Being Bi/Ace, Part Two: Aesthetic Attraction and the Visual-Aural Gender Split

This post is for the May 2018 Carnival of Aces on “Nuance & Complexity,” which I am hosting. Please check it out and consider submitting! Cross-posted to Prismatic Entanglements.

Last time I talked about how there’s a lot of extra scrutiny about attraction for both bi and ace people, which makes inhabiting that intersection difficult, and the misconceptions that become barriers to talking about it. Now I’m going to talk about some specific aspects of my own attraction and how it’s different enough from the norm that it usually goes unrecognized.

I really recommend you go read part one first if you haven’t yet, especially the last section about the double-bind between being questioned about my place on the Kinsey Scale while also trying to fight the misconception that being bi means being attracted to only two genders in a binarist way.

I’m going to talk about my attractions to men vs. my attractions to women, not because I’m only attracted to men OR women (I’m not!), but because it’s just the most illustrative comparison I can make. My attractions are sparse to begin with, and since non-binary, androgynous, and other gender-variant people are a smaller population that I get less exposure to, a distinct pattern hasn’t emerged. It can follow either pattern, be a mix, or be something else entirely.

And keep in mind, this is still going to be simplified. I’m only focusing on aesthetic attraction, because that is the most frequent form of attraction that I experience, so I can make generalizations about it more easily.

However! As I discussed in the first post, I… really don’t experience attraction categories as distinct and easily separable, and a lot of my experiences are… probably better described without referring to them as a kind of attraction? I’m still trying to figure out how (and whether) to talk about those. But since I have strong aesthetic preferences and my experience of aesthetic attraction is so unusual that people are not even aware that it could be like that, I want to talk about it here in order to make space for myself and anyone with similar experiences.

The Visual Paradigm of Aesthetic Attraction

In ace communities, whenever we talk about aesthetic attraction, it’s almost always exclusively centered on visuals.

How many times have you heard non-sexual aesthetic attraction explained by a comparison to looking at a painting? If you’ve been around for a while, I’m guessing a hell of a lot. I’ve resorted to it before myself, but I’m not sure it conveys what we want it to, because I think we underestimate the possibility that paintings may inspire sexual feelings. I’m afraid our reliance on this analogy is a bit naive.

Siggy once described his experience with aesthetic attraction this way:

“It’s more like, people pop out in a crowd. I notice them even if I wasn’t initially paying attention, like hearing someone say my name, or running into someone I recognize. It’s unmistakeable, and it’s either there or it’s not.

When it happens, the only thing it makes me want to do is look at them, similar to how I might want to scrutinize someone I think I might recognize. I suppose it feels good to look at them?”

Notice that the only mention of any sense other than sight is just an analogy. While he does mention music as a form of art later in the post, when it comes to discussing attraction to people, it’s all only about appearance.

Sometimes the sight bias is explicit: AVENwiki, Asexuality Archive, and The Asexual all define aesthetic attraction as inherently visual. We can also see it here in the first submission to this Carnival:

“Sensual feeling is so much vaster than that. It encompasses so many nuances of touch and taste and sound and even melds with aesthetic attraction, because sight is a sense, too.” (emphasis added)

Now, I 100% agree that aesthetic attraction is a subset of sensual attraction, so that is a good point! People usually discuss sensual attraction only in the context of physical contact and tactile senses, but I think sensual attraction can involve any sense.

But look how sound, mentioned right before the bold part, is excluded from the working definition of aesthetic attraction. Aesthetic attraction is equated with sight, and that is an accessibility problem.

If we define aesthetic attraction like this, then what about blind people? Is it just impossible for them to experience attraction based on aesthetic preferences? I think not.

I think I have actually never seen any ace people talk about aesthetic attraction based on any sense other than sight?

So let me be the first.

The Gender Split: Primary Modality and Repulsion

Now, when it comes to women, I’m primarily visually-oriented. On a daily basis, at least one or two pretty ladies will catch my eye—if not in person, then through one kind of media or another.

Not so with men. I am rarely visually attracted to men.

In fact, I am sort of biased against a lot of traits considered conventionally attractive in men, like facial hair or the kind of excessively muscular build that you usually see on bodybuilders or actors who play superheroes (in the U.S. at least). These things are not just unattractive to me, they are the opposite of attractive—in other words, I feel repulsed by them as if by same-pole magnetic force.

In contrast to the usual use of “repulsion” in the ace community, I would describe this as a fairly more “neutral” feeling that doesn’t necessarily involve feelings of disgust. Whatever you’re picturing by my use of the word “repulsed,” my feelings are almost certainly milder and more matter-of-fact than that. More of a “Nope” than an “Ew.”

You might think this is trauma-related, but I’ve always been like this. I do have traumatic aversions to certain traits, and those are stronger, but I don’t think the details are especially relevant here. Trauma generally impacts my comfort level with men more than my attractions to them.

It’s not that I’m never visually attracted to men, it’s just that most of the time my feelings about them range from neutral to negative when I’m just looking at them, especially in static images—which makes dating apps that first ask you to rate people based on pictures a non-starter for me.

Aural Aesthetic/Sensual Attraction

Instead, I am primarily attracted to men in a completely different way: their voices.

There’s nothing like the allure of a great male singer, with a deep, clear voice, who is still able to hit those high notes. I have pretty strong preferences about singing style too, as my partner can attest from the many complaints I have had about vocalists from bands she likes.

