Aesthetic appeal vs. sexual attraction
June 16, 2010 7:18 PM   Subscribe

I'm confused somewhat about my sexuality. It's an issue for me. Likely I'm gay and not straight. I'm wondering how can I tell apart aesthetic appeal from sexual attraction. Also, am I in denial to some point, because I'm constantly wondering over whether if I like women or not? That's why I'm wondering about the difference between aesthetic appeal and sexual attraction.
posted by antgly to Human Relations (49 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
There was a recent thread about this. Short version:

When you masturbate, and you're right about to get off, are you thinking of boys or girls or both?

There's your answer.

Also... straight guys never wonder whether they like women or not.

Email in profile if you need to talk to someone who's been through this.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 7:24 PM on June 16, 2010 [3 favorites]

Personally, while I may find some men to be good looking, or have bodies that are aesthetically appealing, I (straight male) never find myself wishing I could touch them, or kiss them, or do anything remotely physical with them. I can watch an athlete and marvel at the human form, but not want to get much closer to it.

With women, however, that aesthetic appeal is accompanied by a desire for a physical relationship as well.

That being said, there was a point where I wondered if I were gay (more as a mental exercise than anything else). I tried looking at men and thinking about them sexually, and it just didn't work. If you're looking at women and wondering if you like them or not, then perhaps you don't.

That being said, is there anything stopping you exploring whatever attraction you feel with both men and women?
posted by twirlypen at 7:26 PM on June 16, 2010 [3 favorites]

Longer version of my response from the previous thread here.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 7:27 PM on June 16, 2010

I'm not sure exactly what your question is, but I can definitely tell you I think there's a clear difference (for me) between aesthetic appeal and sexual attraction. Anecdata: as a (straight) woman, there have been women I have thought are totally, mesmerizingly beautiful.....but I've never been able to imagine wanting actual intercourse with any of them (making out is another story--I think women are more fluid in this regard). I actually think women are, aesthetically speaking, better looking than men naked, as a whole, but again, have never had a crush to distraction on one. I've enjoyed friendly flirting with gay ladies at times and appreciate their sexual appeal, but again, know that my sexual orientation lies elsewhere.

Are you still a virgin? It's awfully hard to know what you want/like in the abstract. I can't imagine adding the extra element of social/family/etc. pressure to be straight, if one is questioning.
posted by availablelight at 7:28 PM on June 16, 2010 [2 favorites]

Also, it's the 21st century. You don't have to choose one or the other.
posted by availablelight at 7:30 PM on June 16, 2010 [9 favorites]

Uhh, it's not a choice, availablelight.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 7:31 PM on June 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

Isn't this the same question you asked 7 days + 1 hour ago?

because I'm constantly wondering over whether if I like women or not That's why I'm wondering about the difference between aesthetic appeal and sexual attraction.?

Do you want to have sex with women? When you see an attractive women, do you think "that might be someone I would like to have sex with"? Aesthetic appeal is what you feel when you see a nice sunset. Sexual attraction is what you feel when you want to have sex with someone.

dnab repeated a good question from the other thread:

When you masturbate, and you're right about to get off, are you thinking of boys or girls or both?

Are you having trouble with this question? It seems pretty straightforward. If the answer is "I never masturbate" then there's your problem right there. How are you supposed to figure out how your sexuality meshes with other people when you can't even figure it by yourself? If you do, then what are you thinking about? Guys? Girls? Both? Inanimate Objects? What?
posted by Justinian at 7:32 PM on June 16, 2010 [2 favorites]

I had a friend years ago, male, and he didn't care for either sex "that way." So, honestly, that's another possibility.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 7:32 PM on June 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

antgly, you might be overthinking this. Instead of questioning which gender you like (more), pursue what you like specifically (a person, or three). See where it takes you, how you feel in the moment, how good the sex is. You can keep doing what feels good. Don't do what doesn't.

When you're with someone you like and want to be (/do it) with, there's no need to select the correct sexual preference option. Plus, over time it will almost certainly fall in a pattern on its own, and you can own it with more certainty - if you find it necessary to do so.

AFAIK, there is no way to filter aesthetic appeal out of sexual attraction.

(Oh, and safety first, amirite!)
posted by mondaygreens at 7:34 PM on June 16, 2010 [2 favorites]

Uhh, it's not a choice, availablelight.

