It’s pretty well known, at least in the aromantic-spectrum and asexual-spectrum communities, that there are several ways a person can be attracted to someone else (source 1, source 2, source 3). I’m gonna ramble about it awhile.
Quick definitions for those not in the know:
- Allosexual = somebody who experiences sexual attraction, aka not asexual
- Alloromantic = somebody who experiences romantic attraction, aka not aromantic
- Asexual / ace = somebody who experiences limited or no sexual attraction, or only in specific circumstances (for example, demi-sexuals, who are only attracted to people they have a connection with)
- Aromantic / aro = you can figure it out, by now, huh? BTW, not all aces are aro, not all aros are ace, and I’m both.
- A-spec = anybody on the asexual-spectrum (ace-spec) and/or aro-spectrum.
Content note for non-explicit talk about sex, mostly using euphemisms.
Types of attraction
So there’s sexual (I wanna boink you / have you boink me), romantic (I want to do mushy stuff with you), aesthetic (oh, gosh you’re pretty), sensual (I wanna touch you / be touched by you), and platonic (we should be besties!). Some people also include emotional (I want us to share all our feelings!) and intellectual (I want to hear all about what you’re interested in). I think there’s one more: care-giving (I want you to take care of me / I want to take care of you).
I doubt that any deep relationship has just one of these and everybody has different needs for each one and different desires for each one. They also feed into each other: “Gosh, you’re pretty – it makes me want to snuggle with you – oh gosh, we should start kissing now.”
Let’s go into more detail about them. First of all, there are multiple ways to express all of these. And I’m pretty sure, there’s both a giving (directed toward somebody) and receiving (desired/needed by you) part of all of them.
Sexual is pretty straight forward – seeing somebody makes you want to do dirty sweaty things with them. Two points though: 1) you don’t have to be attracted to someone to have sex with them. Libido, attraction, and desire are all different (libido being your body getting excited and desire being you wanting to do the horizontal tango. Possibly vertically.) And 2) being sexually attracted to someone doesn’t mean you will make the beast with two backs or that you want to do it. It’s more than possible to be sex-repulsed and allosexual. (I’m gonna say though, if you are sex-repulsed and you want to id as asexual, feel free.) Or to just be tired. Or whatever.
Me talking about romance is like asking a snake about vegetables (“… they’re a thing that exist, apparently? BTW, you look warm, wanna cuddle?”), but I have some thoughts on it for a little later.
Aesthetic, I think, is less recognized outside the a-spec communities. Allos seem to easily confuse it for lust. I know I’ll get so aesthetically attracted to someone that I’m not sure if I want them or want to be them (often a little of both, yay gender-feels, but that’s a different topic). And it’s probably the one form of attraction that will most strongly start up one of the others.
Sensual is another one that will get confused for lust or turn into lust. It’s I want to hug you, play with my hair, I need a massage, you smell good, wow he’s got an amazing voice, let’s cuddle, kiss me all over… Any sort of sensory desire is sensual. It’s probably the most basic attraction too, because humans are wired to need touch as soon as they’re born. (Sadly, men are socialized to not touch each other and to only get that need filled by their girlfriends, but toxic masculinity is another whole topic that’s been covered by much better bloggers and writers than me).
I think we all know what platonic attraction is and I’ll come back to it.
Emotional attraction isn’t talked about much, but most people need somebody they can share their deepest feelings with. It’s the wordless comfort you feel with those special few. It’s offering support. It’s also how a good musician will make you feel or the emotional release of going to a scary movie with your friends. It’s what makes most deep relationships work.
Intellectual attraction. There’s terms for it – “sapiosexual / sapioromantic” – and unfortunately people will use it to be ableist jerks and say they’re attracted to intelligence, by which they mean highly education, socially promoted intelligence. But it’s not just that, ok? It’s being attracted to people who have interests or passions, people who you want to have long talks with, or just sit back and listen to, and people who will listen and encourage your interests too. It’s why clubs exist, whether it’s model railroads, car customizing, gardening, or coins.
The last one, that I’ve never seen anywhere, is care-giving. You could call it paternal or maternal feelings, but I don’t think it has to be. It’s wanting to make sure your loved ones are warm, fed, hydrated, happy, etc and/or wanting someone to do the same for you. It’s empathy and sympathy. It’s a stronger drive for some people than for others, but we all have it. Personally I have an abundant need to make sure everybody, from family members to random people is okay, and I have lots of friends and family that are the same. For some people it takes the form of “food = love, must feed people”. For others it’s being a sugar daddy. It’s definitely related to emotional attraction, but the need isn’t emotion based. If anything, care-giving is what drives a lot of the expression of emotional attraction.
Romance and Platonce
Look, if the noun form of romantic is romance, shouldn’t the platonic/platonce work?…
First of all, as I’ve said on Twitter several times, I’m not convinced romance actually exists. That’s only like 60% my aromantic butt joking.
But I’m not sure romance and platonce* are attractions so much as forms of relationships. From what I’ve read, the best romantic gestures are the ones that ignore the cliches and take into account what your partner needs or is passionate about. If we’re dating and you get me flowers, I’ll be polite and throw them away once you’re gone. If you get me an old grammar of a language I don’t have yet, I’ll be thrilled. And then probably ignore you to read it, but if you got me it, you’d know what was going to happen.
*(look, there apparently isn’t a noun version. I’m sticking with it)
I don’t know what the line is between romantic and platonic. Everything I’ll do with my significant other I’d do with friends (my other joke is the aromantic just love our friends more than allos do). I suspect it’s an expectation of availability, closeness, support and commitment. Unfortunately there aren’t enough alloro aces to out there to pin it down.
I think both are a combination of care-giving, emotional attraction, and intellectual attraction, and romance especially is focused on fulfilling the partner’s attraction needs over one’s own. What makes people say someone is romantic?
They cook for their partner. They bring gifts. They tend to their ill partner. Little touches, little gestures that make it clear that they’re focused on their partner. You get that with really good friends, but it’s not expected.
Naturally, not everybody will agree with my thoughts and I’d love to hear your take.