Why Don’t I Experience Sexual Attraction?

Dear Liz,

I think I might be a sex-positive asexual (which means that while I enjoy sex, I don’t experience sexual attraction).  I’ve identified as bisexual in the past, because I am generally attracted to both men and women, but I’ve only had one relationship before.  During that relationship, my ex would often tell me that she didn’t feel like I was sexually attracted to her.  I think she might have been right?  I don’t feel what I assume is some kind of want for sex with celebrity crushes, and I don’t feel it for people who I find aesthetically pleasing and who I know I should, logically, find sexually attractive.  But I don’t know if this lack of feeling is truly asexuality, or if I just don’t know that what I am feeling counts as sexual attraction?  I feel physically/aesthetically drawn to people, as well as emotionally or mentally, but as far as sexually…I don’t know?  So I guess my question is, what does sexual attraction feel like?  It is just like…finding someone insanely attractive, or is there more to it?  How can I know if I’m sexually attracted to someone? -Ace of Confusion

Dear Ace,

Interesting question—on a number of levels.  I had to really center myself and trust my intuition on this one, because sexual attraction is one of those fluid concepts, the experience of which can genuinely vary from person to person.  What I’m leaving you with today is a small bit of intuitive insight and lots of questions, because I think the process of engaging these questions will begin to lead you to a peaceful place regarding your emotions and your sexuality.

You stated clearly:  I am generally attracted to both men and women…I’ll take “general attraction” to mean “interest peaked…drawn in a bit…desire to engage some more…”  This attraction is the precursor to sexual attraction, though for many general attraction and sexual attraction might be simultaneous.  You also said:  While I enjoy sex, I don’t experience sexual attraction…  Does that mean if the other person failed to initiate the sex, you would go without?  Is there a dullness to the encounter, despite the sex feeling good?  When sex is over, do you desire to connect with the person again, on any sort of level?  You also said:  I feel physically/aesthetically drawn to people, as well as emotionally or mentally…  So you’re clearly experiencing all the pieces of sexual attraction, but they don’t seem to be coming together in a way that resonates for you as sexual attraction.  When the physical draw and the emotional/mental draw collide, coupled with a longing, there my friend you will find your sexual attraction.

Another bit of sharing stood out for me:  You said:  I’ve only had one relationship before.  If you are under the age of twenty-three or twenty-four, that isn’t necessarily noteworthy.  However, if you are over the age of thirty, then the fact that you have been in only one relationship raises some questions for me, the first being:  Why?  What has prevented the relationship part of your life from flourishing?

Relationships are essential for our well-being, and it is primal to seek them out.  The seeking is infused with the erotic, which is why sexual attraction is often the first part of becoming involved.  But relationships by their very definition ask us to be vulnerable in order to attain intimacy, and many of us struggle with that piece.  When we limit our sexual life to casual encounters, the experience of intimacy is being avoided, and that maneuver can interrupt the ability to experience sexual attraction, not for all, but for some.  Casual sex is superficial—that’s not a judgment, but rather an observation.  The potential problem, however, is that habitual casual sex fuels the behavior of avoiding intimacy.  Interestingly, however, that avoidance has more to do with avoiding our Self than it does with avoiding another.  I suspect we avoid intimacy when we don’t want to be seen, because at some level, we feel shame.

Here’s where I go with my gut feeling:

I wonder if you are hesitant to fully explore both dimensions of your bi-sexuality, in equal measure.  You had a relationship with a woman.  While I may be off course here, I am presuming you are a man, given our heterosexist culture.  Why go out on a limb and have a lesbian relationship when the passion for it was missing?  We tend to resist same sex attraction, not respond when it presents itself.  So you are a bi-sexual guy who had a girlfriend—a guy who may not have soberly considered that your dominant sexual orientation is homosexual.  If that is the case, then I’m pretty sure that you’ve touched the edges of that inclination since you were a child of tender years, but given the compulsory psycho-social pressure to be heterosexual, you probably pressed down that very genuine impulse, or softened the blow with acknowledging a bi-sexual identity as you entered adulthood.  You are bi-sexual, so I’d take the time to scan your history:  Was there any guy you had more interest in than just a casual hook up?  Is it a true life option for you to fall in love with a man?

