Differentiating Types of Attraction

magnetBecause sexual attraction usually (but not always) comes mixed with other kinds of attraction, prying them apart for categorization can be a tricky process, firstly because some allosexuals resist attraction disambiguation on the basis that it’s “not necessary” — for them, because they experience these attractions simultaneously.  However, even a bisexual friend of mine reports having experienced sensual attraction to a man she was not sexually attracted to.  We were in the midst of a discussion about attraction types when she came to this realization, with a sudden exclamation of “OH, that’s what it was!”

[This article is now available en français! Thanks, Valentin!]

At the time, she couldn’t identify what it was she was feeling, and thus was unsure how to act on it, caught between thinking the guy wasn’t sexy and yet feeling physically attracted to him.  This demonstrates a flaw in the common practice of explaining sexual orientation with phrases like “physically attracted to” or even just “attracted to”.  People can be attracted to people in nonsexual ways.  While I can acknowledge and sympathize with the skeptics who think all attraction is the same (and that mincing it into types is just an excuse for aces to avoid admitting we aren’t really asexual) there’s too many reasons to believe that the theory of simultaneous attraction uniformity is not accurate even for allosexuals.  For me as a gray-a, this fact has been a point of confusion for… well, pretty much up until I discovered an explanation of different attraction types.

This post might be useful in helping to clarify a few attraction terms, but primarily, it’ll consist of personal reflections on how the conflation of these concepts has hindered my understanding of myself and other people.  In effect, a discussion of how these wires get crossed might even be more useful to some people than a strict guide.

This post will not deal with romantic attraction (which I find pretty difficult to identify, if I’ve experienced it at all) or other emotion-centric forms of attraction — not because those aren’t valid, real, and worthy of discussion, but because I’d like to focus on problems that arise when “physical attraction” and “sexual attraction” are used as if interchangeable.  They’re not, and this post will illuminate why.

Attraction, in this discussion, is used to mean a feeling of being drawn to, or experiencing a pull toward, a recipient whose qualities inspire an impulse of a particular nature.  This is not the same as being willing to engage in a behavior with someone, nor is it the same as experiencing a general desire that you’ve selected someone to satisfy.  This definition may seem a bit convoluted right now, but bear with me.


For instance, you can admire the beauty of this horse without making it a sex thing.

My first understanding of attraction, as a kid, was a very heteronormative understanding of aesthetic attraction.  I’ve already talked about how being a person on the asexual spectrum in a heteronormative environment can make a mess, but in essence, I was starting with a complete lack of understanding of how sexual attraction was different from aesthetic attraction.  Aesthetic attraction is a feeling pertaining strictly to appearance, creating an impulse to gaze the recipient, and it can be experienced toward objects and animals as well as people.

The widespread belief in this culture, and what some would argue, is that aesthetic attraction toward a member of the same species (and of the appropriate gender) is automatically, or basically the same thing as, sexual attraction.  Depending on your sexual orientation, the people you’re aesthetically attracted to are the people you’re sexually attracted to, and there is no difference.

This makes less and less sense the more you think about it, but I didn’t think about it much when I was younger.  You can understand the source of the confusion if you think about some of the ways people describe people they’re sexually attracted to: pretty, handsome, beautiful, dashing, gorgeous.  All words that could equally pertain to aesthetic attraction — in fact, much of the time, sexual attraction and aesthetic attraction go hand in hand.  I possessed a vague awareness that not all aesthetic attraction is sexual, even though I couldn’t name it in those terms, but it never occurred to me that sexual attraction could occur without aesthetic attraction.

That’s why it baffled me when I read a certain passage of October Sky in which a girl was referred to as “Old Glory”.  The details escape my memory, but she was, according to the first-person narrator, somehow very ugly and yet had an appearance that made her desirable as a sex partner.  She was not aesthetically attractive, but she was hot.

I didn’t get it.  I thought being aesthetically attractive was what made girls hot.  Now I was learning that there was something else.  Puzzled, I assumed that it either had something to do with these boys having high sex drives or her being more aesthetically attractive below the neckline.  Since nobody talks about the fact that sexual attraction and aesthetic attraction are different things, and since I’d never even heard attraction specified by type before, I was unequipped to make the realization that sexual attraction is its own distinct concept.  Thanks to this and heteronormativity, I was also unequipped to realize that I wasn’t straight.  That’s not to say that I never questioned my orientation — I did, and I tried to open myself to the possibility that I might be gay or bi, and I gave it all the due consideration I knew how to give, but only accurate term for myself was one that nobody talked about or treated as real.