It’s not limited to songs, either. Radio voices, acting, and people just talking can spark this sort of attraction too, and then all I want to do is just keep listening.

This is definitely aesthetic attraction. It’s just a different mode of engagement. I struggled with what to call it for this post—audial? sonic?—but ultimately settled on “aural” because I like it best, my spell-checker already recognizes it as a word, and it doesn’t have competing associations with video game characters, so it’ll probably be more search-friendly. But some people pronounce it the same way as “oral” so it might be confusing in spoken conversations. I don’t espouse this as a label for a “new” distinct sub-type of attraction though. It makes more sense to expand existing definitions.

I suspect that although it might not be the primary form of attraction for most people, this experience is not that uncommon. I’ve heard so many people talk about how so-and-so has a “sexy voice” that I think this is a lot more well-recognized outside of the ace community, even though there is still more focus on appearance overall. But the way that it is generally framed in terms of sexiness outside the ace community, combined with the ace community’s lack of acknowledgment of it as a thing that can be non-sexual as well…

It just feels alienating. Surely I’m not the only ace who feels this kind of attraction ever?

Maybe it’s just that we focus so much on appearance or personality that we don’t even consider sound-based appeal.

Appreciation or Attraction?

For a long time, because of all this, I didn’t recognize this as attraction either. I guess I thought of it as more of an intense aesthetic appreciation. But there’s a difference, and it is immediately recognizable to me. I don’t really know how to describe it, so let me give a few examples instead: there are vocalists whose talents and artistic style I really appreciate, but I’m not attracted to them. Like Daishi from Psycho le Cému, or Kyo from Dir en grey (two bands with completely different aesthetic extremes—engage with the latter at your own risk, they revel in being disturbing).

I guess there’s an extra layer of immediate fascination with the people I’m attracted to, beyond my appreciation for the music itself—they stand out more. There’s more of an intensity to my enjoyment of it, more of a thrill. It may lead me to want to know more about the person, and sometimes there are other kinds of attraction mixed in there as well. I’m more likely to develop a visual component to my attraction to a guy if I already like his voice, though often it’s more about his style and dynamic mannerisms than his actual physical characteristics. But it varies a lot.

Generally, people aren’t aware that this is even a thing I experience. Because it isn’t visual. Because it’s something that mostly happens when I listen to music, and I usually do that alone since hardly anybody I know shares my taste. Because it’s something I have had no idea how to talk about, without giving the wrong impression.

If you ask me a question like, “Come on, when was the last time you saw a guy you were attracted to?”—which is usually how people phrase it—then my answer will be a frustrated shrug.

But if you ask in a way that doesn’t preclude my primary mode of attraction to guys, you’ll get a totally different answer.

I think we need to do better at acknowledging a wider variety of attractions, without falling into habits that reinforce a visual bias. And I’d really like to stop having people suggest that I’m not “really” bi, or that I’m “more lesbian” just because only some of my attractions are obvious to them. This is not a lesser experience, just because I engage with it differently.

I’m convinced that I can’t possibly be the only one.

So I want to know:

  • Do you ever experience aural aesthetic/sensual attraction?
  • What other attractions (or attraction-like experiences) have you had that don’t really fit in with the way we usually talk about attraction in the ace community?
  • Do you experience a gender split in your attractions too? Do your attractions to some people get discounted/dismissed more than others?

About Elizabeth

Elizabeth is a 30-something asexual woman who is often mistaken for a lesbian, due to the fact that she is partnered to a lady. She is actually bi (but not biromantic) and somewhere on the aromantic spectrum. She is formally trained in creative writing with a focus on non-fiction and poetry, and maintains a blog called Prismatic Entanglements, where she mostly writes long-winded personal essays and social criticism. In her spare time, she enjoys being cat furniture, coming up with new Pokemon strategies and never going to church.
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32 Responses to Being Bi/Ace, Part Two: Aesthetic Attraction and the Visual-Aural Gender Split

  1. kaikiky says:

    I definitely have a few people whose voices I’m attracted to. I actively seek out one voice actor in particular because there’s just something about his voice that gets me feeling all sparkly inside. I don’t really know another way to describe it. I hear his voice, and my whole body gets all “squeeeeee!!!!” and I start grinning ridiculously. I’m really attracted to his voice, even though I don’t know anything about the actual person himself. But he conveys emotions so well with his acting, and the sound of his voice itself just GETS to me. So I would say I have that aural attraction to his voice.
    I do feel visual attraction to some people, but for me that aesthetic attraction generally is the feeling of, “Oh, WOW, I LOVE the way you look, I want to just stare at you for a while because WOW.” And that can happen to people of any gender, but it is less likely to happen when the person is a female in a sexualized pose even if in a different pose I WOULD find them aesthetically attractive.
    Also, I think the “highest” form of attraction for me is someone who I feel an interest in doing something creative with. When I get to know someone (and that someone can be fictional or real), when I start thinking, “oh my god, I want to listen to music with you, and dance with you, and make up stories with you,” THAT’S like, the ultimate kind of attraction I can feel, and that doesn’t depend on gender at all.

    • Elizabeth says:

      Yeah, sexualized poses can kinda make me recoil enough to impact my level of attraction, too. And I like your examples about what the “ultimate” kind of attraction is like for you! Reminds me of what I was saying the other day in a comment on the first part of this post, about how you can still act on an attraction in a meaningful way without necessarily pursuing a romantic relationship. Maybe I should start making a list of examples like that for future reference.

