Sexual desire: how does it work, in your experience? To what extent does the visual have primacy? Is my experience deeply atypical or odd, and/or should I be concerned?
posted by UniversityNomad to human relations (45 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
My question this week is about sexual desire - the degree to which my own experience with it is bizarre or atypical, and the degree to which others' experiences (especially men's experiences) are different from mine. My own experience with this sort of thing (mid/late twenties, straight woman) is that I usually notice attractive people of both sexes when I'm out and about, but I'm not attracted *to them*, in the sense that I'm not aroused by looking at them. I'm very rarely attracted to bodies, even beautiful bodies, that don't exist in any relational context to me. For instance, if I saw a naked picture of Brad Pitt or Tim Tebow or whoever the current Hottest Man Ever (TM) is supposed to be, I would likely recognize the aesthetic beauty of the body without being turned on. There have in my own life been a few rare exceptions to this, when I have been turned on by looking at the body of a man whom I didn't know well or at all, but I can count them on one hand, and only one of these experiences was particularly intense.
(I should preface the next bit with the possibly relevant fact that I have dated a few people and been in one long relationship but I haven't had sex, for religious reasons rather than lack of desire.) I don't have solid empirical experience to go on yet, but my limited experience leads me strongly to believe that I probably wouldn't be immediately aroused from the body of my significant other, if he were standing naked in front of me, unless there were something else at play, either tactile or mental (kissing, massage, thinking of all the reasons why I love him, him telling me how much he desired me, some sort of particularly romantic setting, etc.). Conversely, I sometimes find myself turned on by something not really sexual at all, like someone's really crisp prose, or big vocabulary, or playful wit with just enough of a rough/sarcastic/flirtatious (yes, I'm nerdy!). I tend to find myself attracted not so much to someone's body as a physical object, but to a man's physical presence, which involves his body and is located by it, but isn't really centered on its aesthetics: I often am turned on by a very masculine presence - confidence, forthrightness, a playfulness that comes from mastery of something, controlled power, assertiveness/aggressiveness, etc. (all usually realized in intellectual or mental ways rather than physical, as I tend to work in the realm of ideas and engage in that way with others).
I could imagine being really aroused by the visual of someone's body, but that would happen after I was already turned on - it wouldn't be what would initially flip the switch. I don't find porn arousing, especially absent a story-line, and explicit pictures of genitals don't really do anything for me. I tend to think that I have quite a high level of sexual desire, but it's often free-floating, and not attached to specific individuals or motivated by a particular desire for sex with them specifically. For instance, it would be perfectly possible for me simultaneously to feel sexual desire but not want sex with my partner, because for whatever reason I wouldn't feel turned on by him specifically at any given point in time. When I masturbate, I don't necessarily need to masturbate *to* an image, real or imagined; it's very possible for me just to focus on the pleasurable sensations, without some sort of visual in mind, although fantasizing about a visual image or a scene would probably make the whole thing faster and more intense. Even if my fantasy involved visual elements, they wouldn't be graphic but would be in a more soft-focus, and I would emphasize in my imagination at least as heavily the contextual factors and the interpersonal factors (the person's desire for me, for instance) as the actual action. I can't imagine having a one-night stand with a stranger, even were I not opposed to it for personal reasons, because I can't imagine ever being attracted to someone enough to sleep with them without knowing them. I usually only find myself attracted to men whom I have known for a while - men who have a particular manner or way of relating, and with whom I've built up a particularly engaging and sparkling web of interaction. Often male bodies that I wouldn't initially have considered especially physically attractive become intensely physically attractive to me once I know the man in question - I experience my attraction for a man as physical, but it doesn't really stem primarily from the bodily, but is a constellation of more abstract characteristics that suffuse my visual interpretation of someone's body. Sometimes, however, I deeply admire someone as a person and love their company, but that doesn't render them more physically attractive to me (although sometimes it does, unpredictably). I often don't know why I'm not attracted to someone, or why I'm attracted to someone else whom others might consider "objectively" less good-looking (not that such a thing exists).
Is this all bizarre? Is it totally outside of the realm of normal (for a woman, if it matters)? Should I be concerned? Do any/many men experience desire in a similar way? I know men are the ones who are popularly supposed to be more "visual", but I've also heard a lot of women talking about fantasizing about good-looking men, often whom they don't know (actors, athletes), and it seems to me that my experience may be extremely atypical for women as well. I'd be curious to hear people's thoughts on this, or personal comments or anecdotes. I'd be especially interested to hear from men, about the degree to which their desire is visual versus something more holistic. Does it begin as visual, and then, as you get to know someone, it becomes broader and less physical (i.e. the opposite of how mine seems to work)? Are most women like this too? Do others experience this phenomenon where someone's more abstract qualities are subconsciously brought to bear on your physical impression of them, so they become more or less physically attractive when you know their personality or character more? Any thoughts are welcome (specifying gender and possibly rough age and sexual orientation might be helpful, if you're comfortable!)!
TL;DR: How does sexual desire work, for you? To what extent does the visual have primacy? Is my experience deeply atypical or odd? Others' experiences (your own, your friends', that of people you've dated) very welcome as data-points! (Sorry for the length: I just wanted to try to articulate everything as best as I could; since it's sort of strange, I thought comprehensiveness might be helpful to flesh the situation out.)