Asexuality is frequently conflated with being attracted to no one. Yet, what does it actually mean to be attracted to someone? What are the, often ignored, complexities of attraction? And how does asexuality open these conversations up for exploration? While expressing my own identity as an asexual person in social spaces, I have often encountered many non-ace people who have responded to me with statements akin to “So you’re asexual, that means you’re attracted to no one, right?” or “Doesn’t that mean you don’t want to be with anyone?” Both of these questions are misinformed and can be invalidating for asexual and ace people, yet endure as prominent conceptualizations of asexuality in the contemporary moment. This propels the flawed perception that asexuality is a desire to be solitary or is simply an absence of attraction entirely, which does not reflect the experiences of most ace people.
Much of this stems from the perception that to be attracted to someone, there must be a sexual element to that attraction. As an asexual attracted to men, if I express to others that I am attracted to men without providing any further context, the attraction will be assumed to be sexual with a swift automaticity. This perception of attraction automatically being sexual has implications for both ace and non-ace people, especially for those who experience different or conflicting forms of attraction simultaneously. How then may we, as ace and non-ace people alike, combat these generalized perceptions of attraction? As a first step, there must be an awareness of different forms of attraction, beyond the sexual, in the public consciousness. This article operates as an introduction to varying forms of attraction and subsequently as a resource that attempts to articulate their complexities and intersections while maintaining brevity.
Sexual Attraction: Attraction to another person(s) that spurs a desire to engage in sexual activity, most often, but not always, being sexual intercourse. To be sexually attracted to someone is predicated on your desire to engage in contact with them sexually or to be aroused in a manner that generates such interest. This attraction may be based on physical qualities of the person(s) in question as well as other non-physical aspects, yet remain tied to sexual desire or a desire to sexually be in contact with that person(s).
Romantic Attraction: Attraction to another person(s) predicated on a desire to experience contact that may be conceptualized as “romantic.” How romantic attraction is defined remains relatively amorphous, yet clearly strays from sexual attraction, and is frequently entwined with a desire to be in a romantic relationship with another person(s). Similar to sexual attraction, one may also be heteroromantic, homoromantic, biromantic, aromantic, and more. Romantic attraction does not have to be in congruence with sexual attraction, which is exemplified most prominently in the asexual experience. Asexual people may be both asexual and romantically attracted to anyone or no one.
Aesthetic Attraction: Attraction based on a visual appreciation or captivation of the physical appearance or allure of another person(s). Aesthetic attraction may be completely disconnected from sexual attraction (as it is for asexual people) or romantic attraction (as it is for aromantic people), and instead considers the visual aesthetics of another person(s). It may be described in a similar manner to appreciating or being captivated by the beauty of a particularly striking natural setting. You may feel as though the person(s) in question is simply more visually intriguing than others, but not necessarily because of a sexual or romantic component attached to the attraction.
Sensual Attraction: Attraction predicated on an inclination or passion to engage with another person(s) in a manner that could be described as physical or tactile, as well as intersecting with any of the senses, while remaining nonsexual. Sensual attraction may include the desire to hug, kiss, cuddle, hold another’s hand, etc., while not including the desire for sexual activity or engagement. It may also include gaining gratification or being aroused by another person or persons’ through other sensory experiences, such as smell. Sensual attraction is also not necessarily intertwined with any other form of attraction, whether sexual, romantic, aesthetic, or otherwise.
Emotional Attraction: Attraction that is predicated on personality rather than the physical appearance of another person(s). Emotional attraction often includes or represents the desire to be in non-tactile contact with another person for the purposes of forming, fostering, or maintaining an emotional and personal bond with them. You may feel fascinated or drawn to a person(s) based on their personality or aura, which may result in you wanting to be around them increasingly, without involving anything sexual, romantic, aesthetic, sensual, or physical in general.
Intellectual Attraction: Attraction that involves a desire to form, foster, or maintain an intellectual or mental connection or engagement with another person(s). Intellectual attraction may involve a connection to someone mentally that is separated from the rest of their bodies. It grapples with what the person(s) in question is thinking, and potentially includes a desire to interact or engage with that person(s) further in intellectual or mental respects, without necessarily involving any other form of attraction.
Most importantly, what this examination has shown, is that attractions do not necessarily have to be in congruence or “line-up.” Just because someone is heterosexual, this does not mean they experience heteromantic attraction, or even what may be described as heteroaesthetic or heterosensual attraction, etc. In the same respect, asexual people can be panromantic and homosensual, aromantic and heteroaesthetic, homoromantic and asensual. Of course, these varying forms of attraction may also parallel one another, and often do. However, just because someone states they are sexually attracted to men, for example, this does not mean you should infer the same can be said about their romantic, aesthetic, sensual, emotional, or intellectual sensibilities. Attraction is a complex phenomenon, and far too complex to be reduced to the sexual. It is the asexual experience that has allowed for an initial exploration into this necessary examination.