Since I was unable to figure it out on my own, the problem left my mind until years later when I was studying a book called Passing.  The story is told in third-person limited point of view from the perspective of a woman named Irene, and there’s a passage that goes into intricate detail to describe a woman named Clare.  From the text, it’s clear Irene thinks Clare is a beautiful woman.  I found nothing odd or remarkable about this.  Women regard other women as beautiful all the time, and if you believe and understand that straight women can tell when other women are aesthetically attractive, then how do you suppose they accomplish this if sexual attraction and aesthetic attraction are (in the case of human beings) synonymous?

Suffice to say I interpreted the text from a very asexual perspective.  Imagine my surprise, then, to discover how prevalent an interpretation it is among academic literary critics that Irene is sexually attracted to Clare, with evidence drawn chiefly from this passage.

Anton Ego frowns in confusion

This was for the same class in which the professor implied the protagonist of The Turn of the Screw could be hallucinating due to sexual repression.

This time, I wasn’t just confused, I was annoyed. Don’t get me wrong; if a reader believes that Irene thinks Clare is a sexy lady — fine.  I’ve got no beef with interpreting characters as queer. However, the use of that section of the text as uncontested evidence was a point of consternation for me, because when I read it, nothing about it seemed sexual at all.  There was no reason to differentiate her attraction to Clare from regular old visual appreciation, no additional element to indicate any erotic undercurrent, nothing explicit or suggestive enough to make it unambiguous.  Convinced of this and frustrated with near-unanimous consensus otherwise, I kept going over in my head the difference between thinking someone’s hot and thinking someone’s generally attractive, mulling over my absolute certainty that I could think people were pretty or handsome without the feeling being sexual.  Heck, I think my sister’s pretty sometimes, and if you think I must be sexually attracted to my sister, then you’re creeping me out.

These internal protests drove me to defend my beliefs about my orientation again, mentally negotiating with myself, assured that those readers were sexualizing a description that was just detailed, not sexual — something I was adamant about because how Irene seems to feel about Clare sounded exactly like what I sometimes feel toward my own gender, and does that mean I’m gay?  I kept coming back to the question, but I was sure that I wasn’t. However, what I overlooked — and what was probably the source of some anxiety underlying this insistent internal contention — was that when it came down to it, the way I felt about members of my own gender was none too different from how I felt about the members of other genders whom I (as a “straight” person) was supposed to find hot.

So did that mean I was bi?  I didn’t think so.  It didn’t seem to fit right, somehow.  I’m still straight, I told myself.  I’m interested in people of the “opposite sex”, I’m fascinated by their bodies, I want to touch them most places, I just… don’t care much about their genitals.  But I’m still straight, I told myself, because I’d never heard of another word for what I was feeling.  Maybe some people are just more straight than others.

I’m luckier than many aces in that I had certain buffers, certain aspects of how I was raised, to make it easier for me to accept this about myself.  In a way, I did know myself and what I was, just not how to name it — that I’m a person who doesn’t experience sexual attraction.  It’s tough to come to that conclusion in a culture where almost all touch between genders is sexualized.  Sexual attraction, as it’s typically depicted in media, often includes aesthetic attraction and sensual attraction mixed in as if inseparable, as they are for many people.  Nonsexual aesthetic attraction is sometimes treated as believable, especially between women.  However, nonsexual sensual attraction is treated with a little more skepticism, a problem not helped by the fact that some people use the word “sensual” as a euphemism or synonym for “sexual”.

feathersSensual attraction is a feeling pertaining strictly to touch, creating an impulse to initiate contact with the recipient. A nonsexual example of this would be touching someone’s face or embracing them in a hug.  Since this is a type of attraction, it’s not the same thing as wanting to cuddle someone as a way to comfort them when they’re sad, or as an expression of affection, or because you’re craving contact in general.  All of those are valid, real feelings, but they’re not what I use the term to refer to. The best definition for it I’ve ever seen — and I can’t find the source where I found this, unfortunately — is that sensual attraction is “the feeling you get when you see a fluffy kitten”.  For me, this term is a useful description for how I sometimes feel a random and inexplicable (but controllable) urge to touch people.

This conjures the ghost of an objection I dealt with earlier, which is that if you’re physically attracted to a human, then it must be a case of sexual attraction (i.e. sensual attraction cannot occur without sexual attraction) but I think my bisexual friend would disagree with you.  After all, it’s not as though she doesn’t recognize in herself the capacity to be sexually attracted to members of his gender — she just wasn’t, that time, and it makes a lot more sense to allow all people to recognize the particulars of what they’re feeling then it does to push them toward a mindset in which all intimate touch must ultimately be for and about sex.

