Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Allo, sort of

I read a post about primary and secondary sexual attraction on valprehension and it made me think about the way I experience sexual attraction and the way I make decisions about it.  The post postulated that primary sexual attraction is roughly speaking the desire to have sex with someone based on superficial qualities, while secondary sexual attraction is based on intimacy, emotional connection, etc.

One particular quote stood out:

The way I think about secondary sexual attraction in an allosexual context is that it’s the thing that allows people to remain attracted to each other over time in long-term relationships, as their bodies inevitably change drastically from however they used to look, and stop having the characteristics that caused the initial primary sexual attraction they may have felt for one another.

This gave me pause, because I suddenly realized that this illustrates how different I am from most allosexuals in terms of the way I experience primary and secondary sexual attraction.

If I am in a relationship with someone the idea of not being sexually attracted to them just seems impossible.  It isn't as though I need to lean on shared experience and emotional closeness to maintain desire, because the only way that sort of bond can exist is in combination with intense lust on my part.  Granted, I haven't been in a long term relationship with someone whose body changed drastically over time - like, for example, being in a relationship with someone from the age of 20 to 80, but I do know that lust doesn't diminish with time at all for me.  From day 1 to day 4000 it is always there.

When I think about the idea of being in love with someone and not wanting to jump their bones it feels preposterous.  Romantic love doesn't help sexual desire along - sexual desire is a requirement for romantic love to even exist for me.

In any case most of the change in sexual desire in long term relationships has little to do with appearance.  People who have sex every day at the start of a relationship generally wind down fairly rapidly whether or not they change how they look.  It is more a function of time and familiarity.  Appearance is definitely critical at the start for most people, and matters some down the road, but it isn't the critical factor that changes sexual desire for most people.

I suspect that sexual desire and romantic attraction aren't so dependent for most people.  They are independent variables, and people are mostly quite able to have lust for some, love for others, and search for that magical person in whom they can have both things.  Like the quote above says, that lust fades with time and the love maintains the bond, and this makes sense to me.

Demisexuals are different in that they don't normally experience lust except when an emotional bond is already there.  I appear to be the opposite of that, where love doesn't appear except in the case where lust already does.  I tried thinking of a term for this, like hemisexual or duosexual, but all the words are already taken, so forget it.  I found lots of discussions on what the opposite of demisexual is, but the concepts were all quite unlike me.  Perhaps I should have been looking for the complimentary version of demisexual instead of the opposite?

Not to say that I am some special snowflake, particularly, because most allosexuals experience romantic love and lust as intertwined most of the time.  However, most of them also experience lust declining while romantic love remains, and most of them are quite capable of maintaining romantic love without primary sexual attraction.  I don't do either of those things.

I do totally agree with the main point of Val's post though, my ramblings on this small chunk of exposition aside.  There is nothing wrong with having any particular set of things you find attractive about people, and certainly no moral fault in making their physical characteristics part of the package.  You definitely should think about it like "This is what I have found attractive in others" rather than "X group is unattractive" though, because it is fundamentally a thing that happens in your brain, not a characteristic of the other person.

I often see sapiosexual listed as a thing on dating profiles, and if a person really is only interested in somebody else's brain, then all good.  However, there are definitely people who pitch themselves like that because they think it makes them superior... and a strange tendency for them to still mostly want to date conventionally attractive people.  What you are attracted to is your thing, and you can be whatever way you want, but don't try to place your attractions on a pedestal, and don't pretend that it is some universal property of the world.

Like whatever stuff you want, just don't make it out that you are better than others for liking the stuff you like, nor that the stuff you don't like is inherently bad, or even unlikeable.


  1. ...tbh I kind of can't get over how, when you lay it out like, it is obvious just how genuinely hilariously imcompatible we are :P

    I think you might also be one of the edge cases that will help to find flaws in the existing models for talking about this stuff, tho, which would make me super interested in reading about any further thinking you did on this.

    There's a couple things I'm reading into what you're saying here that call for clarification, too, and that might help you take things bit further:
    1) somehwhere along the way in this, you seem to start conflating sexual attraction and sexual desire - which makes sense, cause I think for you the two are inseperable in that way. But, like, most people have times when their libido (i.e. capacity for desire) totally tanks, and when that happens it doesn't (necessarily) mean that they aren't still attracted to the people they are attracted to. And it's definitely possible to feel desire without being attracted someone, so. Important to remember those are not the same thing.

