Love is like pain.
That’s a pointlessly dramatic start. I’ll elaborate.
Pain is a famously fickle emotion. One person cannot understand what type of pain another is in. How it feels, how much it hurts. We assume a common vocabulary, but there is no guarantee that there is any real commonality.
Or, to deepen the metaphor, attraction is like colour. We think we all have the same words, that we all see the same spectrums, that the models in everyone’s heads are interchangable. And they really aren’t.
I would really recommend that video. I think, as a simple demonstration of perception, it’s going to stay with me for the rest of my life. For those who can’t or don’t want to watch 8 minutes (you can skip the first 4), there’s a succinct summary here. Also, for the scientifically minded.
And this is the problem I have when people ask me to describe what is going on in my head regarding sexual attraction. My answer is; at least 3 different things. It’s difficult because we’re told that there is ‘sexual attraction’, and I have essentially no linguistic ability to seperate this further. It feels like staring at a wheel of identical squares and being told that one is different. Sometimes I think there could be as many as a dozen entirely seperate phenomena going on in my head that I’ve never been trained to recognise.
There are two problems here. The first is that I believe the colour analogy fails significantly, because there are actually a finite number of colours that we essentially (ignoring colourblindness for the moment as being unweildy to the analogy) share. Europe and the Himba tribe may not have the same models or words, and may end up actively contradicting each other, but the colours we see could be fed through a computer and the computer would ignore all that.
When it comes to sexual attraction, I think that people are actually all different. There are probably a huge number of people out there who have their own feelings, which they identify as sexual attraction, which are completely alien to me. There are probably people (given how the rest of the world doesn’t share the relentless asexual focus on the word ‘attraction’) who define what they feel as sexual attraction when it would feel, to me, more like romantic or aesthetic attraction which links, in practical terms, to the sex drive or to associations of sexual enjoyment. In short, there’s a whole load of sexual attractions that I don’t, as a sexual, experience.
The second problem is that this complicates even more the idea of where the line is between sexual attraction and other attractions. I see it as an attempt to square up my terminology with society’s- there has to be a vague boundary of generalised meaning for ‘sexual attraction’, and I can presumably apply whatever I think that is to the feelings I have, to see if they’re sexual attraction or not. This is a fraught process. To give one example, I’ve been aware since before I developed sexual attraction of what I’m tempted to call the ‘man on the street’ test. That is, if you walk past someone on the street and find them attractive in a sexual (still a difficult word to define) way, that counts as sexual attraction. I’ve absorbed this to the extent that fleeting urban encounters are now the way I judge my attractions (which are incredibly fluid, in random cycles of aroud about 2-3 weeks- the fact that they’re actually strong enough now to show the patterns intrigues me) and, recently, the first time I felt that potential for sexual responsiveness when passing a woman, I felt shockingly like my gynophilia had just become ‘official’. This view ignores fantasies, which are traditionally almost the sole element of judging where one is on the Kinsey Scale. I also really have no idea about becoming sexually attracted to someone as a result of their personality/after knowing them. I genuinely don’t know if I do this or not.
(and a quick note for any asexuals who suddenly have the impression that everyone on the streets is secretly lusting after them- my guess would be that these forms of attraction don’t commonly take the form of, say, graphic fantasies. For me (and, I think, for others, but who knows), this form of sexual attraction is a lot closer to aesthetic attraction, the sexual element comes in with what I described above as ‘potential for sexual responsiveness’. I don’t know how to describe that in other words, but it’s a small, internal feeling. I’ve described it before as when you open a door onto a room in total darkness, the feeling you get which tells you that there’s open space in front of you.)
So that’s the post on sexual attraction(/s) that I’ve felt almost duty-bound to write for quite a while. Shortly before starting this post, I described it as a ‘This is what sexual attraction feels like, guys. loljks, I actually still have no idea’ post. Because the question itself, I believe, is fundamentally unanswerable.
Irritating, isn’t it?