Unlike romantic and sexual attractions, sensual attractions are not generally regarded as a basis for a separate orientation, and only once have I seen someone refer to themselves as “pansensual” as an identity label, among a string of others.  Nonetheless, borrowing from the logic of demiromanticism and demisexuality, I can envision a scenario in which someone might be “demisensual”, never experiencing sensual attraction except for sometimes when they’ve gotten to know someone very well.  Again, these attraction terms are not about willingness to engage in a behavior but about the experience of a particular internal impulse.  In theory, there might be people who have never experienced sensual attraction at all.

It’s useful and comforting for me to know about these terms so I can better understand my own experiences and find words for what I want.  The problem is that I need other people to understand these terms as well, and I’m not sure that they do.  As a supporter of bodily sovereignty, I believe in requiring consent for all, even nonsexual, forms of touch — but I’m shortchanging myself of what could be a mutually consensual cuddly interaction due to uncertainty that my requests would be understood.  I feel uncomfortable even asking to touch people because expressing sensual attraction has a pretty low chance of not being interpreted as sexual attraction, and I’m pretty keen on not sending the wrong message.  The worst case scenario is not that someone says no, but that someone takes my interest in physical contact as an interest in sexual contact.  I just want to live in a world where I can say I want to cuddle someone without anyone thinking that has to come with anything else — but that’s never going to happen until our culture abolishes the notion of the touch escalator.

Man, I just think some people look cuddly, okay?  Sometimes it’s not indicative of anything else but that, and if I express any of these sentiments offline, I don’t want to have to be anxious about what people will think.  It’s not that I want more people to be okay with casual cuddling — any reason is a fair reason not to.  It’s just that I want there to be wider awareness that it’s even a legitimate possibility.

So when you use the phrase “physical attraction” to mean “sexual attraction”, you’re neglecting to acknowledge that aesthetic and sensual attraction can exist on their own terms, which misrepresents the experiences of people of all orientations.  It’s especially damaging to people on the asexual spectrum, who already have enough demands to explain and defend our orientation without this additional confusion.  Finding people physically attractive does not necessarily negate asexuality, because not all physical attraction is sexual, and that’s what we need more people to understand.

There can also be other forms of attraction that weren’t discussed here, including something I’ve heard termed “intellectual attraction”, and you’re encouraged to find words for whatever sensations you’d like to find words for.*  Tell me about ’em in the comments.

* I’m very confused by anyone who claims there can possibly be “too many words” for anything.

Something that’s always struck me as odd is the way that advertisers will sometimes declare something to be an “attractive offer”.  Attractive how?  Could we say there’s another type of attraction, some sort of “financial attraction”?  It’s an amusing thought, anyway.

61 responses to “Differentiating Types of Attraction

  • Victrix

    This post pretty much addresses one of the things, partcularly the last paragraph, with the constant use of the word sexy to describe things as being good or appealing. I’ve lost count over a two week period of university lecturers using it to describe phones, roads and even accounting concepts.

  • locoluna77

    This makes some very good points. I’ve never really thought about differentiating between attractions before but I knew on some level there were different kinds. Thanks for putting words to my thoughts!

  • seiji

    i like that “pretty horse, not sexy horse” caption because i didn’t realize until pretty recently that i’ve always used those words backwards. animals can be sexy, cars can be sexy, chocolate can be sexy, girls can sometimes be sexy (because, as you point out, girls are allowed to express aesthetic appreciation for other girls without being automatically sexual), but boys are NEVER sexy. boys are handsome, cute, nice-looking, but i subconsciously avoid calling boys “sexy” for fear of inviting reciprocal interest. i’d even remove the compliment another step further by specifying “he looks really good dressed that way” or “that’s a very handsome photo of him,” so on some level i recognized early on a need to separate aesthetic appreciation from ~some other kind of attraction i didn’t feel~.

    boys might take my “sexy” the wrong way because ALL interest in a viable sexual partner is sexual, y’know. but, say, Porsches and tigers won’t expect anything from me, so it’s safe for me to use the word “sexy” to express whatever kind of interest it is that i feel toward Porsches and tigers. that’s aesthetic and/or sensual interest i feel toward cars and cats, not sexual, of course, but how was i to know the difference?

