This is my entry for the December 2014 Carnival of Aces. Please consider writing something too! There’s still time – the beginning of January is okay too. ;) Or… consider writing something for whatever the current month when you’re reading this is, since the Carnival of Aces likely is still going on! Hopefully it will continue to go on, into 2016, and beyond!
Content Note: Around the middle of this post, I discuss my mother’s physical abuse toward me when I was a child/teenager.
Soon after I learned what asexuality was from AVEN’s website, I also discovered terms for other types of attraction, rather than sexual attraction.
To be honest, to this day I still don’t feel like I fully grasp what most of the other types of attraction mean. I’m not 100% sure how much I have in common with people who do and who don’t experience varying types of attraction. Some days even the concept of sexual attraction can continue to confuse me. Lmao. It’s hard when people don’t have concrete definitions for these things!! It’s harder when most of it is based on describing feelings one already has, so when you likely lack the feeling… you’re never going to fully get it.
When people speak of aesthetic attraction, for instance, I imagine this magnetism to LOOK and well for me, while I can judge people on a scale and decide who seems prettier than most, and while I can appreciate certain looks, I don’t feel drawn to stare most of the time, so I wonder if I experience aesthetic attraction for people at all.
Since the theme of this month’s Carnival is “Touch, Sensuality, and Non-Sexual Physical Intimacy”, allow me to focus upon sensual attraction.
When I’d first read Coyote‘s Differentiating Types of Attraction post, ey really introduced me to the concept.
Sexual attraction, as it’s typically depicted in media, often includes aesthetic attraction and sensual attraction mixed in as if inseparable, as they are for many people. Nonsexual aesthetic attraction is sometimes treated as believable, especially between women. However, nonsexual sensual attraction is treated with a little more skepticism, a problem not helped by the fact that some people use the word “sensual” as a euphemism or synonym for “sexual”.
Sensual attraction is a feeling pertaining strictly to touch, creating an impulse to initiate contact with the recipient. A nonsexual example of this would be touching someone’s face or embracing them in a hug. Since this is a type of attraction, it’s not the same thing as wanting to cuddle someone as a way to comfort them when they’re sad, or as an expression of affection, or because you’re craving contact in general. All of those are valid, real feelings, but they’re not what I use the term to refer to. The best definition for it I’ve ever seen — and I can’t find the source where I found this, unfortunately — is that sensual attraction is “the feeling you get when you see a fluffy kitten”. For me, this term is a useful description for how I sometimes feel a random and inexplicable (but controllable) urge to touch people.
And it fascinated me. I walk through clothing stores and see a fleece jacket or something else that’s a cool texture, and yes, sometimes I want to touch, I want to revel in how soft these pajamas would be and oh I wish I had the money to buy them because they’re so amazing to touch. But… toward a PERSON? Wanting to reach out and touch them just to feel what they feel like? No… I’ve never felt such a thing. I’m fairly sure of it.
Pretty much the only times I’ve ever initiated touch of any kind toward the people in my life have been toward my closest 3 family members – my brother, my father, and one of my cousins. I’ve reached out to try to comfort with a hug or a gentle touch in a time of their grief, briefly. I’ve playfully/casually leaned my feet on laps or rested my head upon a shoulder while watching TV. I don’t do it very often, especially recently, though.
And I’ve never actively craved touch. I remember being comforted by a hug a total of one time in my life – and yes, this hug felt SO amazing, at the end of a day that was probably the worst day of my life in many ways. There was something so special about that form of touch, for me. But it was just one instance, and in other times of being upset, I’ve felt pretty comforted by other things, instead of touch.
As Sara K. said recently:
I am not touchy-feely; on the other hand, I am not touch-averse either. If I got into a close relationship, and my partner wanted to touch me a lot AND had respect for my boundaries AND communicated well with me, I don’t think it would be hard to find a mutually-satisfying arrangement. What I’m averse to is people touching me without permission or insisting that I must touch because touching is good for me.
I feel like her words describe me too. I’ve been on dates with 3 different guys, and all of them have touched me in different ways.
When the first guy I’d ever tried dating kissed my cheek, it felt SO intimate and amazing, like a rush of wonderfulness. When we tried holding hands, it was uncomfortable and awkward and did nothing for me. When guy # 1 & I kissed… I ended up in tears, so needless to say I did not enjoy the experience.
I found all 3 of these guys via online dating, btw, so when I first met guy #2 in person and the first thing he did after stepping off the train and us recognizing each other from our profile pics was embrace me in a hug… I wasn’t comfortable.
