An illustration of a woman looking longingly at herself in the mirrorBBC Three

'I'm autosexual and I fancy myself more than other people'

What's it like when you find your own body more of a turn-on than your partner's?

Writer wishes to remain anonymous

Contains adult themes

It might sound strange but I’ve always been attracted to myself. Like most people, I had all the regular teenage insecurities about my personality and my looks, but every now and then I’d look in the mirror, when I was getting out of the shower or getting dressed, and feel a rush of sexual attraction. I’m not what you might call traditionally attractive – I’m slim with a big chin and frizzy hair but the sight of my naked body really turns me on. Running my hands over my curves, my nipples and my soft skin gives me a thrill unlike anything else.

I never thought there was anything weird or unusual about it, until I casually mentioned it to my friends when I was 17. We grew up together and are still really tight. We often chat about our sexual experiences, so when I told them, I was expecting them to feel the same as I did, and to understand what I meant. But none of them got it. Instead, they found what I was saying funny and kept making jokes about me being self-obsessed. I laughed along with them, but inside I was wondering what was wrong with me. That was the first time it hit me that I’m sexually attracted to myself in a way that most people aren’t to themselves.

Autosexual - schoolBBC Three

Today, I’m used to feeling this way. It’s only recently that I’ve learned that there there might be a name for this fuzzy sense of self-desire that I’ve felt for so long. These days, I’m proud to call myself an 'autosexual'.

It’s a term that sex scientists have struggled to define, and there’s not much data or research into it, as yet. It’s first thought to have been coined by the late sex therapist Bernard Apfelbaum in a paper published in 1989. He used it specifically to refer to people who have trouble getting turned on by someone else sexually.

But today, it’s used more loosely to refer to people who are primarily – sometimes exclusively – attracted to their own bodies. Michael Aaron, author of Modern Sexuality: The Truth About Sex And Relationships, told Refinery29 that feeling turned on by yourself is quite common: "Some experience it more like an orientation, in that they feel more aroused by themselves than by others, and they are called autosexuals."

Over the years, some people have tried, unsuccessfully, to reason me out of feeling this way. And I’ve lost track of the number of times ‘friends’ have suggested that maybe I’m just a narcissist. That is unlikely to be the case, says Dr Jennifer McGowan of University College London. While Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) is a diagnosable disorder with symptoms including an inflated sense of self, a constant need for admiration, and a lack of empathy - autosexuality is different.

Dr McGowan explains: "Autosexuals are more comfortable sexually when in their own company, while narcissists crave attention. Autosexuality is also not likely to be associated with a lack of empathy or desire to give others pleasure – sexually or otherwise – but rather a preference towards a private and personal sexual experience."

For years now, I’ve mainly masturbated to images or fantasies of myself. I conjure up memories of myself lying naked on the beach, or remember a time when I touched myself in the bath while my housemates were downstairs. Someone else’s touch just doesn’t do it for me in the same way.

Autosexual - bathBBC Three

As with other sexualities, there is a spectrum of autosexuality. It's thought by some experts that if - like me - you think about yourself when you masturbate, or have even fantasised about having sex with yourself, you could be a full-blown autosexual. If, however, you just get a bit aroused by the sight of yourself having sex or posing in lingerie, you're probably not autosexual in the strictest sense.

For me, it goes beyond masturbation. It’s about feeling a deep, instinctive attraction to myself whether I’m alone or with a boyfriend. I know that most of my friends get turned on by the thought of their sexual partners – if they’re not with them they dream up fantasies involving them. For me, it’s different – while I do enjoy sex with other people, I need to be thinking about myself, and touching myself, to orgasm.

Some autosexuals are also autoromantics which means they like the idea of dating themselves too. One woman, Ghia Vitale, has written about being in a relationship with herself. "I take myself out for coffee, go on walks in nature, dress in lingerie and cuddle up to myself, or simply sit in the darkness and bask in my own presence," she writes.

"Sometimes, I light candles and do sensual dances for my own entertainment. When I’m feeling especially positive about life, I do a lot of things to romance myself. I’ve learned how to create dates with myself out of thin air. Something as simple as lotioning my body can turn into a sensual, sexual moment, sometimes voluntarily and other times on its own."

I can relate to some of what Ghia is saying, and I do have an amazing sex life alone. And I also know that it can be just as fun with the right person who understands my needs. Besides, relationships aren’t just about sex. I personally love the idea of getting married and having a family one day. I don’t see why I can’t have that just because I sexually enjoy myself.

While I’m out and proud about my autosexuality now, it hasn’t always been so easy. After that first aborted attempt to explain it to my friends, I struggled with feelings of shame around it. I stopped talking about it for a long time and used to hide it from boyfriends – it became almost like my ‘dirty secret’.

Autosexual - boyfriendBBC Three

Once, I was with an ex and we were having sex next to a big mirror. I kept looking at myself in the mirror instead of at him. Even though he had an amazing body, my pale, skinny frame was just much more of a turn on for me. When I told him the truth, he was upset because he felt like I didn’t fancy him. All I could do was try to explain that it’s not that I think I’m this perfect goddess. I know I don’t fit society’s narrow beauty standards – I still get insecure about feeling fat or ugly – but, when I’m feeling horny, I find the way I look really hot.

Another guy I was dating seemed to take it a bit better and said he saw it as a sign I had healthy self-esteem. He made my autosexuality part of our sex life – he liked watching me turn myself on, and it helped me stop feeling so ashamed. We even used to joke about how I fancied myself more than I did him. But recently, I’ve realised that making a joke out of something so personal is not the same as accepting and being comfortable with it.

While I've learnt to embrace being an autosexual there are still times when I wish I was 'normal'. It's frustrating when your friends can't relate to what you're going through, and sometimes when I'm with a boyfriend, I feel bad that I'm getting a different kind of pleasure from our intimacy than he is. In those moments, I wish I could just put autosexuality on pause, and explore a more 'regular' sexuality.

But then I remember that nothing is 'normal' with sexuality and we're all different. People are queer, bisexual, asexual... as society becomes more open, and people are more honest about their sexuality, I feel like we're starting to see just how fluid sexuality is. I hope that one day, autosexuality is more widely understood because I'd love to be able to tell my family about it. Right now, they just wouldn't get it. I once tried to describe it to my mum but she looked freaked out, so I stopped.

I recently met a female autosexual online and confessed I might be one as well. It felt so good to have the response be mutual understanding, rather than laughter or awkwardness. We’re such a new community that we’re still figuring out exactly where we fit in on the sexual spectrum, but I’m just glad to have a way of explaining how I feel.

Autosexual - mirrorBBC Three

If the chance came to be involved with another autosexual it could be amazing. It would mean I'd have a truly equal relationship for the first time in my life, where we'd both feel the exact same way about our sexualities. I just have no idea how to find someone though - it's not exactly the kind of box you can tick on a dating app. At least, not yet.

A lot of people won’t get this, and it is easy to mock it, or judge it, but ultimately unless you are an autosexual, then you will never know how good it feels. I get to have great sexual relationships with other people, but at the end of the day, I get my best orgasms with myself – and whether I’m single or in a relationship, I’m always going to be there for myself. What’s not to like?

As told to Radhika Sanghani