  2. Tylerelyt says:

    I have the same thing for voices, and it was the first thing I ever really recognized as aesthetic attraction after figuring out I was ace. It was kind of a helpful jumping off point to figure out the ways I feel aesthetic attraction, though it remains fairly nebulous and hard to define at this point.

    I’ve also recently had the weird experience of being jealous of other people’s voices. Like, I’ve heard that described in visual attraction for a lot of same-sex attracted and trans people, where theyre not sure if they want to date the other person, or be them, but I haven’t really heard it talked about in terms of voices. I think it’s a weirder experience than visual aesthetic jealousy, because it’s a lot less achievable.

    • Elizabeth says:

      Good to know (for sure!) that I’m not alone in that.

      You bring up an interesting point about vocal jealousy. I’ve occasionally had something like that too, though in my case it’s been pretty obvious that’s something different from attraction. I’d suspect that whether it’s more achievable to recreate another person’s look or sound really depends on the person, since some people have a broader vocal range and some people have a broader… visual repertoire? I guess?

  3. luvtheheaven says:

    I could’ve sworn I saw one ace blog talking about blind people still having sexual attraction in particular, at the very least, even if it was about the sexual stuff it was still unpacking the visual emphasis, with a link to:

    But I can’t find what blog it was when I just Googled again to try to find the actual link, so it’s possible I didn’t see this discussion on a WordPress asexuality themed blog…. Maybe I’m misremembering how I was first introduced to that thread.

    • Elizabeth says:

      Thanks for that link! It looks familiar to me so I think I have read it (or parts of it) before, or at least something similar… though I know that if that was the same one I read before, it wasn’t something I found through the ace community. It was something that was linked to me by my partner, who got it from her legally blind friend.

      I wouldn’t be surprised if someone else has talked about this before and I just missed it though. I tried to google around for it, but I am honestly pretty terrible at figuring out the right combination of search terms that will get me what I want to see. It may also be something that has linkrotted away by now, too.

  4. luvtheheaven says:

    I always thought sensual attraction referred not to attraction of the senses, but rather very specifically tactile based attractions which Idk, aesthetic attraction wouldn’t be a subset of. But that’s an interesting distinction and I like the aesthetic attraction can be aural and about sound thought, that sound is also aesthetic, basically?

    Since I’ve started describing myself as “demi-sensual” too though it’s interesting to consider what that means in terms of more than hugs and touch. It’s more about targeted desire than attraction per see, I think it’s true that I might also be demi- with my other senses of attractions and craving to see a specific person or craving to hear their voice once I have a deep emotional bond…

    I’m either a- or pan- in pretty much all my attractions, where there is no gender difference as far as I know, except yes I’ve told people for years I think I have more aesthetic attraction (which for me I think is indeed more like an appreciation) for femme women, especially their hair I think, but also sometimes if they are wearing certain types of feminine clothes and then I’m unsure if I’m mesmerized or in awe because I’m jealous and it’s about more what I’d wish for on my own self, or if it’s actually an attraction to women in some sense.

    • Elizabeth says:

      Yeah, I feel like there’s a very big split between tactile and non-contact sensual attractions, and the non-contact ones get left out most of the time. I think lots of people have thought of sensual attraction as only tactile (and proliferated that viewpoint by either defining it that way in prominent places, or just only talking about tactile senses), but there’s certainly people like me in the minority with a broader view of it. At least AVENwiki, for once, backs me up on that, lol. I guess I just find it… really odd, that it’s easily recognized that musical aesthetic preferences exist (to the point that people say things like “this is my aesthetic”), but when it comes to attraction, sound is almost never considered as a part of it.

      I’ve gone back and forth on the attraction or appreciation question so many times for both visual and aural attractions… but I think actually for me, the difference between attraction and appreciation is way more subtle with visual aesthetic attraction to (femme) women than the difference between appreciation and aural attraction with men. And yeah, that’s partly because of what you described (jealousy etc.). A lot of times I just really really like their clothing/personal style more so than their actual appearance. I guess that’s sometimes the case with feminine men (like androgynous or crossdressing visual kei guys) too, visually speaking. I usually don’t think of that as attraction though, more like fashion sense and personal taste. But… I guess it’s related to attraction? At least, it can be one reason I feel interested in a certain person, because their style is interesting/impressive and since I like that, we must have similar tastes.

  5. Sara K. says:

    Though I like some voices more than others, I don’t think I experience aural aesthetic/sensual attraction. This may reflect that I am much more of a visually-oriented person than a sound-oriented person. And like luvtheheaven, I had understood sensual attraction as meaning liking the ideal of tactile interaction with someone, and not about the senses, but since I don’t experience sensual attraction, what do I know.

    Actually, what I find remarkable is how LITTLE of a gender split there is in my patterns of attraction. If I find a particular feature (such as long hair) attractive in a person of one gender, I will probably also find it attractive in a person of a different gender.

  6. Oooh, i very much like this discussion.

    I’ve never had much use for aesthetic and sensual as ways to think about the way i experience attraction; i’d rather talk about specific senses. Sound is not my, i don’t know, strong sense? favorite way to interact with people and the world? I like ASMR, but my music taste is mostly based on the links of specific songs or albums to specific stories (like that Coldplay album mentioned in a manga that became its soundtrack in my mind) and i may like deep voices, but that’s because i like deep/low sounds in general.