Correct, preaching to the choir. A clearer way of stating what I meant would have been, "if you're bisexual/genderqueer/etc., you don't have to make an artificial choice to only have sex with men, or only have sex with women--sexuality isn't always a binary."
posted by availablelight at 7:34 PM on June 16, 2010 [12 favorites]

It's also possible you're bi, as well, but these identifiers exist on the ends of a fluid continuum. You're free to place yourself somewhere between the ends.
posted by odinsdream at 7:36 PM on June 16, 2010

How do you feel once the clothes come off? Do you have to fantasize during sex to finish?

I find men aesthetically pleasing. There are hot men out there that make me drool, but once the clothes come off, all attraction vanishes. When I'm in the moment, I tend to notice all the little things I dislike about men and how I don't know where my hands are supposed to go and how much more turned on I'd be if I was with a woman... so that's how I know I'm gay.
posted by Autumn at 7:37 PM on June 16, 2010 [6 favorites]

Has it occurred to you that it's possible to be bisexual and attracted to both sexes and/or be strongly attracted to men and weakly attracted to women (or vice-versa)?

Also, I have a friend who is a sex educator who likes to say that you never know if you're ready to have sex in the abstract, because it's such a particular thing: you only know if you're ready to have sex with a particular person in a particular moment in time.
posted by colfax at 7:43 PM on June 16, 2010 [2 favorites]

Imagine tongue kissing (or being kissed by) a man, and then a woman.

There's your answer. Everything else is masturbation.
posted by gjc at 7:49 PM on June 16, 2010

How constantly are you constantly wondering this? If you have other anxiety symptoms or compulsive behaviors, it might be a variant of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.
posted by AlsoMike at 7:53 PM on June 16, 2010 [3 favorites]

What people usually do is find a girl you want to date, date her, sleep with her, and decide whether or not you like being with her. If you do, great. If you don't, break up. Then maybe you meet a guy. Date him, sleep with him, decide if you like being with him. If you do, great. If not, break up. Then you meet a girl you would like to date. Etc. Repeat for the rest of your life.
posted by amethysts at 7:54 PM on June 16, 2010

I straight, I'm married, and I have close gay friends. I dunno, but I've never, ever wondered about my sexuality. I like women. Everything about them. Never really thought about it.

There is perhaps the chance that you might be bi. Why not try dating a woman? Then you'll know for sure.
posted by KokuRyu at 8:10 PM on June 16, 2010

I (a woman) had a conversation with my sister many years ago when I came out to her as bi, and she said "I would be lesbian, but I just really don't find vaginas attractive" or something like that. Which wasn't self-hate -- she's fine with her own, and with the concept -- she was just trying to say that for her the attractiveness of women stops as soon as she thinks about having sex with them, even though she thinks they're beautiful and amazing and exciting and all the rest of it. For me (and maybe this is why most of my friends are men? heh), when I find a woman attractive, I can't stop thinking about what it would be like to have sex with her, in deliciously explicit detail.

This became even clearer to me after I actually slept with a woman -- so I recommend that as a surefire way to decide whether or not this might be something you enjoy. (Safely, of course.)

And I'm not sure this is actually useful as an indicator of sexuality, but I remember reading a thread on AskMe a while back where it became clear that many women never penetrated themselves with their fingers. This *blows my mind* and honestly I'd feel weird if a woman I was letting penetrate me had never done it to herself.

Sexuality is, as other posters have noted, fluid and unclear and more complicated than "I like X" -- but in my experience, actually having sexual encounters with women (heck, even kissing a girl for the first time) really helped me shake off the "wtf am I feeling?" quality that you describe. In general, I think colfax (or their friend) is dead-on with the idea that you want to have sex with people individually, not in categories.
posted by obliquicity at 8:15 PM on June 16, 2010 [4 favorites]

I believe you fall in love with people, not genders. Go out and find people who you connect with and who excite you and be with them. If these people tend to share a gender, and you want to give tendency a name, go for it. I reccomend the Kinsey scale.
posted by BusyBusyBusy at 8:17 PM on June 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

Went through this myself in my late teens early 20s. Trying to reconcile some really confusing feelings and (on reflection) a significant amount of denial. I thought, during most of my 20s, that I was probably bi, with a preference for men. It took me a while to finally come to grips with the reality of being gay and what that meant for my life (and then a while longer to finally come out about it).

