Towards a Better Model of Attraction

1 Jun

So, a few weeks ago I was sitting around in the dining hall with fiveroundsrapid and bitey-mad-lady, and as tends to happen the conversation turned to attraction and all its complexities (after we had exhausted the conversation about Doctor Who, of course).  FRR is romantic and asexual. BML is kinky, panromantic, and (probably) pansexual. I’m kinky, aromantic, and straight. Between us, we are officially confused about this attraction business.

After a good half an hour of discussion, this was the result. After three napkins worth of notes, we felt we had just scratched the surface, but I thought it was interesting enough to make a post about.

So, our model divided attraction into four components: romantic, sexual, emotional, and kinky. Following this post on Hacking the Heart, I’m going to add a fifth: sensual attraction.

Romantic Attraction:

I did my best to define romantic attraction in this post, and I think I was on the right track there. I’ve since refined the definition and found better ways to talk about it, however, so I’m going to start from scratch here.

Romantic attraction (as I define it) is the particularly “romantic” part of things. It’s butterflies in the stomach, intrusive thoughts of the other person, thrills when you hear their name. Most crucially, from a definitional perspective, it’s contentless. It’s not that you feel drawn to the other person because of some other thing, you just feel drawn to the person, full stop. If you find yourself adding the word “because” in a sentence, you’re probably not talking about romance any more. As an aromantic, when I miss someone, I miss them because I miss the conversations or the sex or the cuddles. When a romantic person misses their partner, however, they just miss them because they miss them. The other person’s very existence (divorced from anything about the person) is something that pleases them.

I’m convinced that this thing exists, based on the conversations I’ve had with several romantic people over the past few months. If enough people say that this isn’t what they mean by “romantic attraction”, then I’ll change the label, but this is definitely a real phenomenon.

Romantic attraction is on a scale (from completely aromantic to completely romantic), and can come with a gender preference.

Sexual Attraction:

Sexual attraction is a primal, full-body experience of desire for the other person, often connected with arousal and/or sexually explicit fantasies. For some people, it can happen immediately upon meeting the other person. For others, it requires a certain amount of emotional intimacy before it occurs (these people are called demisexuals). I suspect there are even more complications than that, however. For me, it doesn’t really occur until there’s been some sensual intimacy (I’ll talk about what I mean by that later), though emotional intimacy is much less important.

Again, this is on a scale from completely asexual to completely sexual, and can come with a gender preference.

Emotional Attraction:

We might need a better word for this, but I think this is a crucial and under-appreciated part of attraction. This is the desire to really get to know the other person, and to share in their life. It involves a desire to be vulnerable with the other person, and for them to be vulnerable with you. It can include sharing secrets, taking care of each other, and talking about feeeeeelings until the wee hours of the morning.

I see no reason this sort of attraction couldn’t be on a scale, with optional gender preference, just like anything else.

Kinky Attraction:

This definitely exists, and it’s definitely different than any of the above. For me, this is often prior to, or even exclusive of, the other types of attraction. I’m a dom, so it manifests for me as a desire to take power (generally physical power) over the other person. It can involve fantasies of dominating them, though it need not. Like sexual attraction it’s very visceral, but it has a totally different feel. I imagine there is a parallel experience for subs, and I would be very interested to hear how it manifests for my kinky readers of all orientations.

As with everything else, it’s on a scale with an optional gender preference.

Sensual Attraction:

I’m stealing this idea wholesale from Antissa, so let me quote what she says about it:

Sensual attraction is experiencing the desire to be in physical contact with someone, though that physical contact, no matter how close or intimate, need not be sexual.

I think this is a really useful concept. In my own case, I experience sensual attraction well before sexual attraction, and the switchover is very dramatic. For more details, her whole post is fantastic.

And, once again, it seems obvious that it should be on a scale with an optional gender preference.

I suspect that we could continue adding varieties of attraction more or less indefinitely. I also suspect that no two people share the exact same attraction profile. Each of these can vary in their intensity, frequency, and type of person they are aimed at. I have some level of kinky attractions to all sorts of people, but am primarily attracted to women in every other category. I am aromantic (or very close to it), but have overpowering needs for sensual and emotional attraction. Strong sexual attraction is pretty rare for me, but strong emotional attraction happens all the time. I don’t have any reason to believe that I’m especially complicated, so I bet we’d find that we need a lot more labels than “gay, straight, bi, and asexual” once we got everyone to think about themselves in these sorts of terms.

ADDENDUM: Outlawroad complied a great list of definitions, which I think improves on my post in certain ways. You can see it here.

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11 Responses to “Towards a Better Model of Attraction”

  1. Adriatic June 2, 2011 at 5:26 pm #

    Could we get aesthetic attraction on the list, maybe? It’s not sexual attraction in my case because it doesn’t necessarily make me want to *do* something with anyone, but I’m not sure it comes under any of the other headings here either…

    • semiel June 2, 2011 at 5:27 pm #

      Can you describe how aesthetic attraction works for you? I’ve heard the term before, but it isn’t something that I understand.

      • Shiyiya June 8, 2011 at 10:22 am #

        “That is pretty and I like looking at it”? Like, I enjoy watching anime that is full of pretty bishies for me to stare at, but it’s not at all related to sex.

  2. Lih June 6, 2011 at 1:46 am #

    For me, I’d describe aesthetic attraction as attraction to someone’s physical appearance (finding them pleasing to look at, like art, I guess?) but not necessarily with all the sexual thoughts and feelings that come with sexual attraction.

  3. SlightlyMetaphysical June 6, 2011 at 4:52 am #

    If you can run out of things to say about Dr Who after that midseason finale, you’re not trying hard enough.

    Anyway, you totally covered the groundwork for the post I was halfway through writing on all this relationship stuff, so I can hopefully go away and cut it down until it becomes vaguely coherent. Yay!

    Chiming in on aesthetic attraction. And the really annoying thing about aesthetic attraction is that its purpose (looking at someone) tends to be fulfilled at the same time as it’s experienced, so you spend a while thinking “Gosh, I just wanna… [cuddle/kiss/love/marry/beat/submit to/sex up/open up to/converse with; circle whichever is appropriate] and you can’t actually finish the sentence.

  4. prettycat June 14, 2011 at 12:24 am #

    As a kinky, panromantic, pansexual sub: this is quite an interesting concept, yeah. I definitely have a kinky desire to submit, to please my dom, and to be dominated by them. I find that kink also kind of ties into the other attractions, though: I can be dominated in one sense, such as physically (which also ties into sensual things: the feeling of being held down, or tied up, or flogged), which is great, but when you tie it into the other areas, it’s just so much more – there’s an emotional level, of giving up my entire being to someone else; a sexual level, definitely; but also a romantic level: loving my dom, needing them.

    Of course, I’ve loved people in the past, and had really great non-kinky sex with them, but there is just something, so much *more*, with submitting and just giving up everything on so many levels.

  5. Ziazai December 20, 2011 at 12:54 am #

    This is an old post that I’m just reading, so sorry about that. But I’d also add intellectual attraction; that is, the desire to converse/debate with and get to know someone based on their ideas.

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