Welcome to the round-up of submissions on the topic of ‘Experiences with Attraction.’ You can see the call for submissions here: https://sites.smith.edu/aace/2022/06/16/call-for-submissions-experiences-with-attraction/. Thank you to everyone who participated! We had five responses, from students at Smith College and University of Toronto.
- This is sort of an imaginary skit/dialogue between a hypothetical sexual and romantic person and myself, an aroace, trying to define romantic attraction and figure out if I experience it.
a: If sexual attraction is an intrinsic desire to have sex with another person, romantic attraction should be an intrinsic desire to have romance with another person.
b: But wait, how does someone “have romance”?
a: Okay, engage in romantic activities with or express romantic feelings for another person.
b: But now we have to define romantic activities and feelings.
a: Well, romance is a bunch of feelings you get, like constantly thinking about someone and wanting to make them happy, looking forward to when you see them next. Romantic activities are things you do to express those feelings to said person.
b: But how does that differentiate itself from friendship, wanting to be friends with someone? I frequently think of things I want to tell my best friend and chatting with her has been some of the best hours of my life.
a: Romance is more than that. It’s … love.
b: While you may prioritize romantic relationships, my friendships are incredibly important to me, and I would thank you not to treat them as lesser.
a: Sorry. Let me try again: romance is things like wanting to kiss, cuddle, and hold hands with your partner, to name a few.
b: So, essentially things that are coded as romantic by society, and in another culture those things could be solely sexual, sensual, or platonic, for instance.
a: Well, when you put it that way…
b: Okay, I have a question: I have a vague sense what sexual attraction is supposed to feel like, physiologically. And since I’ve never felt anything like that directed at another person, that was helpful in realizing I’m asexual. Is there any parallel that can be found with romantic attraction. Is romantic attraction butterflies in your stomach?
And that’s where my skit falls apart, because that’s a genuine question I have. I don’t think I experience romantic attraction, but I’m simultaneously not sure what romantic attraction is or if it even exists, rather than being a mash up of all the other types of attraction.
2. I identify as aromantic and asexual, and both romantic and sexual attraction are a complete void to me. However, I still use the split attraction model to differentiate between the two, as I believe my absence of romantic attraction has a significant impact on my life whereas my absence of sexual attraction does not, and therefore the difference remains important to me.
I experience all other forms of attraction other than romantic and sexual, including, but not limited to, platonic, aesthetic, and sensual. In terms of how I KNOW I don’t experience romantic or sexual attraction…on one hand, I just consider what other people have described these attractions as and acknowledge that I have never experienced anything like that, but on the other hand, I just feel this ‘sixth sense’ that I haven’t felt that way before.
Romantic attraction and behaviour completely converge for me. I know in the aspec community we preach “action does not equal attraction”, but for me, a huge part of my personal aromanticism is that I ABSOLUTELY DO NOT WANT ANY INVOLVEMENT IN ROMANTIC ACTION WHATSOEVER. It converges a little less for sexual attraction and behaviour for me. I choose not to have sex because of STI, pregnancy, etc. risks, but if health risks weren’t present, I probably wouldn’t mind trying sex for fun even if I’m asexual.
Lastly, my experiences with attraction…which are a complete absence of romantic and sexual attraction…do not conform to societal norms AT ALL…I’ve always felt like an outcast for never having had a single crush, whereas those around me are constantly discussing crushes, hot people, and the yearning to fall in love. Everyone expects you to have a crush, date, and have marriage as a life goal…so when you don’t, it’s clear your experiences are far beyond the ‘norms’.
3. I have never experienced sexual or romantic attraction, nor have I ever desired a sexual or romantic relationship, which made figuring that out much simpler. Nor have I ever found sensual or platonic attraction to be useful descriptions for me. Out of all the types of attraction that are commonly discussed, aesthetic attraction is the only one that resonates with me at all, but then again, it seems very different from the other types of attraction because it applies to things other than humans as well – it is not necessarily a category that fits with the others. It seems to me that attraction as a concept is useful in three ways – as a tool for self-reflection, as a way to find people with similar experiences, and as a way to communicate your experiences and imply your relationship preferences. For the second and third, I generally stick to ‘aroace’ since it is short and the assumptions made about it tend to be accurate for me. For the first, I have found the many types of attraction useful, though like many others, I’m still very confused by what romantic attraction is.
As for the role of attraction in society, I find it irritating and baffling. Advertisements, for instance, are often full of images of conventionally attractive people, which somehow makes the product sell better (something which I intellectually understand but really don’t understand). Or the idea of dating someone based on their looks alone, and the expectation that romantic or sexual relationships must be based on attraction. It can feel very isolating seeing how the world around you is working off a different basis of assumptions and instincts than you.
4. It was clear to me by the time I was fourteen that I’d never experienced sexual attraction. I’d never felt the desire to have sex with someone and struggled with the idea of finding people “hot” beyond thinking they were nice to look at. That hasn’t changed in the seven years since, but my experience with differentiating romantic and platonic attraction was a bit more complicated.
When I first discovered I was asexual, I immediately assumed I must be heteroromantic because, as far as I could tell, I liked boys. I had “crushes” on boys, I though I wanted to date them, but without the sex part. But then, once I could separate romantic feelings from sexual desire, I started to see how some of my “friendly” feelings towards girls could actually be romantic. Thus, when I first came out, I said I was asexual biromantic, because I thought I’d probably had crushes on both girls and boys.
And then I fell in love with a woman, and the experience was completely different.
The intensity of emotion went so far beyond any of the “crushes” I’d had before. It wasn’t just: “I think they have a nice face and I like talking to them.” It was: “I want to kiss her and hold her hand and tell her I love her so bad that sometimes I cry like I’ve been hit by a freight train of emotions.”
In this new context, it became clear to me that the “crushes” I’d had on boys before weren’t romantic. I probably just misinterpreted a combination of platonic and aesthetic attraction as a crush, because I was “supposed” to like boys. Now, I know for certain I’ve only ever felt romantic attraction towards women, so I identify as an asexual lesbian.
5. The Split Attraction Model…I cannot express how grateful I am to have found it. When people think “attraction”, their mind almost always jumps to sexual attraction. But if that’s the only attraction there is, then ace folk are just plumb out of luck. I don’t experience sexual attraction, but I do experience other types of attraction: platonic, emotional, intellectual, romantic, and sensual. It isn’t always easy to tell the difference when I’m experiencing one or two or all of these types of attraction, but it’s comforting to know that I can put a word to the experience. Platonic attraction is the love I feel for my friends. I care deeply about them, but I don’t feel other types of attraction towards them. Emotional attraction is the draw I feel towards people whose soul I admire. Intellectual attraction is a desire to mentally connect with someone. Romantic attraction is a deep, inexplicable yearning to share my life with someone and to share in their life as well. Sensual attraction is the completely non-sexual desire to have physical contact with another person. The latter is probably the most difficult type of attraction to explain since it’s easy to misconstrue as sexual attraction, but I think it’s so important to talk about. I’ve had friends and family assume that because I’m asexual, I must not like any physical contact. But I can’t imagine not experiencing sensual attraction for the person that I also feel romantic attraction towards. I also experience sensual attraction to people that I have no romantic attraction towards. Sometimes, I want to touch a person’s soul, mind, heart, and/or body. I want to know them. It just so happens that I want to know them without knowing them sexually.