Of course I notice very attractive women. But there's a big difference in thinking "wow, she's really stunningly attractive" and "wow, I'd do him in a heartbeat".

I feel for you and hope it all works out as you seek to resolve where you fit. It's not an easy thing to go through, and our society doesn't make it any easier. Just know you have a lot of friends and tons of support just for the asking.
posted by darkstar at 8:23 PM on June 16, 2010 [2 favorites]

Women are treated as objects, aesthetic objects, sexual objects...we see pictures of women everywhere, beautiful women, and we're trained to evaluate their appearance and see "sex' when we see a woman.

So, even if you don't want to sex them, you have still been raised in a culture of women as objects to be judged in an eroticized or aesthetic context.

Hope that makes sense.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 8:32 PM on June 16, 2010 [9 favorites]

I could have posted this question when I was 19, and responses like "who do you fantasize about" or "who do you want to sleep with/see naked/etc." would have been completely unhelpful to me then. When I was 19, I didn't really fantasize about anyone-- people of both genders were aesthetically pleasing, sure, but I didn't want to rip their clothes off or anything. Thanks to well-meaning advice focused on physical attraction, I thought I must be "broken." However, I did have this friend, this friend that I just thought was AWESOME that I wanted to be around all the time, like physically proximate... you can probably tell where this story is going. The attraction started with my emotional attraction and then it slowly turned into something more-- and that's still usually the way it goes for me. YMMV, but if you're not making headway in figuring out who you're physically attracted to, perhaps examining and cultivating your emotional relationships might help you sort out what you find aesthetically appealing vs. physically attractive.
posted by neko75 at 8:32 PM on June 16, 2010 [6 favorites]

Up until I was well into my twenties, all of my romantic connection to people was abstracted and not really sexual or even physical. I'd sort of go along with it, thinking the detached ho-hum unclear baseline I felt was what everyone felt and it was just presented as intense for some romanticized sociocultural reason, and that it was more just a concept than real desire for everyone, not just me, and that detachment made me neutral and equal towards men and women. It had me convinced as a teen I was bisexual, but really, I just wasn't up to being sexual period yet. It came later for me, though you hear of people who never feel that dimension too. That might be something to consider too. Because as others mentioned early inthread, once you are feeling the sexual dimension on your own, it often becomes clearer what's what. Maybe not for everyone, but I think for many.
posted by ifjuly at 8:44 PM on June 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

Antgly, I'm sorry, because I'm starting this answer very, very angry. And it's not angry at you or at your question, it is a beautiful, eternal, honest question that only the true and honorable among us ever ask aloud. I'm angry at the "just beat-off and all will be revealed" answer. I saw that thing before, but it was very late and I hope that boy ignored it and looked at the better answers, and because it, at an older age than you, is still not an easy question for me to answer; yes, I know I'm gay and have for decades, but how do I know it? I don't know how, really, I don't, and I didn't always know it either. Experience with women did not cause an epiphany; there were no lightning bolt after having sex with men.

I do know that gay is what I am, and what I have always been. It was certainly no choice. It was easier to be twenty something and gay in the 80s than it would have been twenty years earlier (a lot easier, I think), it's easier now than it was then (I think), but still it would be a bad choice. But when that is what one is, no amount of hiding is going to work. Denial just causes painful loneliness, a very lonely pain.

I don't think that foolishness of just-beat-off is dangerous, because I bet you all ready know it is a lie. Maybe some people find the answer so easy, but I think most who claim it is are denying they even had the question. Some of my best friends are straight, and I'm pretty sure that that is not all that sex, or their attractions, are for them either. Yeah, I know gays for whom sex is just an act, and straights that keep sex apart form all the rest of their lives, but I have read enough and talked to enough people to know it just doesn't always work that way, and because it isn't that for me, I impose my feelings on those kinds of people and think they are the ones that are missing the importance of ... of everything.

When I was fourteen and masturbated, my images, illusions, fantasies weren't of men, they weren't of women, they were of tenderness, contact, caresses. God, how I wanted contact.

Yes, aesthetics does enter into attraction. Straight or gay we all like cute and beautiful. Whether we like me or women most of us can admit that some of each can be called those things, can't we? It's just different criteria, right? But is that the real soul of attraction? Is that all there is to it? I think that if that was all there was to it for you, you would not have had to ask this question here, you would have found it without even taking your clothes off.

