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Can you be sexually attracted to someone you hate

Photo by Brett Jordan on Unsplash

Source: Photo by Brett Jordan on Unsplash

First impressions are powerful. The moment you come into contact with someone, you may have any number of responses: You may instantly like or dislike them, feel annoyed by them, or feel drawn to them. This list is seemingly endless.

To complicate matters, sometimes powerful emotions collide. You may find yourself hating someone while feeling attracted to them at the same time; such cognitive dissonance can pack quite a punch.

When hate and attraction collide, how do you know which feeling to trust?

The origin of hate in attraction

If you find yourself hating someone you’re attracted to, the conflict will likely spring from your history, particularly past intimate relationships with family, friends, colleagues, or lovers.

When someone hurts you, that hurt lives inside you. The more painful the experience, the more likely you will transfer those feelings onto others. This psychological defense is known as “transference” — transferring a feeling you have for one person onto another.

The less you know about someone, the more vulnerable you are to transference reactions, which have the potential to distort reality and color your view of relationships.

For instance, I worked with a patient whose girlfriend in high school hurt him deeply. Unsurprisingly, as an adult, he tended to distance himself from women he found attractive and developed a resistance to intimacy. He carried that bitter experience from his childhood into his adult relationships and transferred the feeling of hurt onto women that he found attractive. Avoiding relationships kept him from being hurt again, but left him lonely.

Another patient confessed that she viewed all men as potential abusers. Her history of trauma started with her abusive father and led to relationships with abusive men; who could blame her considering men with distrust?

Why you may hate someone you find attractive

If you feel attraction and hate simultaneously, chances are there’s an underlying discomfort you’re not acknowledging. Rather than exploring the true source of your discomfort, you may blame the other person for it, hate them or avoid them entirely. Here are some possible reasons why you may hate people you feel attracted to:

1. You fear rejection. You’re afraid that the other person will reject you, so you reject them first, a preemptive strike to avoid the anticipated hurt of being turned down.

2. You distrust your attraction because of past trauma. Trauma has a powerful effect on how we experience others. Trusting an unknown person is a real challenge for a person who has experienced a hurtful relationship or suffered childhood trauma.

3. You don’t want to suffer again. If your last intimate relationship ended badly, you’re likely to feel skeptical of new people that you find attractive. You may keep your distance or even treat them coldly. We tend to protect areas of our body that have been wounded. It is the same with feelings of vulnerability.

4. You feel insecure about your appearance. Sometimes when people feel an attraction to someone, they have the impulse to run and hide. They may feel shy, overwhelmed, or angry at the person for “making them” feel so uncomfortable. At the core of the conflict are social insecurity and low self-esteem.

5. You think attractive people are arrogant and feel superior. I’ve worked with several fashion models who reported that they frequently experience hostility from strangers. Such reactions may spring from people feeling competitive with them or jealous of the attention that they are receiving.

Breaking Free of Transference

It’s natural to have transference reactions to others based on your history, but you don’t have to be stranded there. Cycling through the same negative transference reactions doesn’t promote growth or leave you feeling good about yourself.

The key to breaking free of transference lies in examining and understanding your emotional responses to others. By understanding the origins of reactions, you can make empowered choices and break free of negative relationship patterns.

While individual therapy can help you to unravel your transference reactions and understand your history, group therapy is far more effective at helping you to navigate intimate relationships, set healthy boundaries, and remain true to your authentic self.

To find a therapist, please visit the Psychology Today Therapy Directory.

Some guys are easy to love. (We’re looking at you, Ryan Gosling.) Others stir up feelings of emotional disgust and something kind of like hate. And yet…you’d still probably do them if given the chance. Like, um, we won’t name any names (Vince Vaughn).

Why is that? How can you possibly be physically attracted to someone who you simultaneously find utterly despicable? We asked two sex experts for some answers.

He’s Taboo, and That’s Hot
“Attraction and sexual chemistry can be somewhat intangible and hard to define,” says sex therapist Ian Kerner, Ph.D., author of . It happens on the subconscious level, so you don’t proactively select who you’re attracted to. In fact, we all have the potential to be attracted to an extremely wide array of people, but we typically only allow ourselves to be consciously attracted to a small minority of people, he says. So when you find yourself pining after someone you don’t think you should be interested in—like the office a—hole—you self-censor and end up feeling badly about it. But since you’ve tagged the dude as off-limits, he becomes all the more attractive in your eyes.