    • acetheist

      That’s something I completely understand, and I have some of the same reservations, hesitating about how (or whether) to compliment someone.

      For most of their lives a lot of people never do learn the difference, it seems like, and that’s something I want to see change. Currently, with how little attention or discussion there is toward this, it’s hard to ever become cognizant of it unless you deliberately sit down at think about it. Having additional and specific words to express your feelings and get at what you want can only be beneficial, and being able to separate the types of attraction is one way to help with that.

      I’m glad you liked the caption. Thanks for commenting. This experience is a pretty good example of some of the things the post talks about, too.

  • Kat

    Excellent! As an asexual who is demiheteroromantic (well, at least with fictional characters – my guess is the asexuality has kept me from getting too close to other people at times, too – because well…I don’t want to falsely ‘lead someone on’ (I’m rambling. I’ll shut up now). But I find this fascinating. Could I be demisensual? Possibly. :) I can envision wanting to give certain people a hug or possibly wanting to hold hands with a future asexual boyfriend XD (which makes me sound like I’m 12). But you get what I’m saying. :) (And yes, sometimes I feel like my life is a parody of normalcy).

  • Jillian

    You were also in the links on The Asexual Agenda today. :) And well-deserved.

    I’ve been pondering this sort of thing in the past few days and this sentence is especially helpful to me: “…these attraction terms are not about willingness to engage in a behavior but about the experience of a particular internal impulse.” That phrase, “internal impulse,” is perfect. I’ve been trying to describe it as “innate desire” and it just wasn’t as good.

    • acetheist

      Yep, they feature my posts there in the linkspams on a regular basis, probably because I post so darn much. To put things in perspective, though, as of right now, today there have been 23 clicks referred from The Asexual Agenda and 291 clicks referred from Facebook, so I was a bit startled by all the traffic, haha. Quite exciting (and a bit nerve-wracking) but it’s cool that more people are seeing this post.

      Right, that was a pretty deliberate word choice — for me, the word “desire” has a more will-dependent, deliberate, conscious kind of connotation, which is why I sometimes avoid it in these discussions. Otherwise that would undercut the idea that attractions aren’t under your control. Anyway, I’m glad you get some use out of the phrase; I always like stumbling upon terms that are more accurate and precise for what I mean. Thanks for leaving a comment.

  • codeman38

    Wow. I love this post. I can associate with a lot of it.

    This is very closely related to something I wrote about in a Carnival of Aces post back in February, but you went into a lot more detail than I did: http://codeman38.tumblr.com/post/44253657670/separated-by-a-common-language

    • acetheist

      It’s always good to hear I’m not alone.

      Thanks for the link — according to my browser, I’ve already added it to my favorites, but it was nice to read through it again. Gotta agree that ambiguity can be detrimental sometimes.

  • Ahnee

    Thanks for writing this, a lot of my friends don’t understand how I can call someone pretty and yet not want to get in their pants. You’ve explained it far better than I ever could.

  • identitey

    Your follows are very much well-deserved! I admire how clearly you write and wish I could do the same. And yep, I’ve got the weird marketers too. A bed and breakfast joint in Virginia is really interested in my life, apparently.

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  • justlosefaith

    Thank you SO much for writing this. And for following my blog so that I could find you in the first place and do the same in return. I love your posts. I’m 24 and only recently discovered my own asexuality. I was still confused about sensual attraction until reading this post. Now it makes sense to me, and yes, I think I’ve never experienced it before, just like I’ve never experienced sexual attraction. I don’t mind hugs, or cuddling, but I’m never drawn to the action/the physical touch in that way. I might want to comfort someone when they’re sad with a touch, but it’s not an “Attraction” for me. I have felt the desire to touch really soft-looking items when I walk by them in a store, like a “fleece” type sweatshirt or a stuffed animal, and now I think I understand that desire can apply to what some people feel too.

    I especially like everything you wrote from ” Since nobody talks about the fact that sexual attraction and aesthetic attraction are different things, and since I’d never even heard attraction specified by type before, I was unequipped to make the realization that sexual attraction is its own distinct concept. Thanks to this and heteronormativity, I was also unequipped to realize that I wasn’t straight.” and the Irene and Clare stuff, up through where you questioned if you were bi or whatever and “But I’m still straight, I told myself, because I’d never heard of another word for what I was feeling.” – Because I experienced the EXACT SAME THING in my journey to discovering my asexuality. For years these kinds of thoughts crossed my mind, and gosh I wish I hadn’t had to struggle so long with figuring out what I felt/thought.