And remember this is not a dichotomy. Sexuality isn't divided into gay/straight; and also gender isn't decided into male/female. There are other ways to be. And then it isn't even a 'trichotomy' because there are ways to be in between the people that are in between and, no those people are not simply polymorphous perverse, they have taste that are looking for different elements than most of us.

So eventually I did find out who I am, but it wasn't in some created fantasy that gave me the answer. I will tell you what it was. but promise to remember that I am only talking of a sample of one, that is all the evidence I have. YMMV. The way I made this discovery, and it was a great one, was people - social interaction, and then experience. The way you are going to find your answer, if my experience applies to you, is by getting to know people of all kinds. Not date, not a biblical 'know' (that comes later), just become acquainted with people. I'll pontificate further: I think that there are middle and late adolescent girls and boys who are very uncomfortable around the other gender. Sometimes that scares them enough for them to decide that they are gay -- hey, I've know some (I'm afraid some of these poor kids grow up to be those homosexual cure monsters, but I haven't known any that did that.) But this works both ways. If you know some homosexuals they will become less frightening too, and that will be a huge short cut to happiness if that is the road for you.

Of course that isn't all there is to it. Next once you have the friends, the contacts, the trusts, then see if that -- not some masturbation scene -- is stimulating and pleasant.

I hope this made a modicum of sense to you, but even if it didn't, don't try to decide whether you want sex with men or women, those are all such huge groups! Would anyone be attracted to all of either? Try to find the person, or persons, who you want to hold in you arms and deliver to passion and love, the person who can hug you into ecstasy. Sex can be, and often is about those wonderful arms, and lips, and not about what appendage or bits go in which orifice.

I wish you much good luck and more joy.
posted by Some1 at 8:46 PM on June 16, 2010 [21 favorites]

I think everyone's going to answer this question based on what they've experienced; and many of the answers here might be really helpful to some people. Maybe some people can know concretely exactly what they're thinking about at the moment of every orgasm; maybe it's possible for them to know not only what's gotten them off in the past, but what will always get them off in the future.

I am not one of those people, though; and if you're anything like me, antgly, you might find that these suggestions aren't very helpful, because you really and truly don't know what the possibilities are. It's all right to be in that position. More importantly, it's all right to stay in that position your whole life. You are not required to pick a side. You are not required to state unequivocally that you will always and only have sex with people of a particular gender. Moreover, even "bisexual" can be a bit limiting; you might go through years of your life in which you stick to having sex with a particular gender, and then switch at the drop of a hat.

If you want my advice, the first thing to be sure of, I think, is that you aren't letting other people's requirements determine what your sexuality is going to be. There is, even now, a very strong and unjust bias in our society against same-sex relationships; so the first thing you should learn to do is be friendly with same-sex sexuality as it is. Be comfortable with it, be aware and informed about it, and expose yourself to it as much as possible. Be open to talking about it with the people you know. No matter what you're interested in sex-wise, these things can do you a world of good.

It's also good to keep your mind open to opposite-sex relationships, although obviously this isn't difficult in our world. Still, turn the possibilities over in your mind, and follow your desire. Work at staying safe, and seek out thoughtful and caring partners; but be willing to try something new. Nietzsche's advice is, I think, best: "be friendly with all things."

Keep in mind, too, that it's possible that you don't fit into these categories. Some people – a lot of people in this thread, apparently – will tell you that, if you really think about it, you'll 'just know,' and that it's simply a world of difference between the gender you're able to appreciate and the gender you're actually attracted to. If that simply doesn't make sense to you – if you can't even imagine what it would be like draw that line, or have it be so obvious – well, it's the same way for me. And if you're in that place, I think the best thing to do is set yourself up so that you're comfortable with your sexuality no matter what sex you want to have.
posted by koeselitz at 9:05 PM on June 16, 2010 [7 favorites]

I would suggest it might be more constructive for you to consider attraction as a case-by-case attribute. I mean, the whole "am I attracted to women?" thing is kind of a silly notion at the root of it, if you think about it; after all, no straight man is attracted to all women. It doesn't really matter if you're attracted to a theoretical woman, it matters if you're attracted to this woman ("this" being any in a given circumstance). If you are attracted, awesome, go for it! If you're not attracted, awesome, do something else! Separate the reality of being attracted to an individual, regardless of gender, from the social pressure to "decide". After a while, look at the patterns: have you been into only men, only women, some of each?