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“The person seems like poison, but you want to jump all over them,” says Stan Tatkin, Psy.D., founder of the Psychobiological Approach to Couple Therapy (PACT) Institute and author of .

RELATED: Researchers Totally Fail at Sexist Attraction Hypothesis

He’s Something New
You might actually find yourself yearning for a man who is your complete opposite just for the novelty factor, says Kerner. “You may end up being attracted to a guy who would offer an escape from the way you normally operate.” In these cases, the person may rub you the wrong way, but he represents an antidote to your otherwise predictable life. And hate is a strong indicator of some sort of interest. “Even if I hate you, I’m intently focused on you as I would be if I loved you,” says Tatkin.

RELATED: The Weird Thing That Determines What Kind of Men You’re Attracted To

He Knows Who He Is
Another big aspect of attraction boils down to simple self-esteem. “Someone who is confident in their life, their skin, and their body would be attractive for that very reason,” says Kerner. So while his confidence may come across as cockiness—something that can irritate you—the fact that he’s living life fully and succeeding on his own terms is undeniably alluring. Even if that person is living a life that’s alien to your own, his self-assuredness in what he’s doing may be what’s hooking you.

RELATED: The Simple Flirting Technique That Really Works

He’s a Challenge
The guy you love to hate may be playing hard to get, whether he realizes it or not, and this dynamic sets off the reward centers of our brain, says Kerner. Him turning up his nose at you is rude and annoying—but can also make you want to go after him. “The more we pursue a reward, the more valuable that reward becomes,” says Kerner.

What exactly does demisexual mean?

Demisexuality is a sexual orientation where people only experience sexual attraction to folks that they have close emotional connections with.

In other words, demisexual people only experience sexual attraction after an emotional bond has formed.

The prefix “demi-” means “half” or “partly.” While asexual people experience little to no sexual attraction and allosexual people do experience sexual attraction, demisexuality implies a sort of middle ground.

According to a Wired article from 2015, the earliest recording of the term “demisexuality” dates back to 2006, when a user coined the term on an Asexual Visi­bility and Education Network (AVEN) forum.

This isn’t to say that demisexuality is something new. Although the term has only been around since 2006, it’s likely that some people have always had this experience.

What kind of bond are you talking about — love?

This emotional bond isn’t always love or romance, although it can be.

For some demisexual people, it may be friendship — including platonic friendship.

They might not necessarily love the person — whether romantically or platonically — at all.

Why does demisexuality need a label?

Your orientation describes who you’re attracted to. Demisexual people experience attraction to a select group of people.

You might wonder, “But don’t many of us wait to feel an emotional connection to someone before having sex with them?”

Yes, many people do choose to only have sex with people they have a bond with — whether it’s marriage, a committed romantic relationship, or a happy and trusting friendship.

The difference is that demisexuality isn’t about having sex. It’s about the ability to feel sexual attraction to specific people.

You can be sexually attracted to someone without having sex with them, and you can have sex with someone without actually feeling attracted to them.

Demisexual people aren’t simply people who decide to date someone for a long time before having sex with them. It isn’t about deciding to have sex, but rather feeling sexually attracted to someone.

That said, some demisexual people might choose to wait a while before having sex with a romantic partner — but this is independent of their sexual orientation.

What are other names for demisexuality?

At the moment, there are no widely used terms that mean the same thing as demisexuality.

However, demisexuality is often associated with the following terms:

  • asexuality, which is where you experience little to no sexual attraction
  • graysexuality, which is where you rarely experience sexual attraction, or experience it at a low level
  • semisexuality, which is similar to graysexuality — where you’re not entirely asexual but not entirely allosexual

Does an emotional bond guarantee that sexual attraction will develop?


To use an example, heterosexual men are sexually attracted to women, but they’re not necessarily attracted to every woman they meet.

Similarly, demisexuality doesn’t mean that a demisexual person is attracted to everyone they have a deep emotional bond with.