    • acetheist

      Well thank you for reading it. The more responses like these I receive, the more I feel affirmed that this information needs spreading.

      • justlosefaith

        It really does need spreading. I’m trying to do my part. Actually I’m not quite 24 yet – won’t be till tomorrow haha – but I still feel kind of old to be first coming to this party lol. I just re-read all 3? of the blog posts of yours that I read today, sharing them with my dad. He’s been learning about asexuality through me and we’ve been philosophizing about this stuff together. It’s always great to have a resource like this.

        • acetheist

          Man, I wish I could talk to my parents about this stuff. I’m glad he’s open to learning!

        • justlosefaith

          Yeah, I can talk to my dad and my brother about anything and everything and them with me as well. We don’t have anything that’s off limits when it comes to discussion in our little family of 3. We’re close and liberal and it’s very nice. ;) I know I’m very lucky in that sense. I don’t have a female close family member like that to talk to about any of this stuff, so that’s a little frustrating, since I am female and things are different sometimes across gender lines haha… but it could be worse for me, for sure.

  • Angie

    This is an amazing read and the first part especially describes quite accurately how I feel. I only realised last year that I might not be straight (I’m 20 now o_0) simply because whenever I considered my orientation I always drew the conclusion that I just wasn’t sexually attracted to girls and I never realised til late last year that not being sexually attracted to anyone was even an option. Everyone I’ve talked has being very supportive of me coming out as queer, but they still keep telling me that I just haven’t met the right person yet which just really frustrates me ’cause that’s what I’ve been telling myself my whoe life and I was /wrong/ and now that I’ve finally figured it out I want to be able to just /be/.

    I feel both aesthetic and sensual attraction quite strongly and since, as you said, these both get bundled up with sexual attraction in popular discourse I had a lot of trouble realising exactly what I was feeling. And even now working out exactly where I fit is so incredibly confusing because I’ve spent 20 years trying to shove myself into a box that just doesn’t fit.

    Sorry I’m going on a bit- there are just so many things that I want to articulate to my friends IRL but none of them get it and it’s sooo frustrating.

    Anyway amazing article that gave me more feelings than I was prepared for haha :)

    • acetheist

      I’m glad it was helpful to you! The “you just haven’t met the right person” thing is definitely BS. Did your friends have to meet a “right person” before they started experiencing sexual attraction on a regular basis? If they have a gender they’re not attracted to, do they just need to meet the “right person” from that gender for those feelings to appear? But yeah, that’s a common response that asexual people get, and it’s disrespectful as all getout, even if they don’t realize it.

      Good luck on your journey to figure yourself out (I’ve been there — and am still there, in some ways), and thank you for sharing your thoughts.

      • radiantrachel76

        I just want to mention, for the general record, I had no idea I could be sexually attracted to women (same sex) until my best friend asked to kiss me 20 years ago and it was like a switch was flipped. I’ve just, in the last 9 days or so, figured out I’m demisexual, so that probably explains that bit of weirdness. But that can happen. By the way, I really liked this piece, because I’m trying to suss out exactly what sexual attraction is and why I’ve repeatedly thought I was sexually attracted, but then realized I really wasn’t (usually too late to stop the train) and left feeling incredibly confused and yucky.

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  • deconstructionships

    Wow, thank you for that! (Late to the party since I only discovered this thanks to the link from the “platonic” article.) I had pretty well differentiated aesthetic versus sexual attraction, but I hadn’t gotten as far as defining sensual attraction as a separate category. As someone who has recently come to be a very big believer in nonsexual cuddling, I can pretty keenly appreciate that being its own category. I may have to add “pansensual” to my rambling self-definition, haha.

    Where do you think the line between sensual and sexual touch is, though? Is it specifically whether or not genitals are involved? I can think of a situation I’ve been in where the surrounding energy was pretty erotic, there was kissing, there was all sorts of touch, but I still didn’t care at all about messing with the other person’s genitals or vice versa. And I know I can be very sexual at times, so… I’ve been wondering what to call that. Something to think about.

    And I fully understand not wanting to ask someone for cuddles, since that is a difficult thing in our society. I’m lucky enough to have been introduced to a community of people who understand that not all touch is sexual, but I generally refrain from bringing it up outside that group (or other people who I already know are just cuddly people). Have you ever heard of Cuddle Party? It’s basically an organization that’s trying to change that perception, plus allow people to effectively communicate boundaries. It did a lot for me and I’m hoping to become a facilitator one of these days when I can afford the certification process.