I'm not saying this to handwave away identity politics or to minimize the stress caused by social attitudes towards sexuality; I'm just positing that sexual preference should be descriptive rather than prescriptive.
posted by threeants at 9:14 PM on June 16, 2010 [3 favorites]

Also, I meant to add that attraction is a vacillating, confusing enough thing even without any sexuality questioning in play. I'm sure many people here have had someone in their lives who they found alternately attractive and repellant, and found themselves wondering if they were "actually" attracted to him or her, perhaps even while engaged in a sexual relationship with said person.
posted by threeants at 9:18 PM on June 16, 2010 [2 favorites]

What are we talking about?

Who do you like to fuck? I don't know, who do you like to fuck? It's not like you lose points for fucking a woman (or a dude) and then deciding it's not for you. For all the talk of people "just knowing" which genders they want to fuck, for some of us it wasn't nearly so clear growing up. For some of us, it isn't even clear well into adulthood.

What should you call yourself? I like "queer". I identify myself as queer. I have the kind of opposite situation you do: I've enjoyed sex (and kissing, and cuddling, and long dinners) with people of many genders, but find myself primarily attracted to women in on-the-street situations. Occasional dudes will catch my fancy, but not nearly at the same rate. But, ultimately, I choose "queer" because it's as close to a "none-of-the-above" answer as I can get on a really good sexual history questionnaire.

[Don't listen to people who try to tell you that all bisexual men are actually gays, and all bisexual women are actually straight. Plenty of people have relationships and sex with people of both sexes in their lives.]

Labels ultimately shouldn't be the issue. Try to think in facts: "I'd really like to bump wangs with Antholy."; "Damn, Amanda has some knockers I'd love to motorboat."; "You know, after the last couple nights, I think I love it in the butt.". You don't need the abstraction of labels. Just seek out more of what you like, avoid what you don't like.

It's not much harder than figuring out what to order at a restaurant.
posted by Netzapper at 9:18 PM on June 16, 2010

I believe you fall in love with people, not genders.

I believe that's horseshit, unless you're talking about platonic love without any sexual component. Some people are truly bisexual inasmuch the outer bits of whoever they're with don't really matter so much. Most people cluster towards one end or the other of the Kinsey scale.

I don't think that foolishness of just-beat-off is dangerous, because I bet you all ready know it is a lie. Maybe some people find the answer so easy, but I think most who claim it is are denying they even had the question.

Uh, no. Actually, I was asking myself the question for years while merrily hopping in and out of bed with boys and girls. So uh... yeah, your anger is wildly misplaced here, how about you can it?

I never said that fantasies are the be-all and end-all of sexuality. But they are a pretty damn good indicator of what gets your blood flowing.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 9:31 PM on June 16, 2010

While I semi-agree with a lot of the "you don't have to decide which you are" sentiment, there is something very powerful aout figuring yourself out, eventually. Some folks may, indeed, have such fluxional sexual identities that tryingt o pin it down makes no sense and would be counterproductive. But I suspect most folks are something, whether it's gay, straight or somewhere on the spectrum between the two. Knowing where you lie is helpful in one critical area, I think.

Namely, if you're gay and you want to find other gay folks (either for fun and frolic or for a more serious relationship), you need to go where gay folks are. The phoenix area isn't a very gay-populous environment, for example. There aren't large communities of gay people and there isn't a "gay quarter" where you can go to hang out though the Central corridor is beginning to show some signs of queerdom). So if I hope to have a relationship with someone I'm sexually attracted to, I need to actually KNOW that I'm gay, so I can take the measures to find other gay guys to hang out with, make friends with, have fun with, maybe have sex with and maybe settle down with.

If I were content to simply say, well, I don't know what I am and it's not really important, then I might not ever do what's necessary to find other guys that could scratch where I itch.

