For the asexually curious and the curiously asexual

Fatal ‘attraction’

This is one of my INCREDIBLY theory-heavy sexuality posts. I seem to be utterly useless at covering real-world ace problems, and prefer to spend all my time solving self-set semantic sums.

It’s the conclusion to a theory I’ve had to a while, and first put forward near the beginning of this academic year (how long ago that seems). I described the asexual definition of sexuality as:

A definition of sexuality created by people who were told about sexual attraction in the assumption that they’d already know about it. A logical, thorough image of sexuality, like painstakingly painting around something invisible. Very much based on the word attraction. Compartmentalised, due to the difference in the romantic and sexual feelings of many of its creators. I’m guessing I’ll get a bit of flak for saying that asexuality doesn’t reflect reality, but my point is that nothing does. Not completely. I think the asexual theory is utterly awesome because it’s the only one that really looks deep into the complexities of what orientation means.

Instead of the controversy I expected around my ‘painting around the invisible’ metaphor, most of the feedback I got on the post singled it out as the best point. Which leads me to that next sentence. ‘Very much based on the word ‘attraction’. See how little of that thought I allowed out?

I’m fairly certain I experience sexual attraction. There’s no easy definition, it’s like ‘what does having arms feel like?’. The definitions I’ve seen sexual people using to explain it to asexuals seem remarkably, well, wrong. They use metaphors like ‘a hunger’, and asexuals go away thinking they understand, and I’m always tempted to say “Bullshit. Well, YMMV, I expect sexual attraction to feel different for everyone, but that strikes me as one of those self-reinforcing lies.” Sexual attraction is pretty nebulous. And it’s one of the cruellest ironies that sexual attraction has been thought about most extensively by the people who don’t feel it. Because… because I think we’ve got it wrong.

Because we think of sexual attraction as being what the sexuals have decided are the absolute best words to describe these ideas. And I look at the words ‘sexual attraction’ now, and I think of a scientist on a Friday evening, working on a controversial report back when the legalisation of homosexuality was a distant pipe dream, and choosing two random words that seemed to fit.

I warned you at the beginning that this post is highly theoretical. And it is. Because this whole linguistic misunderstanding is pretty academic. Language tends to develop randomly and without plan anyway (and who was it who said that the entire shape of English poetry was based on the lack of rhyming words? This stuff is like weather, big enough to be important, too big to be comprehensible).

I actually like the ‘sexual attraction’ model for various reasons. It encourages introspection, probing your feelings before real-life application. ‘I can’t help feeling attracted to people of the same gender’ is easier to say than ‘I can’t help runnning off and living with people of the same gender’. It keeps the issue of lust and sex in the public eye, which has massive short-term PR disadvantages, but also massive long-term advantages. Furthermore, the asexual movement has to be contextualised by the sexuality theory it finds itself in. This post is me pointing out something interesting and academic that I think I’ve observed, which might feed into other interesting and academic things. I’m in no way saying that we should change our definitions from the very attraction-based (though I do wonder if there is too much prioritisation of things which can count as attractions- this might be a post for another day), because that’s how the world works, now. I think the weather metaphor is helpful again- these are systems we don’t understand. Right now, attempts to harness them are laughable. But we can see patterns, and basic causations.

But we made that choice. From the moment we pinned up that famous ‘asexual- someone who does not experience sexual attraction’ over the doors of AVEN, we were making currents. Now we have to deal with the meteorology.


Comments on: "Fatal ‘attraction’" (4)

  1. I don’t know if you knew this, but part of the way I conceptualize myself is through a redefinition of sexual attraction. Not experiencing crushes, not experiencing aesthetic attraction, not ever becoming aroused by someone’s presence, not even when I come to like their personality, by many standards I don’t experience sexual or romantic attraction.

    But there I am dating and entering sexual relationships. In a relationship, still none of that happens. But I want to hold their hand, and I miss them when they’re gone. Attraction is usually described as a sharp experience, something that is easy to recognize. But what I experience is a slow rolling background, with no distinct start or end point.

    I don’t care if it isn’t attraction by objective standards (which don’t really exist anyway). This is obviously something that it is useful to describe as attraction, even if it’s not the same as what other people feel.

    • That’s pretty interesting. And I think it demonstrates how attatched we are to the ‘attraction’ model, because we (people in general, and specifically people on the ace spectrum) tend to bundle a lot of things into the word attraction that might not always fit there.

  2. This is one of those topics that just frustrates me, because I’m reasonably sure that if there’s something about wanting to have sex with people for reasons that aren’t pure bloody-minded curiosity I don’t have it. And it’s like romance, it all seems very strange and the scientist in me wants very badly to sit down and dissect it and understand it properly, but no one who claims to experience it will explain in a way that I can understand. Which tells me that I’m missing something, even if sexual attraction isn’t necessarily the best word for it.

    (Well, or romantic attraction. Being in a romantic relationship. Whatever that is. Because I have the same feeling of trying very hard to understand so I can stop questioning and check yes or no when it comes to discussions of romantic orientation with that. Something’s wrong there and I don’t seem to fit the boxes but it would be nice if someone who is certain would give me a nice clear-cut operational definition.)

    It actually reminds me of when I was questioning my gender identity and couldn’t find anyone to explain what being cisgender felt like from a perspective that wasn’t entirely gender-essentialist and was actually useful to someone whose gender presentation wasn’t normative, as if anyone who questioned was clearly not going to come out of it going “actually, I’m comfortable where I am.” I remember being very cross about that and thereafter constructing a proper explanation for questioning people who might have been in the same place I was. (I have been lax about explaining that lately, come to think of it…)

    So possibly the solution lies in the grey-As? Maybe it shouldn’t be those of us who can’t see the invisible elephant who should be trying to define it, but the ones who can see at least pieces of it? There need to be better explanations of things, if only so questioning people can wrap their minds around the concepts properly and make better decisions.

  3. […] posted a piece last week about the limits of “sexual attraction” as a term, and I’ve been […]

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