Sexual orientation is pretty straightforward, right? Gay, straight, or bi. And then there are some folks that call themselves “pansexual,” meaning that their attraction spans potentially everyone on the whole continuum of genders. Simple enough.
However, as is so often the case… life ain’t actually that simple.
I know more than one person who is sexually attracted to both traditional genders, for example, but can only see themselves in a potential relationship with members of one gender. Are people like this actually fully bisexual?
I would say yes, myself. But I know a lot of other people who don’t feel the way I do. And I think it’s time for the language of attraction to be better able to describe these distinctions.
The way I see it, there are 3 main types of ultraplatonic (“more-than-friends”) attractions:
1. Romantic attraction, which describes one’s romantic orientation. The gender of the type of person whose presence in your mind inspires deep loving or longing feelings. This can function completely independently of one’s sexual orientation.
2. Sensual attraction, which describes feelings that are “peri-sexual” – feelings of wanting to get near somebody, cuddle with them, feel them touching you, and so on, in a context that is not actually sexual, or necessarily romantic, either (if you want to know what I do think of as sexual, check the next paragraph). There are some people for whom sensual attraction runs right along with the sexual one, but does not completely match the romantic one; for others, it runs with the romantic attraction, but not the sexual one.
3. Sexual attraction, which, in its rawest form, describes whom you want to have orgasm-related activity with. Perhaps it also can describe “which gender partner’s orgasm turns you on the most” – i.e., do you get most turned on thinking about having a partner who is a man orgasming with you, a woman orgasming with you, both, something else, or neither?
These things will almost always overlap at least somewhat – and I’m sure many people will read this and think that these distinctions are ridiculously nitpicky. To which I reply: if all these three attractions line up perfectly for you, great! That makes things a lot simpler, and you are lucky. For some people, things are not so simple, and these distinctions are quite necessary. Asexuals, for example, very often still experience romantic and sensual attractions; these attractions are not less valid just because the person does not want to have sex.
The beauty of these concepts is that they aren’t hard to get the hang of, you can mix and match them pretty easily – for example, if I have a male friend who is homoromantic, bisensual, and homosexual, you can easily deduce that this man prefers his sex and romantic relationships with other men only, but does enjoy pleasurable cuddles and possibly kissing with women as well as men. Likewise, a woman who doesn’t develop romantic attachments but likes to cuddle with women and have sex with both men and women could be termed aromantic, homosensual, and bisexual.
I am certainly not arguing here that this has to be some rigid classification system. In fact, I think the whole “homo/hetero” dichotomy can be quite problematic if, for example, somebody identifies as neither gender (I intend to write about that soon also). So let me be clear that this is not meant to be some be-all end-all chart for how to classify yourself. It’s just one more option – one whose contribution, at the end of the day, hopefully makes an impact that helps raise the clarity of the language we use to describe what we want in this very intimate dimension of life.