    • acetheist

      “Where do you think the line between sensual and sexual touch is, though? Is it specifically whether or not genitals are involved?”

      That’s a discussion that could be a whole ‘nother post. And it should probably be written by someone with more experience in both, at that. But I’d say that the involvement of genitals isn’t necessarily the determining factor. I guess it’s just… however the participants feel about it? Which sounds kind of reductive, but presumably a sexual interaction has some undercurrent of arousal or sexual attraction driving it; I’ve also heard people talk about the distinction as being that sexual interaction feels more “urgent”, in terms of reaching some goal, whereas sensual touch is comparatively more placid. Not sure to what extent that’s true.

      “Have you ever heard of Cuddle Party?”

      No, I have not… I might have to look into this. Thank you for bringing it up.

  • Mxtrmeike13

    “There can also be other forms of attraction that weren’t discussed here, including something I’ve heard termed “intellectual attraction”, and you’re encouraged to find words for whatever sensations you’d like to find words for.”

    I made a video about this specific form of attraction, which is called Sapioromanticism or Sapiosexuality. Since I can’t figure out how to attach hyperlinks to think comment, here’s the link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KoKZjOnJvy4

    • acetheist

      Ah, that’s one I’ve heard of before a few times — wouldn’t those each be describing romantic and sexual attraction, though?

      • Mxtrmeike13

        They would. But I imagine the case could be made for a non-sexual, non-romantic attraction to intelligence. Did you mean it a different way?

        • acetheist

          No — yes, that is what I meant. I’m not someone who finds such a concept personally useful to think of as a form of attraction, but there is a possibility that others might.

        • Mxtrmeike13

          I agree with you. I’ve been going through a massive aromatic period lately, and been more ace than demi too, so for me it’s kind of like, “Oh, well they’re intelligent. Huzzah!” rather than deriving any kind of attraction out of it.

  • tsuchi

    Thank you so, so much for writing this. I recently discovered your blog (through trying to find more information and discussion on sexuality), and I’ve been endeavouring to read all of it ever since. I knew about the “aesthetic attraction doesn’t necessarily mean sexual attraction” thing, but I’d never quite realised about sensual attraction being different as well, though in hindsight it should’ve been really obvious. I am super super averse (to the point of wanting to shudder) to being touched by people I don’t know, regardless of why, but when I am around good friends I frequently get the burning urge to initiate physical contact with them in some way. Thankfully, my friends are used to (and accept) me being a hugely physical person around them. I guess this would be defined as “demisensual”, and I’m glad to know it’s a thing that could exist. I always felt kind of strange for wanting so much physical contact with people I like, yet be so radically averse to touching others.

    However, if my sensual attraction towards people is directly proportional to how much I currently like them, then how does it work for other people? How does it work for a “normal” person? Is it possible to have sensual attraction but not, say, aesthetic attraction? Do people have randomly fluctuating levels of “touchiness”? Could someone love being touched one day but completely hate it the next? Or is it just generally a constant amount, different for everyone?

    If sensual attraction works like all the other kinds of attraction, then I guess it should be logical that it does the same kinds of things as those other kinds of attraction, right?

    sorry, I kind of got carried away, this is really long;;

    • acetheist

      Don’t be sorry! I like getting feedback. (: Always great to hear my writing is useful to someone. I promise you that all touch preferences are valid — you don’t have to feel bad for wanting to hug some people and not others.

      There’s not usually much talk about how sensual attraction works for different people, but seeing as there’s lots of correlation between how sexual attraction can work and how romantic attraction can work (ex. there are demiromantics as well as demisexuals), I’d presume it’s possible. I’ve never been sensually attracted to someone I thought was ugly, per se, so I don’t know about that question, but I’ve definitely been attracted sensually to strangers and loose acquaintances, and while I’m generally touch-favorable, I’m very picky about how/when/where/who etc. and my interest in touching people varies to what I assume is a normal degree. Not sure what other folks’ experiences are, though. I should write another post on nonsexual touch one of these days…

