Close-up of a face looking straight at you, covered in rainbow-coloured paint

Aesthetic attraction – is it only an asexual thing?

Further to my last post on the subject of invisible tapirs, I had a fascinating conversation this week with a couple of allosexual friends who are always happy to talk tapirs with me. The subject: aesthetic attraction.

Aesthetic attraction – when all I wanna do is look at you

There’s a lot of conversation in the asexual community about the different ways people can be attracted to other people, particularly those are aren’t sexual. As I’ve described before, there are several commonly identified types of non-sexual attraction, including romantic attraction, emotional attraction – and aesthetic attraction.

I’m very familiar with aesthetic attraction. It’s the phenomenon that leads to me covertly staring at people on trains while trying not to act like a creepy stalker. It was also the cover I used extensively through high school and university to mask the fact that I didn’t get celebrity crushes the way my friends seemed to. While they were swooning over Leonardo DiCaprio’s body, I focused on the actors with faces that made me want to see the same movie over and over again, just so I could keep watching them.

For me, aesthetic attraction is a facial thing. It’s not necessarily about conventionally-attractive faces, but interesting faces – faces that catch my attention and make me want to take in all their details: the tiny quirks of eye and mouth and eyebrow that make them unique, the ways they express different emotions.

Very occasionally an ensemble look will catch my eye – a particularly intriguing outfit and/or hairstyle and/or tattoo. But mostly it’s all about faces.

Unlike the other ways I can be drawn to a person, aesthetic attraction doesn’t make me want to get to know them better. I know their looks tell me very little about what they would be like as a person. Mostly it makes me wish, just in that moment, that I was an artist of some kind. It makes me want to sketch or paint, to try to capture what I’m feeling in some tangible form. Plus it’s convenient that artists won’t get in trouble for staring at the same person for hours.

But wait… what??

So that’s aesthetic attraction, at least as I experience it. Like the invisible tapirs, it has very little impact on my life most of the time, and it’s rare for me to even stop and think about it. But this week, in the aforementioned tapir conversation, my world got turned a little further inside out – because it turns out neither of my allosexual friends experience it at all. Or rather, they don’t experience it the way I do.

But surely, I insisted, you must see people whose appearance draws you to them? They told me, sure – but that comes wrapped up in sexual attraction.

The idea of separating out those experiences from one another – of being deeply arrested by someone else’s looks and yet having zero interest in them sexually? Totally alien to them.

I realise this is a sample size of two, but it’s opened up a whole new world of questions to me. Is aesthetic attraction on its own something allosexuals simply don’t experience? Surely not – after all, the great portrait artists of the world can’t all have been asexual. So what is going on in the heads of the Leonardo da Vincis, Johannes Vermeers and Annie Leibovitzs of the world, and is it anything like what goes on in my head when I find myself wishing I didn’t draw like a five-year-old?

Just how common is aesthetic attraction as an experience?

Help me out here

I don’t know, but I figure a good start is to conduct an informal poll via the medium of this blog post. So please comment let me know: do you, as an asexual or an allosexual person, experience aesthetic attraction independent of any other form of attraction? And if so, what is it like for you? Is my description of it also how you experience it, or does it work entirely differently?

Image by Alexandr Ivanov from Pixabay
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7 Replies to “Aesthetic attraction – is it only an asexual thing?”

  1. ace-themed humanoid here,
    I most definitely experience aesthetic attraction in isolation.

    If anything, I have experienced all the varieties of attraction in relative isolation, or in defined mixes.
    I’m not sure if my history of experiencing sexual attraction (twice) counts as sufficient data, but both times came with romantic and aesthetic attraction attached.
    All the others (sensual, aesthetic, romantic, etc) have come in varied mixes, including solo.

    1. I very much like the idea of being an ace-themed humanoid! It fits my identity well too.

      Thank you for the data point, and for the timely reminder that all these experiences are more than a simple Yes/No state, sexual attraction included.

  2. I , ace-ish, experience aesthetic attraction without sexual attraction, as well as aesthetic attraction _with_ sexual attraction.

    I don’t think I experience sexual attraction without some level of aesthetic attraction. I can’t think of a time that’s happened.

  3. So this is months late, but hello from the case you’re probably wondering about. I, allosexual, 99.99% of the time experience aesthetic attraction only with sexual attraction, and can’t think of a time when I’ve felt sexual attraction without at least a degree of aesthetic attraction. But then there’s that 0.01% of the time (one case so far, but WHAT a case) that got me discovering the term “aesthetic attraction” in the first place: this one person I have zero sexual or romantic attraction for, but feel about her exactly the way you describe: I want to keep looking forever. I *wish* I could draw people better so I could spend all my free time drawing her, or trying. And if I got a perfectly lifelike drawing from memory I’d be disappointed because it wasn’t 3D. And if I could sculpt a perfect statue of her I’d still be disappointed because it wasn’t flesh and blood and moving. So on. But absolutely no more than that, and it surprises me that it’s no more because I nearly always want to actually date/bang pretty people.

    1. Hi Taz, thank you for chiming in with your very helpful data point! So there *is* aesthetic attraction in the allosexual world! I wonder how common, or uncommon, it really is.

  4. Asexual humanoid reporting: Aesthetic attraction is something I’m also familiar with. Maybe it sometimes merges with a shy person’s version of emotional attraction, but I’m pretty sure that I have experienced it in isolation from other forms of attraction. Something you haven’t mentioned about it, perhaps because it seemed too obvious to be worth mentioning, is that it doesn’t care about gender. A brief moment of visual or auditory aesthetic attraction can be accompanied by an awareness of potential loss; correspondingly, it can be reassuring to have reason to believe that some attractive face or faces will be seen again.

    1. Ah, that’s a very good point about gender! I agree – my experience of aesthetic attraction seems to have bear no relation to what gender/s I’m romantically attracted to. It really is just “you’re really pretty/interesting-looking and I wanna keep looking at you.”

      I’m intrigued by your reference to auditory aesthetic attraction. For me it seems to be purely visual, but I wonder how many other people experience it with other senses too.

      Funnily enough, I like it better when I’m aesthetically attracted to someone fleetingly seen, like a stranger on a train. I think for me it’s because I don’t want to engage with the person in any way other than enjoying covertly studying their features for a while. If I was trying to actually have a friendship or working relationship with them, the attraction to their looks would just distract me and get in the way. When I think about it that way, my aesthetic attraction really does objectify its targets – but hopefully in a way that doesn’t do them any harm, since I’m trying to keep it entirely to myself and not creep them out.

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