    Visual feel more everyday, and i know that my non-just-their-clothes-and-personal-style attraction falls for the most part on femme and androgynous people of any gender.

    Now, touch and smell? Those i can clearly recognize as ways i feel strongly attracted to people. And they’re very rare, i can maybe count with my hands the people i’ve actively wanted to touch or hug (or want them to touch and hug me, which is an entirely different thing). I know i Really like someone if feel like putting my face on their neck and *inhale*

    Another important bit is that, since i started to identify as ace, i’ve felt way more free to acknowledge the attraction i feel for people, whatever kind of.

    When i’ve had to describe aesthetic and sensual attraction, i’ve done it as “aesthetic is visual, sensual is other senses”, but after reading all your comments i think i would prefer something like linking aesthetic to non-contact attraction and sensual to a desire for physical closeness. At least, that’s what would make sense to me.

    • Elizabeth says:

      I’m the same way with smell! It’s extremely rare, but when it happens it’s pretty powerful. Smell seems to be acknowledged the most often as sensual attraction, out of all of the potentially-non-contact senses, probably because it requires a closer range and physical presence at least, and is stronger the closer you are to someone.

      I feel like aesthetic preferences could potentially extend to tactile contact too, particularly after reading through that reddit thread that luvtheheaven linked above where blind people talk about their attractions. Or maybe some people might have very strong texture preferences, and that kind of thing could be considered an aesthetic too. Texture is an odd case, because it is something that is (or can be) both visual and tactile at the same time. And it could be about physical characteristics, fashion choices, or even preferences about home decor. And while that’s getting farther and farther away from a person’s traits… I’m kind of going there on purpose because I think aesthetic attraction can actually have nothing to do with someone’s physical body, and instead it’s more about personality and shared tastes. I have no idea what words to use for that, but I guess it would be closer to an emotional attraction?

      And, while I was researching for this post I found some old comments here talking about “graphical and ideographical aesthetic attractions” which was described as being attracted to people who (are perceived to) represent certain ideas/concepts. I think I would describe that as ideological or intellectual, maybe?

      This is just some weird rambling somewhat tangential to what you were saying, but inspired by it, so I hope you understand what I mean, lol! I guess what I’m thinking is that, while I consider aesthetic attraction to be generally a subset of sensual attraction that can potentially include all senses, I also think it can meld or overlap with other kinds of attraction, too. All of this stuff is so complicated and really hard to figure out how to categorize and name.

  7. Siggy says:

    I don’t experience aural attraction. I have a strong sense of good and bad vocalists, but I wouldn’t ever describe that sense as attraction. Since my experience with visual-aesthetic attraction is that it’s unmistakable, my inclination is to consider my aesthetic appreciation for vocalists not to be attraction unless it had a similar unmistakable quality.

    In any case, I have historically gravitated towards music without vocalists. Electronic, ambient, drone, and avant garde classical. I also listen to plenty of music with vocalists, but the vocalists are all over the map, including some “extreme” vocal styles like growling/screaming.

    Actually, since singing style varies so much across genres, I’m curious if people with aural attraction are more likely to hear it in some genres than others.

    My impression is that “sensual attraction” usually means tactile, but sometimes it refers to all the senses, and that’s just confusing. Maybe it would be better to just say tactile, but I dunno, it’s hard to ditch a word that’s so well-established.

    IMO there’s also some ambiguity in the concept of tactile attraction. Attraction has maybe three components: the thing that causes the attraction, the thing that attraction makes you want to do, and the thing you enjoy doing while attracted. In visual-aesthetic attraction, these are typically all rolled together–you’re attracted because of what you see, what you want to do is look at them, and what you enjoy doing is looking at them. Physical contact may indeed be a source of attraction, but I think it’s more common for people to speak of physical contact as a goal rather than a source.

    • Elizabeth says:

      Yes, I’m way more likely to hear it in certain genres over others… but of course this may be exaggerated just because it happens most in the genres I listen to most often. The band’s general aesthetic, including visuals and narrative, is an amplifying factor. I like growling/screaming in my music too, but I think it’s more the tone/resonance that determines whether a voice is attractive or not (and with speaking/acting, there are other factors like confidence and what they’re actually saying too).

      Most of the time it’s pretty unmistakeable as, at the very least, some kind of attraction for me. It’s just that, conceptually, it’s been hard to recognize as a kind of non-sexual attraction because the only time I would see it acknowledged as a thing is when it was described as “hot” or “sexy.” So this was one of the things that I vaguely referred to as really confusing way back when, that led me to identify as gray-ace for such a long time. If I completely, 100% understood what people meant when they described someone’s voice like that, wouldn’t that mean I’m gray? That was the logic, but of course for me it inspired no actual sexual feelings, just… uh, maybe precursors to it? Something like that.

      “IMO there’s also some ambiguity in the concept of tactile attraction. Attraction has maybe three components: the thing that causes the attraction, the thing that attraction makes you want to do, and the thing you enjoy doing while attracted. In visual-aesthetic attraction, these are typically all rolled together–you’re attracted because of what you see, what you want to do is look at them, and what you enjoy doing is looking at them. Physical contact may indeed be a source of attraction, but I think it’s more common for people to speak of physical contact as a goal rather than a source.”