So while I agree that we shouldn't be limited by labels and shouldn't be shoehorned into a sexual identity, it can be very helpful and empowering to identify what you like and then go for it. It may take years to do it, and you may be one of those folks for whom all this is moot because your sexuality is so fluid (or you're bisexual) that you can find yourself sexually aroused in any potential environment. But that's not the way it is for me. And unless I'm happy with the idea of being a lonely "Uncle Darkstar" for the rest of my days (and I'm not), knowing I'm gay and doing something with that knowledge is pretty critical.
posted by darkstar at 9:35 PM on June 16, 2010 [4 favorites]

Yeah, angtly, maybe it would help if you explained to us what was unsatisfying about the answers you got in the version of this question you asked last week, which included links to at least one previous similar question: When and how did you realize you were bisexual? It's actually a topic that comes up here kind of regularly, so there are other threads that might have useful answers, too:

How does a gay man go about dating women?
Help me, if you will, loosen the ferociously tangled knot of my sexual orientation

What do you think or feel about some of those answers? Can you help us understand what's difficult for you about this issue, or what advice in the previous threads makes some sense, and what may be confusing?

I have a friend who is a sex educator who likes to say that you never know if you're ready to have sex in the abstract, because it's such a particular thing: you only know if you're ready to have sex with a particular person in a particular moment in time.

I like that, and also like neko75's point that "examining and cultivating your emotional relationships might help you sort out what you find aesthetically appealing vs. physically attractive." Can you maybe tell us what you think about those two points?
posted by mediareport at 9:45 PM on June 16, 2010

Also... straight guys never wonder whether they like women or not.

Totally not true, at least for some straight guys. (Unless it's like the sexuality equivalent of the "one drop rule," where wondering about dudes and sex somehow makes you automatically gay.)

I'm pretty much the straightest guy in the world, but when I was young I had moments (no, days, weeks, years) of wondering if what I thought I liked was what I really liked, if thinking some guy looked handsome was the same as being gay, if enjoying a hug from a dude was the same as being queer. This stuff can be genuinely for some of us, especially those of us who maybe lived out adolescences more in our heads and always overthink a plate of beans.

With time, it became a lot less confusing, partly because I figured it out by doing it (hmm, making out with women is fun for me, hugging a guy doesn't provide any spark at all -- maybe this tells me something?), and also by giving myself permission to not live in a binary world. Once I allowed it to be ok to be attracted to anyone, it made it easy to just be attracted to who I'm really into.
posted by Forktine at 10:09 PM on June 16, 2010 [3 favorites]

I'm wondering how can I tell apart aesthetic appeal from sexual attraction.

Really you just have to get in there and get your hands... er, dirty. I mean, you have to try a few things with a few different people and sort of give whatever it is a chance to happen.

When I started seeing guys I got so excited about it that I figured that was all I was interested in. But after my first four or so sexual partners all left me feeling confused and unsatisfied, I figured maybe I'd jumped to that conclusion to early. So I started taking the idea of being with women again quite seriously. I spent a good several years (at about your age) basically remaining pretty open and rolling with whatever felt appropriate. Now I'm with guys almost exclusively, and that sort of *is* a choice I made.

It's tricky because different people of either sex elicit different reactions. But eventually YOU'RE the person you're striking the bargain with, so basically keep exploring until you have the answers you need.

Expect this to take longer than you think it will :) And yeah, memail some of us if you need anyone to talk to.
posted by hermitosis at 11:37 PM on June 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

I am what I currently consider a straight male. This is simply because I am most definitely attracted to women. However, intellectually, I have allowed for the possibility that one day there may be a guy I find sexually attractive. I haven't so far, but who's to say what the future holds?

I suspect that, if people were honest with themselves, they're all like this to some degree. There simply is no absolute. You might be straight, gay, bi-, tri-, or even asexual. Go out. Watch people. Don't watch people. (Yeah, both.) Eventually a stirring will occur in your loins, or at least in your mind, and you'll have a solid clue. You don't have to settle on a single answer. Maybe you're one of those lucky folks who can break it down to being sexually attracted to individuals and not gender of any sort (I say lucky because the sweeping labels don't apply to those folks, IMO. "Straight", "gay", etc., in my view, have all sorts of intellectual implications that are too simple to describe people accurately).

To reiterate, I'm strictly straight because I haven't yet found myself sexually attracted to any men. What does that make me? Straight? Mostly Straight? Practicing Straight Who Doesn't Discount Possibilities? And does it even matter which label I choose?