    2) "Like the quote above says, that lust fades with time and the love maintains the bond, and this makes sense to me." <- this is a *massive* misinterpretation of what I was trying to get at. While it's true that some relationships develop into companionate ones over time, I was very specifically talking about relationships in which a level sexual attraction is *maintained* over time, and how the multi-layered nature of attraction makes that work. I assure you that secondary sexual attraction is just as lusty as primary attraction, and I'm honestly insulted at the insinuation that it isn't. It also completely ignores the point I was leading into, which is that experience of secondary attraction can, over time, actually alter the things a person's primary attractions respond to. This would explain why many old people find themselves attracted to old people, even when they wouldn't have been when they were younger, for instance. I'm actually kind of curious what you think is going to happen for you when you *do* (inevitably, assuming longevity) find yourself in a relationship with someone who doesn't ping primary attraction for you, given that you seem to be implying that you only experience primary attraction or something?

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. With regards to 2)

      I think that we are just whiffing on communication here, probably because I wasn't particular enough about the way in which I used the word lust. I agree that secondary sexual attraction can be just as raw and lusty as primary. When I said "that lust" I meant primary lust, not all lust. (Also seriously you doubted that I thought that? Given our mutual history?)

      As I get older I will no doubt have experiences that alter my primary sexual attraction triggers to some extent... but not that much. Look at what OKC found about straight men and their looks preferences - they want 20 year old women, and it doesn't matter at all what age of straight man you consider. Now straight women weren't this way, and their preferences trended towards similar ages to their own. I doubt I will be particularly different than the rest of the sample of straight men.

      Your last statement contains two things I don't agree with. First, I do experience both primary and secondary sexual attraction. Not quite the same way everyone else does, but I certainly have both. Second, why would you assume I am not attracted to older people right now? Sure, the hard bodied 20 year olds ping the most, but the reason I am not dating a bunch of 70 year olds is culture, shared experiences, shared hobbies, social pressure, polyamory, stuff like that (or lack thereof). (Also they aren't exactly beating down my door in any case!) Nothing to do with me not being attracted sufficiently.

    3. Yeah, I think I just think it's unfair to differentiate between lust based on primary vs. secondary sexual attractions. I'd call them the same lust, pretty much (and yes, our history is a big part of why what I thought you were saying was genuinely insulting :P).

      Yeah, I'm sorry, the point I was trying to get at in my last question was that I don't understand in what way you think of yourself as opposite/complementary to demisexaulity? My theory there was it was opposite in the sense of only experiencing primary sexual attraction (versus demis who only experience secondary). I used the age example mostly just because I think you also referenced age in your post as a thing that might potentially make you face up to what I was talking about?

      My new theory of what you meant it something along the lines of: whereas demis can only experience sexual attraction for people with whom we have a strong emotional bond, I think you are saying that you can only have a strong emotional bond with people you are sexually attracted to? Or specifically that you are primarily sexually attracted to? Which, I kind of hope that you mean specifically that you can only fall in love with people who you have a sexual connection with, and that you are capable of strong platonic emotional bonds? And which, (I think) wouldn't actually make you that different from other folks after all.

      I dunno. You still seem to be implying that it seems inconceivable to you that someone you are in love with would stop being sexually attractive to you, and I am confused as to why you also seem convinced that sexual attraction is largely primary (since that impossibility is precisely what I was postulating secondary attraction can and does do for some people?) I suspect (and I could be suyper wrong here again, so let me know if I am) that you are simply seeing yourself respond to your partner(s) body and seeing that as always and only primary attraction, but for the record, when I do form an attraction to someone, it very much attaches itself to their bodies and traits in a way. That's just not where it came from in the first place for me, is all.

      And I would still like to know what you think would happen if someone you were in lusty-love with change din way that put them outside of your primary attractions. That question, though poorly delivered, still stands.

      (Also side-note: you blog's comment system is the most annoying thing ever. I am currently having to go incognito in order to make it stop over-riding things to my Google account (which I use to consolidate all of my various google account, and is the one I am always logged into, but don't actually use anywhere because it is connected to my birth name) :/)

    4. The comment system on blogspot is poop. I wish I had any input, but sadly I don't.

      I think the best way to model my attraction is math! So, imagine my primary sexual attraction is a number between 0-5. Secondary attraction is also a number between 0-5. I get my total attraction by multiplying.

      However, to understand the system you also need to know the spread of normal values. Primary attraction is a zero for the majority of the population. Females above the age of 16 would be a 1 or more about 75% of the time. Age matters - the 20 year olds cluster much closer to 5 and the 80 year olds cluster much closer to 1. Age has little to do with whether or not the value is nonzero.