      Yes, absolutely. Which is why I would differentiate the ideas by saying tactile aesthetic attraction/repulsion (your preferences about what you like to touch, and don’t like to touch—for example, facial hair) as opposed to… yeah, I don’t know, it’s still ambiguous, but probably just sensual attraction since it’s already established and tactile is already the default understanding for that. But I mean, usually I don’t have to differentiate what kind of sensual attraction I’m talking about at all, except for conversations like this. It’s really not necessary in most cases, especially when you’re only talking about your own personal experiences. It’s just, when people write up definitions, it would be really nice to see some acknowledgment about the broader idea, including the more under-discussed things. I don’t want to ditch the term sensual attraction at all, and personally I think the ambiguity/vagueness is a plus.

  8. Siggy says:

    On a side note, what I don’t like about the painting analogy is that it’s unclear how literal it is. Is it just an explanatory analogy, or is aesthetically appreciating art literally the same as aesthetic attraction? Or perhaps, some people only use it as an explanatory analogy, and other people say it because appreciation and attraction literally feel very similar to them? As a person for whom they do not feel similar, it’s frustrating because I can’t tell to what extent this is true for other people. I imagine it’s also frustrating to people who have a strong sense of appreciation, and are questioning whether this amounts to aesthetic attraction.

    Anyway, it’s funny because the painting analogy has an obvious extension to music, one that I even commented on in my earlier post, but I still overlooked the possibility of aural attraction.

  9. Rivers says:

    I really like this post. It unpacks a lot of interesting thoughts.

    When I think of “aesthetics” outside the context of attraction, I feel like it generally does include more senses than just visual (though probably primarily still considered visual to most). So applying the same concept, that other senses can be aesthetic, really clicks for me.

    I think going forward, it would be interesting to see us widden what we see as aesthetic attraction in the community so we can have more nuanced discussions about it. And being more open to how we view the bounds of different types of attractions in general.

  10. Nowhere Girl says:

    Sorry for asking about an unrelated topic, but AVEN doesn’t answer: does anybody know why doesn’t the AVEN forum work? Does it work for you? All day I can’t access the forum and I don’t even have any error message or loading message, just a blank page…

  11. queenieofaces says:

    I’m pretty sure I don’t experience aural attraction. When I listen to music, it’s generally for music in its totality rather than the vocalist specifically. I can also recognize a vocalist as skillful without necessarily liking the music, and like some music that has technically sloppy or bad vocalists. (I had a lot of musical training growing up and grew up with a very musical family–I wonder how related that is?) I also don’t really understand the whole “sexy voice” thing.

    But also auditory processing tends to be one of the things that goes haywire when my PTSD gets bad–one of the big warning signs is that I have to turn down the volume on my mp3 player because it’ll suddenly feel unbearably loud. I’ve also been through periods where I have a lot of trouble listening to recordings of people speaking (so podcast listening gets put on hold for a couple of days). I keep my headphones in at pretty much all times when I’m walking around outside, because it helps dampen some of the hypervigilance. So I feel like hearing tends to be weirdly contested for me in a way that seeing isn’t.

    • Elizabeth says:

      Mmm, well, it’s not that I listen to music solely for the vocalist. I mean, the rest of it has to be good (enough) too, or else I probably won’t even listen long enough to hear the vocalist in the first place. I’m just more likely to pay attention to the vocalists that have that captivating quality, listen to interviews with them, and follow their solo projects too.

      I also grew up with a really musical family, although on my dad’s side most of them are not technically educated and don’t know how to read music, they just play by ear. They had a band going for a long time. My mom’s side is also musically-inclined, but they’re more traditionally educated.

      I get auditory processing issues too during PTSD episodes, but often it’s more that I get generally overstimulated than only my ears. I have noise-canceling headphones that I often wear even when I’m not listening to anything, just to keep from getting startled by any little noise. But I usually can’t handle putting things in my ears for very long, so I have to use the kind that go over my ears, and they’re too big to wear while I’m out. I wish I could, it would probably help a lot with anxiety. But it’s probably for the best anyway, because I do have a lot of issues with my vision, especially in very bright conditions (like outside), so I think I rely on hearing more than what’s probably average. I’m pretty sure I’ve had some minor hearing loss, but I’ve been warned that I’m at risk of going legally blind since childhood, so…

  12. Vesper says:

    aesthetic attraction as a subset of sensual…. interesting.

    i admit to being among the many who think of aesthetic attraction as revolving around sight and sensual attraction as revolving around the tactic senses of touch, smell and taste. i feel like the ace communities tendency to define aesthetic and sensual attraction in this way falls in line with textbook definitions of “aesthetic” and “sensual” in the English language, thus our tendency to define corresponding types of attraction in the same way is merely an extension of the English language and the society we live in, with the only major exception being that the ace community divorces “sensual” from the sexual connotations that exist around it within society at large.