You might be a woman, but my feelings on the matter would be the same–if you are open to intimacy with both men and women, and fail to feel the pull of sexual attraction to either, then there is likely some internalized discomfort with your sexual orientation in general, which is preventing your being sexually attracted to either.

Here’s the catch:  we can’t repress a part of our authentic sexuality, without sacrificing other aspects of it, and in your situation, I suspect attraction in general has become dulled, numbed, and muddled.  It is impossible to spontaneously feel sexual attraction if much of our internal energy is invested in repressing some aspect of our Self.

Attraction v. desire v. sexual attraction are terms that we all use differently—here is how I understand them.  One scenario:  We can observe the objective attractiveness of someone, and we can genuinely like and enjoy that person, but that does not mean we will feel a sexual attraction to that person, and without that, sustaining a romantic relationship is challenging.  We can have a feeling of sexual desire without a particular person in mind—we are physically awake and feeling the desire for sexual connection.  And then there is the super nuanced experience of sexual attraction, which serves a number of functions:  It’s the unidentifiable draw that can move us towards commitment; it is the feeling that brings us back to practicing love, when we are feeling otherwise uninterested in doing so.  Sexual attraction is the gateway to re-connecting, when reconnecting, for any reason, is needed.  I’m not speaking of sex per se, but the draw, the undercurrent, the passion if you will, that solidifies, reassures, and helps love last.  Sexual attraction is a self-igniting spark, as opposed to one that needs to be stoked.  Relationships need a self-igniting spark.  It may wane or dim at times, but it remains a constant so long as the intimate connection is maintained.

Sexual attraction is deeper, much more nuanced, and it is quieter than “he’s so hot” or “I’d love to see her naked…”  “S/he’s so hot” is aesthetic appreciation, and it may involve some sexy longing, and while that is a part of sexual attraction, lusting and sexing doesn’t necessarily mean genuine attraction is there. Sexual attraction is a soulful experience, and if you have a soul (you do) then you can feel sexual attraction.  The feelings associated with sexual attraction rise up in response to the inclination for intimacy with a particular person, and while that often translates into naked bodies squishing together, the naked part is a means to sexual attraction’s true aim, which is intimacy.  Sexual attraction is about soul, it’s about who we respond to with whole heart and with whole body.

Are you open to the idea of opening your whole heart and whole body to a man, if you met a man you really liked?

I did a little experiment on myself, to test my sexual attraction theory.  I know that I’m sexually attracted to my husband, because even when I’m upset with him, I can peak behind the anger and feel the same desire for him that I had in those early months of dating.  So then I moved on to Javier Bardem and the brooding dreamy guy in Rookie Blue, all permissible crushes for a married woman because they exist in movie-star land.  If either one leaned in for a kiss, I’m sure my body would respond.  But am I sexually attracted to these men?  Not necessarily.  Having a type, a crush, or observing “he’s dreamy” is the stuff of sexual desire for sure, but genuine sexual attraction hints at intimacy, and has a deeper, stronger, pull—it invites you to stick around.

I have a question for you:  When you are kissed by someone, do you desire more?  Does your body react and respond and do you long to connect at a level deeper than the physical?  If yes, then in that moment you are certainly feeling sexual attraction.  But if your intimacies begin and end with sex, then I suspect the block is at the soulful-Self level, not the chemistry of the body level.

If you were settled and at peace regarding your feelings and sexual relationships, I don’t think you’d be writing to me.  So I think you are stuck, and when we’re stuck, it can be very helpful to talk it through in a safe space with a talented therapist.  I recommend connecting with one who practices both IFS and hypnosis, because I think both of those exploratory models will help you to remove the blockage that’s interfering with your opportunity for a passionate, intimate, relationship. My hunch is that sexual attraction will be spontaneous when you are 100% accepting of your Self.


Love, Liz


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