places a higher-value on new sexual experiences, like V., may be better suited to a non-monogamous relationship.
So ask yourself: In my dream world, how often would I be having sex? How much of that would consist of me partnered or multi-partnered versus solo? What would that sex entail? The answers can help you determine the relationship structure that will best fit your needs.
5. If you have a partner, talk to them
To get the conversation going, consider sending them this article. Or say something like, “I recently discovered an orientation called fraysexuality, and after learning more about it, I think the reason I haven’t been interested in sex recently is because I am fraysexual. Can I send you the article so we can talk about what this means for us?”
And be prepared that their reaction might be negative or that you may end up feeling judged. It can hurt, but remember they are just enacting what they are conditioned to believe, says V. Most likely, they grew up in a sex-negative society, like you did. “They may also fear that they’re going to lose you, or that you’ll lose interest in them,” she says. So, as you talk, do your best to acknowledge their fears and insecurities, and reassure them if you can do so in good faith.
And remember, says V, “no matter what your sexual orientation and relationship style, it’s always going to take work to create and sustain sexual and romantic interest in another person.”
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