Does this orientation fit under the asexual umbrella?

This question is cause for a lot of debate in the asexual, graysexual, and demisexual communities.

An asexual person experiences little to no sexual attraction. “Sexual attraction” is about finding someone sexually appealing and wanting to have sex with them.

The opposite of asexual is sexual, also referred to as allosexual.

Graysexuality is often considered the “midpoint” between asexuality and allosexuality — graysexual people rarely experience sexual attraction, or they experience it with low intensity.

Some people argue that demisexuality doesn’t fit under the asexual umbrella because it only refers to the circumstances under which you feel sexual attraction. It doesn’t necessarily comment on how often or how intensely you experience sexual attraction.

Somebody who tends to feel intense sexual attraction toward nearly all of their closest friends and partners — but not toward acquaintances or strangers — might feel that they are demisexual but not asexual at all.

Someone who is only sexually attracted to one or two close friends or partners, but not often and not intensely, might identify strongly with graysexuality or asexuality.

On the other hand, people argue that demisexuality falls under the asexual banner. This is because demisexuality does describe a situation where you only experience sexual attraction in limited circumstances.

At the end of the day, it doesn’t particularly matter what anyone else thinks about where this orientation falls on the asexual-allosexual spectrum.

You’re allowed to identify however you’d like, and you’re welcome to choose multiple labels to describe your sexual and romantic orientation.

Can you apply a gender orientation to this?

Most sexual orientation labels — such as homosexual, bisexual, or pansexual — refer to the gender(s) of the people we’re attracted to.

Demisexual is different because it refers to the nature of our relationship to the people we’re attracted to. It’s OK to want to use a description that refers to gender orientation too.

So yes, you can be demisexual and also homosexual, bisexual, pansexual, heterosexual, and so on — whatever best describes your individual orientation.

What does being demisexual look like in practice?

Being demisexual looks different to different people.

If you’re demisexual, you might relate to the following feelings or scenarios:

  • I seldom feel sexually attracted to people I see on the street, strangers, or acquaintances.
  • I have felt sexually attracted to someone I was close to (such as a friend or romantic partner).
  • My emotional connection with someone affects whether I feel sexually attracted to them.
  • I’m not aroused or interested in the thought of having sex with someone I don’t know well, even if they’re aesthetically beautiful or have a pleasant personality.

That said, all demisexuals are different, and you might be demisexual even if you don’t relate to the above.

How is this different from being graysexual?

Demisexual people only experience sexual attraction after a close emotional bond has formed. This is different from seldom experiencing sexual attraction.

Demisexual people might experience sexual attraction often and intensely, but only with people they’re close to.

Similarly, graysexual people might find that when they do experience sexual attraction, it isn’t necessarily with people they have a close emotional bond with.

Is it possible to be both at the same time or fluctuate between the two?

Yes. You can simultaneously identify with being demisexual and graysexual or demisexual and asexual. It’s also totally OK to fluctuate between orientations.

What about elsewhere on the spectrum? Can you move between periods of sexuality and asexuality?

Yes. As mentioned before, demisexual people might identify with being asexual, graysexual, or allosexual.

Sexuality and orientation are fluid. You might find your capacity for sexual attraction shifts over time. For example, you might go from being allosexual to being graysexual to being asexual.

Interestingly, the 2015 Asexual Census found that over 80 percent of its respondents identified as another orientation before they identified as asexual, which demonstrates how fluid sexuality can be.

Remember: This doesn’t mean that they weren’t necessarily whatever identity they identified with before, and it doesn’t mean they’re not asexual now.

Fluid orientations aren’t any less valid than non-fluid ones.

Can demisexuals experience other forms of attraction?  

Yes! Demisexual people can experience other forms of attraction. This may include:

  • Romantic attraction: desiring a romantic relationship with someone
  • Aesthetic attraction: being attracted to someone based on how they look
  • Sensual or physical attraction: wanting to touch, hold, or cuddle someone
  • Platonic attraction: wanting to be friends with someone
  • Emotional attraction: wanting an emotional connection with someone

What does being demisexual mean for partnered relationships?

Demisexual people might or might not desire romantic relationships and partnerships.