      Males would be a 1 or more about 5% of the time, but virtually none make it above a 2. Again, age does influence the spread. (This is all based on body type / appearance, not gender. For all people whose body type / appearance isn't easily sorted into male or female I lack sufficient data to be sure. I know that I can be attracted or not to trans / GQ / intersex people of all types, but I can't give numbers for the spread.)

      Secondary sexual attraction defaults to 1. That is, most people, if I am primarily attracted, overall I feel sexual attraction. It is possible for someone to be a zero, but it is actually quite rare. I can dislike people or find them basically uninteresting and still be attracted, in fact that is common. I would say that 90% of the population is a 1, 5% is a zero, and 5% have a value from 2-5.

      So if I see a random woman on the street, odds are my primary attraction is 3 and secondary attraction is 1, the default. So my total attraction is 3*1=3. If I see a random man odds are primary =0, secondary =1, total =0.

      What I do with those numbers is based on many things. If I see a super hot fifteen year old, my primary might be 4, secondary is 1, but the fifteen year old has a threshold of 'do something about this attraction' of 100. That is, no amount of attraction is sufficient to make me act, for moral and legal reasons. 4 is much less than 100.

      On the other hand, if I was at a sex club and had the opportunity to have sex with a woman who I had had little contact with, the threshold would be somewhere in the 1-2 range depending on my mood and circumstance. Barring me intensely disliking her or her being particularly unattractive (to me) I would be happy to have sex.

      Wendy, for example, has both a 5 in primary and secondary attraction, so her 'score' is 25. This means that I would be happy to have sex with her under virtually any circumstance where sex is remotely plausible. It is so high that that my need to have sex with her is a defining feature of my life.

      So I experience both primary and secondary attraction, but my overall attraction is always going to be zero unless primary attraction is in play.

      However, to maintain romantic love I need overall attraction to be nonzero. That is just a feature of who I am. I find it hard to explain somehow, but I have can affection for people who I am not sexually attracted to, but it is completely different than romantic love, which requires sexual attraction. Romantic love and sexual attraction aren't the same thing, but there is definitely a sexual attraction prerequisite for romantic love to take hold.

    5. To answer your other question about what happens if someone changes so that my sexual attraction has now hit zero... I don't know for sure. It hasn't ever happened. However, I can make some good guesses. If, for example, I lived with Wendy my whole life and she predictably got older and dropped in rank on my primary attractiveness score, I have every reason to think she would remain above zero and nothing much would change. I don't think my partner aging is an example that will answer your question.

      So let us imagine my partner changes in some other way such that my primary attraction for them actually hits zero. What way that is, doesn't matter. My guess is that my sexual attraction goes to zero overall, and my romantic love for them would end. I would still be fond of them, obviously, but I don't think romantic love could survive that transition.

      Is it possible that my primary attractions would shift as my beloved shifted? Maybe. I can't rule it out, certainly, nor can I rule it in, since I haven't tried it. I can say that I have seen partners change fairly substantially in appearance in ways like gaining or losing a lot of weight or going through pregnancy and it hasn't had anyparticular effect on my attraction. However, in all cases they fit well within the range of body types I generally find primarily attractive, so it really isn't illustrative for purposes of your question.

      One thing I wonder is if you could model your attraction style using a similar model with different value defaults. That is, if you took the base mutiplicative model but assumed a person whose secondary attraction defaulted to zero, but whose primary attraction spread was much more random than mine, that seems like it might be sort of a demisexual model. Would that describe you, do you think?

    6. ...Um, I honestly don't know what it would mean for secondary sexual attraction to default to anything other than zero for anyone? It is based on strong emotional bonds, which most people don't feel as a default toward other people? It exists *only* in the context of an actual ongoing relationship, like. So, I guess unless <1 is a sexual repulsion on your scale and 1 is pure neutrality, 1 makes no sense as a default. If it's neutrality, then my default is the same as anyone else's.

      Demisexuality doesn't describe a difference in how I experience secondary attraction from other people. It is about the fact that I don't experience primary sexual attraction, at all. That is the only difference.

      I honestly think that the fact that you need to be sexually attracted to someone in order to feel romantic love for them actually puts you squarely in the "normal" box (for once :P). I am the same way, even, tbh. Just for me, it goes emotional bond -> attraction -> love, whereas the more normal version is attraction -> emotional bond -> love. Most people find folks they are attracted to and pursue relationships with those people. I... have to be more haphazard I guess?

  2. Oops, meant to add: I recently read Emily Nagoski's book Come As You Are. IT is fantastic in a whole bunch of ways. I found it super validating and educational in bunch of ways. You will probably find it entirely alien but also extremely fascinating and educational :P