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  • Alexis

    Hi , so recently I was going around and found an article about asexuality and I was starting to wonder if I’m really the sexual orientation that I see myself as. I’d identity myself as bisexual because I like boys and girls one more than the other but point is I’m not sexually attracted , I just think they’re really nice looking and I they’d seem like someone I could be in a relationship with . No where near do i think oh I want to have sex with them or even bother to do that. I prefer the idea of love without sex or even if it was it’d be at a minimum. I read some books say fifty shades of grey , and really the only reason I kept v reading was because of the character development and everything aside sex . Eventually , I got fed up with the series because sex was overused and really becoming annoying like “is that all its about, where’s the platonic relationship?” Then I watched a Korean movie this year and the moment I turned it on a couple seconds later a guy was having a one night standand I was like ” oh my f**** gosh ” and instantly turned it off , I was like really , are you kidding me ? Turns out the movie was pretty good until there was a damn sex scene , this time it was waay overly passionate and idk very annoying so I skipped it. I’m a virgin yes I’ve tried masturbating it’s really whatever physically good but I m not a big fan of it. Basically what I’m trying to say it’s that u don’t think I’m bisexual anymore. If you could help me figure myself out that would be great. When I like the person it’s for looks and personality and everything else except sex.

    • Spade

      It sounds like you’ve got a lot figured out already.

      What labels you choose to describe yourself will ultimately be up to you, but I can tell you that the most common definition of asexuality in the ace community these days is “not experiencing sexual attraction to anyone”, i.e. not finding people sexy, but there are other reasons people identify as asexual as well. If you’re mulling over whether to call yourself asexual, I’d recommend looking through some more blogposts and other pieces by asexual people about their experiences (tumblr and wordpress are a good place to start). Not all asexual people have the same experience (ex. some don’t get crushes and some do, some have sex drives and some don’t), so don’t expect uniformity, but that should give you a good idea of who you’d be grouping yourself in with if you decided to identify as ace.

      Whatever you decide to go with, you have my support. I hate when there are sex scenes in movies, too.

  • punpundone

    This post is really interesting and well written. I’m questioning whether I’m demisexual, and honestly this post is really insightful and might’ve helped me figure out a piece of it. When I have a crush, its not “I want to have sex with this person” its more “I’m very attracted to you.” I didn’t honestly know that there was that much of a distinction, and I feel like this might be a “piece of the puzzle” as it were. So thank you. Seeing stuff like this really helps me.

  • Caroline Guidry

    This puts into words everything I’ve been trying to explain to myself and to others for a long time now. Thanks! This post gives me some comforting external validation and confirmation of what I feel and think.

  • charliecon

    Thank you for describing this. I can relate to this a lot. It took me a lot to realise I was not straight but an asexual heteroromantic, because I used to mistake sensual attraction for sexual attraction. Also, I often experience intellectual attraction, for me it is essential to feel romantic attraction and almost always to feel sensual attraction at all.

  • Discovering types of Attractions | The Lesser Spotted Human

    […] blog in particular I found really useful : Differentiating types of attraction. It’s also important as the author above gives the definition of attraction – this is […]

  • Lissy

    This, and your post regarding the differences between sexual attraction and sexual desire, actually helped to clear up a lot of issues I have about my own identifying as asexual. I’m currently in a QPP with an amazing friend, and since I’ve discovered that I can experience sexual desire, I’ve been generally very confused as to my asexuality. Knowing that I actually experience desire without attraction aides me well in continuing to explore my sexuality and what it means.

    I just wanna say that I, interestingly enough, never understood what the word “sexy” truly meant until my partner defined the word to me. Previously, I just conflated it with a way of looking at a person I never understood. I don’t experience aesthetic attraction much – if I do, it’s usually towards women and even then, it’s extremely easy to ignore, so it has always been a sore point that I could never truly appreciate what a person meant by such a word. “Sexy” lacks a feeling to it, for me. It’s a word I will never fully be able to understand, kind of how I still don’t understand sexual attraction in a more than theoretical manner.

    Thank you for writing these two articles ;3 It truly did help!

  • AA: Questioning and Attraction | The Ace Theist

    […] attraction,” to differentiate it from sexual attraction.  I have an old post about this here.  Long story short, the word “attractive” is pretty vague, in that people who use it […]