In relationships, demisexual people might or might not choose to have sex. To some demisexual people, sex might not be important in relationships. To others, it’s important.

Some demisexual people might feel that their bond with their partner isn’t necessarily close enough for them to feel sexually attracted to their partner.

Some might choose to wait until they feel close enough to their partner, and some might opt out altogether.

Some might have sex with their partner without feeling sexually attracted to their partner. Every demisexual person is different.

Is it OK to not want a relationship at all?

Yes. Many people — including demisexual people — don’t want relationships and that’s totally OK.

Remember that having an emotional bond with someone isn’t the same as having or wanting a romantic relationship with them.

So, a demisexual person might have an emotional bond with someone and feel sexually attracted to them, but not necessarily want a romantic relationship with that person.

Do demisexual people experience sexual desire?

Yes. Being demisexual isn’t about your capacity for sexual enjoyment, only sexual attraction. And we all tend to experience sexual desire with someone we’re attracted to.

Demisexual people can also feel aroused, of course, even if they aren’t currently sexually attracted to a particular person.

There’s also a difference between sexual attraction and sexual behavior. You can be sexually attracted to someone without having sex with them, and you can have sex with someone you’re not sexually attracted to.

There are many reasons why people have sex, including:

  • to become pregnant
  • to feel intimacy
  • for emotional bonding
  • for pleasure and fun
  • for experimentation

So, demisexual people — like any other group of people — might have sex with people even if they’re not sexually attracted to them.

As for people who are asexual and graysexual, they’re all unique, and they can have different feelings about sex. The words used to describe these feelings include:

  • sex-repulsed, meaning they dislike sex and don’t want to have it
  • sex-indifferent, meaning they feel lukewarm about sex
  • sex-favorable, meaning they desire and enjoy sex

Is it common to want sex only after getting to know someone?

This is common, but it’s not the case for everyone. Many people enjoy sex without long-term commitment or one-night-stands for example, but others don’t. Some people want sex before they get to know someone, while others don’t.

Remember, there’s a difference between wanting sex and feeling sexually attracted to someone. You might feel sexually attracted to someone but not want to have sex with them for a number of reasons.

So, if you only tend to want sex after getting to know someone, it’s not necessarily a reflection of whether or not you’re actually attracted to them.

Similarly, if you happen to only want sex after getting to know someone, that doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re demisexual, although you may be.

Where does masturbation fit into this?

Asexual and graysexual people might masturbate.

This includes demisexual people who may also identify with being asexual or graysexual. And yes, it can feel enjoyable for them.

Again, every person is unique, and what one demisexual person enjoys might not be what another person enjoys.

How do you know where you fit under the asexual umbrella — if at all?

There’s no test to determine whether you are asexual, graysexual, or demisexual.

You may find it helpful to ask yourself questions like:

  • Who do I experience sexual attraction to?
  • How do I feel about these people?
  • How often do I experience sexual attraction?
  • How intense is this sexual attraction?
  • Is sexual attraction an important factor in choosing who I date?
  • Do I ever feel sexually attracted to strangers or acquaintances?

Of course, there are no right or wrong answers. Every demisexual person would answer differently based on their own feelings and experiences.

However, asking yourself these questions can help you understand and process your feelings about sexual attraction.

How can you help your loved ones understand demisexuality?

Coming out can be challenging for anyone. It can be even more challenging when people don’t understand your orientation.

The term demisexuality isn’t as mainstream as terms like “bisexuality” and “pansexuality.” Fewer people have heard of it.

As a result, you might have to help your loved ones understand demisexuality better.

Here are some ways to do so:

  • Share articles and videos with them that describe demisexuality. If you find it difficult to describe demisexuality yourself, offer them informative resources.
  • Talk about your own experiences (if you want to). They might want to know how it’s affected your daily life and relationships.
  • Tell them how you’d like to be supported. What would support look like for you?
  • Let them know whether it’s OK to tell others about your orientation.
  • Remind them that they don’t have to understand demisexuality completely in order to support you.

Lastly, remember that you don’t have to “come out” unless you feel comfortable doing so. It can be great to share your identity with your loved ones, but if you don’t want to, you don’t have to. It’s your choice!