“What is sexual attraction? What does sexual attraction feel like?” Phrases like these show up often in the list of search terms that lead people to this blog, and while I think my usual readers are well past the question, I want to make a more direct post on the subject for the people who need it. The short answer is “a manner of interpersonal attraction that in sexual in nature”. But if you want the long answer, keep reading.
[edit: if you found this page though Asexual Advice, please read this.]
What sexual attraction isn’t:
- Sexual attraction isn’t “wanting to have sex with someone” — at least, not exactly. There’s a difference between attraction and desire.
- Sexual attraction isn’t something you can miss. Some people worry that it might be possible to not notice sexual attraction — that it could be there, somewhere, and it’s just being overlooked — but this idea doesn’t actually make sense, as explained in my post about the theory of “dormant” sexuality.
- Sexual attraction isn’t the only kind of attraction. Sexual attraction isn’t even the only kind of physical attraction. There are ways to find a person attractive that feel nonsexual, too.
- Sexual attraction isn’t necessary for a crush or a romantic relationship. Period.
- Sexual attraction isn’t necessary for much of anything, actually. If you don’t feel it at all, that doesn’t necessarily say anything about you, and there are plenty of people who are the same way.
What sexual attraction is:
- a type of attraction: It is an involuntary feeling, an impulse, a draw or pull toward another person that seems to come from nowhere and is not bound by logic or actual desires.
- sexual in nature: There is some ambiguity in the word “sexual”, so whatever counts or doesn’t count as sexual for you, that’s what applies here. Genitalia feature in most people’s definitions, but it’s not unusual for some definitions to be broader than that as well. If in doubt, go with what feels least-wrong for you.
- roughly similar to other physical impulses: By far the most popular metaphor for sexual attraction is hunger and appetite, and while drawing too many comparisons between the two could be creepy, the physical sensation itself is admittedly somewhat the same. With both, there is a sense of discomfort and yearning that (generally) comes with the intuitive knowledge that this feeling calls for or could be resolved by a specific action.
“But what does it feel like?”
This is a common refrain among people who have recently joined or are on the edge of joining the ace community. If you’re researching sexual attraction and considering the possibility that you might be asexual, you may be thinking that all the descriptions of sexual attraction you’ve found thus far have been inadequate for understanding it. Maybe you understand it in the abstract, but you’re still looking for a better way to pin it down, or you can’t imagine what it actually feels like to experience something like that and are hoping to find a more thorough explanation that will make things click.
I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but that may not be possible.
And that’s okay.
As much as I have against food metaphors, maybe this one will help. A long time back, when I was little and working my way out of a picky eater stage, I was warily considering trying some new foods — among them, strawberries. However, I wasn’t about to rush into things. Giving the idea some careful consideration, I had to ask my mom what they tasted like first.
My mother, not having the spirit of a writer, does not enjoy crafting descriptions as much as I do, and she didn’t show much patience for the question — especially since I tried to press her for specifics after finding her first answer unsatisfactory. “They taste like red,” she told me.
Well then what does “red” taste like?
It’d been a facetious answer to begin with, but it was in response to a nigh-unanswerable question. There are numerous other ways of describing the way a strawberry tastes, of course — and Mom went on to give me a few more conventional adjectives to elaborate — but I knew I wasn’t getting the full picture, and she quickly got frustrated with my persistence. The problem with pursuing this question, she told me, is that you can never understand what a strawberry tastes like if you’ve never experienced that kind of taste before. No amount of description would be able to convey the experience to someone who hasn’t had it. Because I’d never had a strawberry, I didn’t have the adequate frame of reference to be able to imagine, just from words, what a strawberry tastes like. The same can be said for lots of things.
If you’ve never experienced sexual attraction before, it’s possible that you’re not ever going to be able to determine precisely what it would feel like if you did. For some people, a distant, abstract intellectual understanding of sexual attraction may be the best they’ll ever have access to. And that’s okay.
If you feel like the term “sexual attraction” isn’t a useful way to describe anything that’s happened to you personally, then that’s how it is. You’re the one who has the most authority to judge. If you continue to feel uncertain on the subject, though, you might be interested in exploring more information about identities like asexual, gray-asexual, or quoisexual. Keep researching if you need to, send me a question if you want, and may your journey be a good one from here on out.