  • Tryingtounderstand

    Thank you for giving me words to explain and understand the way I feel. That the unexplained want to touch someone isn’t necessarily sexual as well as being able to think someone is attractive without wanting to “do the sex” with them. It’s like every time I say someone is aesthetically pleasing I want to bone them and no. Just no. Thankyou for taking the time to explain this in such easy to understand ways.i totally get what you mean about wanting to just be near someone and growing up in in a way that made you assume that meant you were sexually attracted to them. And thank you for making it understandable that it doesn’t. I really appreciate these definitions because I’ve been trying to figure out how to make people understand I can understand someone is attractive without being Sexually attracted to them and I could never get them to see the difference but this makes it so clear. And I also want to say thanks because I’ve been pretty sure I’m asexual for a while but without a difference between these things (which I literally couldn’t fine anywhere else) I kept doubting myself which made me think there was just something wrong with me and knowing that I’m not broken just not understanding the words is amazing. I knew I felt but until this I thought what I felt was somehow wrong and that people were right when they said I just hadn’t met the right person or its just because you’re not in a relationship and you’ll find the right guy but I could look at girls and guys and see the same thing and not want to touch either or if I did want to touch either it wasn’t sexual but I assumed it was because what else is there and this was really helpful in breaking the terms down to were I can understand them and be sure of what I’m feeling. Thank you.

  • Nima

    Thank you for this article -although a few years old, it’s the best written description of the topic I have seen yet. I guess you can say I’m intellectually attracted to it :D
    I’m going to use this to help describe to (sexual) people how I feel about the world around me, like you said, they simply aren’t aware that there are differences, because every kind of attraction -towards people suiting their orientation at least- seems to be interpreted as a sexual attraction.
    After reading your article, I guess I would consider myself as an asexual, demiromantic, polyaesthetic and bisensual.
    To most that still equals “alien”

  • From Fandom to Family: Sharing my many thoughts

    […] the majority of the time in my life I’m not touching other people. I also have general “sensual desire” when I’m traumatized or grieving, where I want to hug and touch people and […]

  • Cecelia

    Thank you for writing this, and for being so descriptive on the different types of attraction. Until recently, I was unaware there even multiple types of attraction and this is the best, most detailed article I’ve found on the topic. I have been thinking about whether I may be asexual, but was most confused on the actual definition of sexual attraction because most descriptions of asexuality just say “aces don’t feel it” and leave it there. I didn’t know if I’d ever felt sexual attraction because I had never looked at someone and thought “I want to f*ck them”, but I still find people pretty and good looking, and sometimes feel a desire to hug or touch someone. I always thought the feelings were the same, until I heard of sensual and aesthetic attraction. So basically, this is my long-winded way of saying thank you so much for helping me sort out my confusion. I am mostly sure now that I am asexual, or at least on that spectrum! I will definitely check out other stuff you’ve written, because if it’s anywhere near as good as this is, I’m sure I’ll love it!

  • Hayley

    Wow thank you so much for this article. Over the past two days I’ve been looking for clarification on the different types of attraction because I’m pretty sure I’m demisexual. I never really have ever wanted to do anything really sexual with anyone and I was always kind of confused when people would freak out over a “hot” guy they passed or some celebrity. I’ve always looked at people and have gone “wow they’re very pretty” and for the longest time I just thought I phrased it that way because I just didn’t like the terms “hot” or “sexy”, but now I realize that I don’t like those terms because I honestly don’t understand them. I personally totally get the whole cuddling thing. I would have times where I would just want to cuddle with someone or I would want to be physically affectionate, like hugging, or holding hands, or cuddling with my close friends. But I wouldn’t because I knew people would see it as being sexual while I just wanted to be close to me friends. Thank you so much for explaining the difference in primary and secondary attraction. This whole article helped to clear up so much of what I was confused about. Thank you so much.

  • vonc00ker

    I think I’m five years or so late in reading this. It almost *perfectly* addressed the issue that I was thinking about today. I’m still working on understanding the actual (to Me) differences, but you’ve been a HUGE help in at least showing Me some words and a framework to develop My own expression.

  • A Mini History of Different Types of Attraction in the Ace Community | The Ace Theist

    […] these terms had more or less entered standard ace parlance by 2012, and I even wrote a post about Differentiating Types of Attraction in 2013 (that I now cringe to reread, but whatever). Different names for subtypes of attraction […]

  • Exploring Attractions: Part 2 – Aesthetic Attraction – sildarmillion

    […] Once in a while, I will come across someone whose features are so beautiful, it will make me catch my breath. Looking at them will make me feel a little bit light-headed and my heart will beat ever so faster. But I think I can always keep a poker face even though there are butterflies in my insides. I sometimes get the impulse to tell a friend that I just got the butterflies, but I pretty much always keep my mouth shut, because everyone tends to assume that if I got the butterflies, it must mean I’m actually interested in this person. But in these instances, I rarely am. I don’t particularly want to get to know them, or ask for their number, and if I never see this person ever again, that’s totally fine by me. Aesthetic attraction can exist in isolation like this, and I’ve read other accounts of similar experiences. […]

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