    …tl;dr, the padantic linguistics student in me says that the “sens-“ in “sensual attraction” is a misnomer and does not refer to the 5 senses in general and thus aesthetic attraction is not a sub-set of sensual attraction, because “aesthetic” refers specifically to visual perception of beauty, which is not encompassed by “sensual”……………………………………… but i always get hung up on words, etymology, semantics, etc and recognize that my opinion is my own.

    anyway, i do find it curious how despite the detail that is paid to parsing out the different ways in which attraction towards someone may (or may not) manifest itself, no attention has been given to attraction based on auditory perception.


    personally, i have noticed that i feel differently about people based on their voice, but i feel like i’ve never thought of it in terms of “attraction”, but rather as me having a “preference” for or “appreciation” of certain voices over others, irregardless of the person’s gender. that is, that’s how i thought of it until i began questioning whether past experiences that i’d previously assumed to be “attraction” were actually envy / admiration. (see: )

    for me, the jury is still out about the whole attraction vs envy thing as it pertains to my experience of it towards men, but starting T and experiencing the lowering of my own voice has at least made me more certain that my love of deep voices isn’t attraction per se OR envy, as i still do not particularly want to have my dad’s Barry White voice, even if i do want a lower voice than i originally had, and i have zero attraction to the owners of such voices based on them having such voices, even if i do feel like i could listen to those voices all day long.

    my lack of experience with auditory / aural attraction as a primary form of attraction aside, i still find the idea of such attraction to be intriguing. i agree that experiencing such auditory attraction isn’t uncommon at all, even if society at large (and the ace community by extension) tend to focus more on aesthetics (visuals).

    actually, whenever i hear people describe someone as having a “sexy voice”, i’ve always felt the exact same disconnect with “sexy” as i do when people are referring to the aesthetic beauty (which, again, is for me sight-based and thus distinct from auditory-based beauty) of a person as “sexy”. that is, i may be able to see where the person is coming from with their comment, because i too may appreciate the beauty of someone / something about that someone, but that appreciation is devoid of sexual connotation… i’ve also never cared for the painting analogy that people use to juxtapose aesthetic attraction with sexual attraction.

    anyway, to switch topics, i too experience various nebulous forms of attraction (among other feels) towards people that differ from person to person (gender to gender?) and i hate how hesitant i am to talk about those differences, least i fuel already existing accusations and assumptions about me being “basically” anything other than bi.

    also, i just find it difficult in general to make statements about my experience of attraction that are gender-specific, since gender itself is such a nebulous thing. even if i did experience aural attraction towards the owners of deep voices, for example, i personally wouldn’t feel comfortable with others (let alone myself) viewing that as me experiencing aural attraction towards *men* because men are not the only owners of deep voices and not all men have such deep voices…. which could be said of any characteristic / trait that society has deemed to be “male” (or “female”), so then what is the point of even defining one’s attraction based on gender to begin with….?

    somehow, i always end up circling around back to that question, despite being confident in my feelings about not wanting to be in another relationship with a member of the nebulous category of people that is “men”…

    ok, i’ll shut up now.

    • Elizabeth says:

      Well, I mean, if you want to go into what the words mean in English generally, then I would say that aesthetic is significantly broader than the way that we typically interpret it in the ace community, because it is about beauty and art, and it’s far from exclusively about visuals, even if that’s the most common general usage. I’ve seen it used in reference to literature A LOT because that’s one of my fields of study (linguistics is the other one). And of course it also gets applied to music all the time, too. So I’ve always interpreted phrases like “this is my aesthetic” to potentially refer to a whole package of artistic preferences, including potentially every sense and even sensibility, by which I mean that it also can include concepts, ideology, and preferences about genre. When I say something like “my aesthetic is very goth” I am talking about not only my taste in clothes, but also music and literature and general style, and that includes abstract concepts.

      As for sensual… yeah, that one’s more complicated, because there are multiple distinct meanings. One of them is either a straight-up euphemism for sexual, or it refers to something very closely related to it, something that is potentially arousing (and arousal can come from stimuli of any sense, as I’ve been repeatedly assured by allosexual people). The other is more generally about gratification of the senses, and while I would say it suggests something very gratuitously physical and grounded in the body, it isn’t exclusively tactile. There’s an atmospheric quality to it too. I’ve often seen it used to refer to things like enjoying a nice perfumed bubble bath while listening to soft music, maybe in a candlelit room, and so on. The examples often engage with multiple senses at once, and even when they don’t, I’ve seen all sorts of things described as “sensual.” Whispering. Dancing. Eating chocolate. A lot of things that don’t even have to involve another person at all, although they can be enjoyed together.

      So it seems pretty broad to me. And that’s what makes more sense to me, when it comes to using the word non-sexually. To me, it feels like we’re narrowing the definition if we use it exclusively to talk about desiring physical touch. And yeah, like I said in another comment, that’s a lot more vague and I actually consider that a good thing. I really don’t want the terms I use to talk about attraction to be that specific. It’s fine if it’s used most often to refer to touch, but I think forgetting that it often involves a certain kind of atmosphere too… can just make things more confusing or difficult for people whose desires are not specifically about touch.

      On a bit of a side note… One thing that came up in conversation with someone else I talked to about this recently was the idea of doing sensual activities in a long-distance relationship. They were saying that, if you think of it in terms of things like role-playing, then even if the only actual contact you have with a person is through text, you can still do something sensual together, imaginatively. I thought that was really interesting.

      So that’s my long-winded pedantic take on that, haha. 😛

      I honestly haven’t had any reason to use “sensual attraction” in a very long time myself, because I have such weak attractions and they’re really better described a different way anyway. I guess I’m much more likely to talk about sensual activities, that I might want sometimes but I don’t necessarily feel attraction to anyone in such a way that I’d specifically desire those things from them. I have felt that way in the past, and at that time there was a full range of sensual things that I was interested in, but now it’s pretty limited, so it seems more accurate to use a narrower term.

