“Strawberries Taste Like Red”: A Post on Defining Sexual Attraction

“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.

10 responses to ““Strawberries Taste Like Red”: A Post on Defining Sexual Attraction

  • saraharnetty

    Basically, the way I identified as asexual was that I didn’t fit in the ‘straight’ pigeonhole, I didn’t fit in the ‘gay’ pigeon hole and I never, ever thought I was bi. Asexual seemed to fit, but really only when I knew what romantic orientation was, then it all kind of clicked. The thought of being sexual has always been sci – fi to me, or things other people did. Whenever I experienced crushes (as rare as they are), they were only ever emotional. Love and sex have never went hand in hand with me.

  • Calum P Cameron

    Reminds me a little of Adwin A. Abbot’s ‘Flatland’. A 2D shape does not know what it feels like to be 3D. A 3D shape does, but cannot easily describe the experience to a 2D shape. That’s just the way it goes.

    Of course, Abbot was talking about rigid adherence to Victorian cultural hierarchies rather than experiences with attraction, so he took the analogy in a completely different and (in this context) less helpful direction. But still.

  • Linkspam: August 8th, 2014 | The Asexual Agenda

    […] The Ace Theist wrote about defining sexual attraction. […]

  • epochryphal

    Yes yes yes. Especially liking the note about generally intuitively knowing a specific action would bring resolution. Really interested in talking about what that means in a given context, with a given set of experiences; now that I have more sexual experience, I can sooooort of better deduce what I would like to do with someone, but it feels much more analytical and reliant on past data rather than intuitive, and I have to *thiiiink* about it.

    Also super interested in talking about “missing” and “misinterpreting” and dormancy and repression and fluidity — especially re: neurodivergence. Atypical processing, and register errors, and identifying a feeling later via analysis. The entire “sexual attraction is confusing” as orientation, and unpacking that, the different ways it can be confusing, what it means to find resolution, what it means to think you’ve resolved it but later find it’s confusing again (woohoooo). What it means for it to be rarely felt as Clear and Definite but still sometimes, but largely nebulous and fuzzy, and whether that difference recommends a different type of relationship strategy (for me, very very much so). And of course, how not to get wrapped up in a Finally Clear experience and wreck a relationship by overfixating or what have you.

    Yes. More of this discussion.

  • Re: Greyness 301 | The Ace Theist

    […] think a lot of time confusion around “Do I experience sexual attraction?” comes from asexual-spectrum people not understanding how sexual attraction, as a term, is […]

  • Vasha

    I’m pretty sure I’ve come to the realization that I shouldn’t expect to experience sexual attraction pretty much ever, but, in a similar vein, I’ve had this sort of discussion with a lot of people with what romantic attraction feels like. A lot of people can, for the most part, decide what is sexual, and so they can recognize when they want to do something sexual with someone else. But pinpointing something as “romantic” seems to be a lot more difficult.

    Usually, I get an answer somewhere along the lines of “well, you know, you want to kiss them and stuff like that.” But that implies that all kissing is inherently romantically coded, which I don’t really think is true, and that definitely sounds really cultural.

    I think the problem to me seems to me to be sexual attraction deals more with an action and romantic attraction is more of a feeling? Like sexual attraction means “I want to do sex with this person.*” Okay cool. And romantic attraction means “I want to do romance with this person*”? But that looks different to everyone, so… I guess like you said, you either feel it or you don’t, and you can’t really have it explained to you if you don’t feel it. :/

    *I recognize that’s technically more of a desire thing, but I wasn’t sure how to word it. I have an urge or something?

    Anyone else have any thoughts on this?

    • acetheist

      “But pinpointing something as ‘romantic’ seems to be a lot more difficult.”

      I agree, and I (and a lot of other people) have the same trouble. Romance is both a very personal and very culturally-determined thing, and the existence of lithromantic and lithsexual people makes the concept even more difficult to pin down.

      For me, the shortcut solution to dealing with the question of “Do I/have I experienced romantic attraction, and to whom?” is to shrug, call myself quoiromantic, and instead ask, “Is there anyone in my life right now that I’d actually want to romance?” which, for me, is a lot easier of a question to answer.

  • Vectors, Scales, and Spectrums | The Ace Theist

    […] examination/my articulation of what sexual attraction “is,” you can check out my Tastes Like Red post (which y’all have probably already seen, but I’m linking it here for the sake of […]

  • AA: Attraction and Fantasy | The Ace Theist

    […] acts of thinking about sex, dreaming about it, fantasizing about it, etc. as necessarily requiring sexual attraction.  If you see the two as linked for yourself, that’s completely valid; there are also aces, […]

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