Guy #3, my first official boyfriend… I enjoyed leaning on while watching TV. I didn’t really like the awkwardness of having to shift from growing hot/sweaty/uncomfortable over time. There was something special about cuddling with him, perhaps because he was getting sexually “turned on” by it, and I’d never had that effect on anyone before. I had never cuddled in quite this intimate of a way before and it was a new experience, and overall pretty nice. Really, though, I didn’t “love cuddling”. What I loved more was being able to talk openly and honestly with him. Enjoying TV together. Him teaching me to play Magic the Gathering. Him giving me a homemade gift. Him actually watching my fanvideos I’d created and enjoying them. Him letting me make one of my favorite recipes for him. If I had never once touched him throughout our entire relationship, I wouldn’t have been longing for it. I’m fully satisfied by non-sensual and non-touch-related pleasures. Touching can be nice, but I can take it or leave it. I certainly don’t feel drawn to it. And I don’t need touch on a regular basis.
My mother was abusive toward me growing up, and some of that abuse certainly was physical. I consider her abuse to have been mainly verbal/emotional… but to give you a taste of the physical…
It didn’t often leave marks, but on a few occasions I did bleed a tiny bit from small scratches caused by her fingernails onto my forearms or hands. More often, though, she’d use her body to trap me in a corner, and I’d try to push her away, but being a child I wasn’t strong enough, and all I’d succeed in doing was bruising her arms, which she’d later yell at me for, blaming ME for hurting HER. Or she’d violently push down my arms when I was using my hands to cover my ears as she yelled the loudest she possibly could. She broke a favorite, expensive bracelet of mine by ripping it off my wrist, while I was still wearing it. Or my hair was in a pony tail and she’d move my whole body by pulling on it, not even pulling out one hair, just pulling it enough to hurt a bit, to obtain control over me, and even to knock my much needed and expensive (breakable!) eyeglasses off of my face in the process. On a couple of occasions, she literally spit on me. She dumped out a bowl of cereal with milk in it onto my head. There are probably many, many more cases of things that were pretty “physically” abusive. But I think I’ve listed enough. So many of these things don’t leave physical injuries, just… emotional ones, I guess. But they often involved invading my personal space. Using “touch” in a negative way. Etc.
I remember that once I’d finally stopped living with her, while in the hallway of a courthouse as my dad and she fought over custody of me and my brother… on multiple occasions she tried to hug me and I jerked away. I did NOT want to be touched by that woman, okay? I wasn’t afraid she’d actually hurt me in a public place. I certainly expected it’d be “just a hug”, but the contradictory nature of such a loving action from her made me SO uncomfortable, and I wanted to avoid it.
As I soon ended up going away to college, on my campus there seemed to be a tradition at one point, by the Student Union, of “Free Hugs Friday”. And… I just really didn’t want to be hugged by strangers, okay? I felt so weird every time I dodged the people with their arms outstretched and the cheery posters. I felt like someone with “intimacy issues” who maybe would like hugging more if I’d tried it more. But whatever. I was happy enough with my life of not ever touching anyone.
I’m pretty sure part of the reason I identify as wtfromantic is because so many romantic ace narratives include so much TOUCH and I often feel like I must be aromantic, if I could be fully satisfied in a relationship that includes absolutely zero touch. That for most people, some level of touch that is reserved for only “non friends” is what makes a romantic relationship romantic, or something. But then again, I have a lot of other reasons for NOT feeling like I’m aro… but still, I feel like my relationship toward sensuality & touch, toward cuddling and non-sexual physical intimacy of all kinds… comes up a LOT in my self-analysis of my feelings when I’m trying to place myself somewhere on the romantic spectrum.
I feel like I enjoy hugging some of my extended family members slightly more now than I used to. Maybe enjoy is the wrong word. I think… I no longer feel awkward and uncomfortable hugging them.
I think for me, it’s about comfort with the person. How much I love them. How much I feel like they’re friendly and like me at all. How much I know them. To me, even a simple hug is a pretty intimate thing. My uncle who I rarely say one word to despite us showing up at the same Christmas, Thanksgiving, Mother’s Day, etc celebrations for years, who I don’t feel like I know at all? Hugging him is still uncomfortable and I’d rather skip that ritual when he decides he’s ready to leave the house, but I still go through the motions because I feel like I have no choice. But now that I’ve grown up, and I’m almost 25 years old… I feel like I really have gotten to know quite a few of my other extended family members better, after having many moments of conversational bonding with them… and all of a sudden hugging them feels so much more natural/simple/easy. Could I live without it? Sure. Would a wave hello and goodbye, or a simple smile, suffice? Yeah I’d be totally cool with never touching these people in any way, ever again.
If I compare my feelings of sex-aversion to how I feel about touch, I am 95% sure I’m not touch-averse, not as a blanket statement. I think I am pretty touch-averse in cases where the person is a stranger, a near-stranger, or my abusive mother. But in cases where I feel comfortable around a person and feel like I’ve gotten to know them fairly well, I can kind of find touch to be either something I’m indifferent to, or in a few select circumstances, a wonderful experience. I definitely don’t crave touch in my life, though. And I don’t experience sensual attraction toward specific people, either.