      Anyway, I want to talk about some complicated gender stuff too, but I’ll do that in a separate comment since this is getting so long…

      • Vesper says:


        i guess my usage / understanding of / encounters with “aesthetic” just happen to be narrower than actual usage of the word, but that doesn’t surprise me since i’m well aware of how visually orientated i am in general.

        what you said about sensual activities in a LDR is really interesting, though, as i’ve found myself in the midst of navigating that very thing recently, as well as disconnect(?) between text-based sensual activities and irl apprehension re: touch and sensuality in general. hmm…

    • Elizabeth says:

      So, after getting distracted for the weekend, finally coming back to this to talk a bit about gender stuff… your comment really got me thinking about it, so this is kind of just me thinking through it out loud.

      i personally wouldn’t feel comfortable with others (let alone myself) viewing that as me experiencing aural attraction towards *men* because men are not the only owners of deep voices and not all men have such deep voices…. which could be said of any characteristic / trait that society has deemed to be “male” (or “female”), so then what is the point of even defining one’s attraction based on gender to begin with….?

      I mean, fair point and all, yes! But… for me, there’s a reason I’m actually more uncomfortable with not identifying these people who fit the “sound-first and foremost, and then everything else” attraction pattern as “men” vs. just people with deep voices…

      First, I think maybe when I’m talking about it in this post, it sounds like it’s something that’s a lot more common for me than it really is? In terms of frequency, aural attraction is probably at least a weekly if not a daily experience. But a lot of it is music, so it’s listening to the same thing over and over again, by the same people. In terms of the number of people, the group I’m talking about is actually… mm, generously? I’d say it’s only maybe like 20-ish people total, over my entire life? With a core group of less than ten people that I’ve had a repeated experiences with, all of whom I definitely know are cis men, either because that information is publicly available or because I knew them personally.

      When I was a teenager, I had SO MANY PEOPLE tell me that several of these people “aren’t real men” or somehow “don’t count” as men for the purposes of determining my sexual orientation. Because they don’t look like the Western/U.S. “standard” idea of masculinity. At first glance, they were perceived as girls, and even when I corrected people, they often wouldn’t believe me and would keep insisting that they must be girls. It was incredibly disrespectful and very often involved racist epithets.

      And this sort of thing still happens every so often, although it’s way less awful than it used to be.

      So I dunno, with that kind of context, it doesn’t feel right to me to call this group “people with deep voices” even though, yeah, it’s possible that some of these people weren’t out as gender-variant. It’s simplifying, and it’s not the most perfect way of approaching it, but when what’s always been questioned so hard is the existence and validity of my attractions to men (and their gender by extension), specifically, well… *shrugs* It’s the best I feel I can do.

      It’s probably the case that all this scrutiny has ended up directing me towards noticing gender differences in my attractions more so than I would have otherwise. And then there’s all the trauma stuff stirring up negative feelings towards cis men… Ugh, that’s a whole other thing, but sometimes people seem to think that just because I prefer to keep my distance, that my attractions to cis men were… erased? I dunno. But I guess that plays some part in it too.

      • Vesper says:

        just now coming back to this, but fair point! i didn’t mean to come across as questioning the validity of your aural attraction being specifically towards men. if i did come across that way, i apologize.

        i can imagine the frustration (among other things) of having had people repeatedly attempting to erasure, deny or otherwise invalidate your feelings for men (and even the gender of the men themselves!), especially given…. yeah. Western ideas of manhood, masculinity and shit. ugh.

        i guess for my own personal reasons, i am more comfortable not mapping certain traits and any attraction i may feel towards them to specific genders– but of course i, like everyone else, have been socially programmed to do so, so not doing so is a constant internal (and external) struggle…

        …but as is obvious, society has a way of making things a struggle regardless of how a person navigates their attraction to others. sigh.

  13. Pingback: Being Bi/Ace, Part One: Scrutiny About Attraction and the Kinsey Scale | The Asexual Agenda

  14. Rachel says:

    Thanks for elaborating on this topic. It has helped give me some perspective on how my own aesthetic attraction works. The more I try to pin it down, the more complicated it seems to get:

    – I never frame my attractions as sensual, since “sensual” has so many touch-based connotations and I’m touch averse.
    – Having said that, I do think that you are right to point out aesthetic vs. sensual isn’t a hard and fast separation.
    – For me, aesthetic attraction to a person is like the feeling I get when looking at an appealing piece of artwork. I want to soak in and admire the details. I absolutely have visual and aural attraction to men as men. Women…?… see below.
    – I am actually finding it really hard to parse my aesthetic attractions. While I usually say that I am aesthetically attracted to men… the truth seems a little less clear. It is probably more accurate to say that I am primarily attracted to masculine/male-coded people rather than men exclusively (notice that this can conceivably include butch women and certain NBs). But I struggle to find terminology that is fair to all parties involved while being honest to how my aesthetic attraction actually works, because…

    *possible TMI*

    I have this rule called the shirt test. It goes: Would I like to see you with your shirt off? If you are an attractive person who does not have tits, the answer is probably yes. If you are an attractive person who does have tits, the answer is probably no.

    Making things more convoluted is that any aesthetic attraction to women (if I can even call it that) is/may not toward women-as-women, but it definitely is toward men-as-men. So I’m not sure if it even “counts.”

    So I mostly just throw up my hands and say that I am primarily attracted to men.

  15. Rowan says:

    I do experience something similar for vocalists, and I’m really interested to see you talk about it; it’s actually a lot stronger/more distinct for me than any kind of attraction-based-on-appearance.* I don’t tend to count it as contributing to my orientation in any direction – I find this important to say not because I want to delegitimise your experiences, but because for a long time I thought that I had to be attracted to men because sometimes I heard a man sing and felt some kind of emotion, so that was clearly a sign that I was straight, right?! (Nope.)

    This doesn’t divide along gendered lines for me, but interestingly it most often pops up for people whose voices could be said to be blurring the (made-up!) Western gendered musical roles: female contraltos/tenors and male high tenors/countertenors. (There’s a lot I could say about *why* that might be the case – I certainly spent enough time trying to fit in the weirdly rigidly gendered world of Western classical music! – but that’s probably not quite what you’re looking for here.)

    I still don’t understand the ‘sexy voice’ thing, though.

    *Visual attraction is pretty weak for me, unless I already have a crush on the person in question; to pick up one of Siggy’s threads from above, ‘oh, a pretty person’ is very similar to ‘oh, a pretty picture’ or ‘oh, a visually appealing kitchen’ in my experience.

    • Siggy says:

      I also really like voices that blur gender lines. To give a couple examples, I got unreasonably excited when I realized that I initially misgendered the voices of Zac Pennington and Haley Fohr. But I think for me this is mostly a matter of novelty. The feeling wore off and now I just think of them as good vocalists with unusual voices.

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  17. Lee says:

    Ooh, I definitely experience that aural level of attraction you talk about. There are certain types of voices that make me just melt.

    And I want to really thank you for these posts – because I too am ace and bi, but not biromantic. I struggled with labels for a really long time, and with feeling like I had no right to call myself bi, before I threw up my hands earlier this year and started letting myself explore bi-ness as a part of myself because to heck with it, it feels _right_. I’m aro-ish and if I do ever feel romantic attraction, it’s nebulous and far-between. The attraction I do experience is confusing and overlapping and hard to slap labels on. Sensual, aesthetic, alterous/queerplatonic – it lies at some mishmashed intersection of those and I’m finally starting to assert my right to bi-ness because of it. These are significant currents in my life that can’t be dismissed just because they break from amatonormative views of attraction.

    ANYWAY sorry for the rant. I rarely meet people like me and I really appreciated being able to read this post!!!

    I experience a gender split too but I’m still relatively early in the process of untangling my thoughts and feelings toward this aspect of myself so I don’t have a whole lot to say. I find women to be attractive more often than men, and I’m ‘meh’ toward a lot of the ‘conventionally attractive ideals’ of society for men. Which isn’t to say that individual men NEVER jump out of me in a crowd like ice water over my head, just that it happens less often. I’m also biased toward being attracted to androgyny in people of any/all genders, which may have to do with the fact that I am agender myself? I think that attraction is probably impacted by the fact that these people seem more safe/like potential allies/easier to identify with, but I highly doubt those are the ONLY reasons I’m attracted to androgyny, if you get what I’m saying? (I am attracted to men, women, and nonbinary people, as a side note. But like you said in your post, it’s harder to get data on patterns of attraction toward NB people than it is for men and women.)

  18. Blink says:

    So glad I’m not alone in this!

    I do not get attracted to people visually. I’m demisexual, and once I experience sexual attraction to a guy, I’ll see him as hot/sexy/visually appealing, but a lot of the ace and demi community will talk about how aces [including demis] can experience aesthetic attraction before/without sexual attraction. When they say that, they are always talking about a visual appreciation, but that doesn’t apply to me at all. I don’t experience it, and never have. So for years I’ve been saying that I don’t experience aesthetic attraction because that’s the only way to get people to understand that humans just look like rolled up carpets to me. But I do experience auditory attraction (my term for it). I’m actually with a guy now /because I liked his voice/. It’s not a ‘sexy’ voice, but I was very intensely drawn to it and him because of it. I don’t give a flip about stroking or cuddling or the other tactile stuff people usually talk about with sensual attraction, but I would happily just sit and listen to his voice for hours. It weirdly excites me, and I finally figured out it’s attraction but it’s not a sexual thing and I never found anyone else talking about it. I’m also aromantic, so it’s been hard to find the right words to explain to people that I’m still attracted to men in ways other than just sexually. I’m only attracted to men (aurally, sexually, etc.), so I don’t have the gender split thing, but I totally relate to the rest.
    Another interesting thing to me is accents and how those play in. I’m not really into specific accents, but sometimes the way a certain aspect affects a specific person’s individual intonations is just so incredibly wonderful. That’s another thing I have trouble getting people to understand, but it’s part of how I realised it’s its own attraction [to specific people] rather than a general enjoyment.

    I have some hearing trouble on one side, so I’ve always wondered how that might relate to it. If I ever were to become fully deaf, would I be less attracted to them? I suppose it’s like the question of blind people with regard to how aesthetic attraction is typically discussed.

  19. Pingback: Thoughts on definitions of sensual attraction (because there are way more than I thought) – AssignedGothAtBirth

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