This can be a very difficult issue to deal with. Identity (sexual or otherwise) almost always is. I know. It's a hallmark of my entire life. But I hope, for your own sake, you don't let this become too much of an obsession, or decide that because you can't pick a satisfying label, there must be something wrong. You're unique. Your sexuality is just that: your own. Call it whatever you like. Have fun. Stay safe. And try to love people fully.
posted by grubi at 12:56 AM on June 17, 2010 [3 favorites]

Sexuality is not binary, it's a continuum. Hang on to that idea when you're thinking about this, and it might help. For some people, they are so far towards either end of that continuum that it feels binary to them (I think of those people as the folks who knew they were gay really early, though I'm sure someone would disagree with that), but for a lot of the rest of us, it's not like that at all and it takes us some time to get totally clear on it. Sometimes you figure it out in an epiphany--maybe the first time you have sex with someone of your appropriate gender, or maybe during a conversation about what relationships mean for you--but sometimes it comes to you gradually.

At this stage, you do not need to worry about what you are--just worry about who you are and what you want on a given day. Follow your whims. Maybe give the opposite sex a try and see how that goes. You aren't stuck gay if you sleep with one dude, just like you aren't stuck straight if you sleep with one woman.

I also think that fantasies are only one piece of information that can be useful but might not be. And aesthetic appeal versus sexual attraction is fuzzy stuff--for me, the similar question is "do I want to do her, or be her?" And sometimes? Even though I've been with my girlfriend for five years? I still wonder a little.

Take it easy. You'll be fine either way, I promise. This is not a question that you need answered; it's a life you need to live.
posted by hought20 at 3:50 AM on June 17, 2010 [2 favorites]

- Likely I'm gay and not straight.
- I'm constantly wondering over whether if I like women or not. . .
- All of the attraction that I've seemed to have has been to guys . . .
- I'm not sure if I'm attracted to girls or not, thanks . . .

I'm going to go out on a fairly sturdy-lookin' limb here and say "Congratulations, you're gay!"

posted by General Tonic at 7:00 AM on June 17, 2010

For me, it is about who I fall in love with more than who gets me off. The latter is a subset of the former.
posted by QIbHom at 7:09 AM on June 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

Rather, the former is a subset of the later. Sheesh.
posted by QIbHom at 7:09 AM on June 17, 2010

It's hard for me to answer this question without bringing my own experience into it. I'm sure that's true for many of us who have responded. And really, all we have is our own experience. Everyone's situation is different. But here goes.

When I was in my late teens and early 20s, I was totally confused about my sexuality, and I didn't want to have sex with anyone until I could figure out how to categorize myself. I was trying to sort out my sexuality entirely in my head, divorced from any practical experience. For years I made it into a suffocatingly intellectual, theoretical exercise. Who do I like to look at? Who do I like to think about? When I think about some women it's aesthetic and beautiful, but when I think about guys, it's fricking electric. But I was afraid to have sex with guys, because to me, that would mean I was irrevocably gay, and I was terrified of that, because I was afraid my parents would hate me. Yet I wasn't really driven to have sex with women, which really should have told me something, but it didn't. So I was paralyzed.

In my first year of college, I sought out a guy who I'd heard was gay, and I became friends with him without explaining anything about myself, and he soon figured out why I was so eager to hang out with him all the time. It was just a friendship, not a relationship or anything sexual, but it helped me figure out a lot. I still didn't act on any of my impulses. But I was slowly, very very slowly, coming out to a select few people about my interest in guys.

About a year later, at age 19, I told my parents. And I got a much more negative reaction than even I'd expected. I reacted by shutting down. My slow coming-out process hit a wall. I severed my ties with my gay friend and any other gay people I'd known. And then I spent five long years in limbo.

Finally, at 24, I had an epiphany. I'm still not quite sure how it happened, but I'd been exploring my dreams and desires in a more general sense, thinking not about my sexuality but about what I wanted in life. And one day all the confusion and complication and intellectual theorizing just disintegrated, and I realized that the question all along had been much more simple than I had thought it was. The question was:

What will make me happy?

I went on to sow my oats with guys, and decided I didn't even need to bother giving women a shot. I just knew. Twelve years later, I'm in a long-term relationship with a great partner, and my parents fully accept him as part of the family.

But I really wish it hadn't taken me so long. I missed out on some crucial years, age 19 through 24, when I could have been exploring myself, exploring other people, dating, relationships. I have always regretted that.

But again, the question for you is really simple:

What will make you happy?

None of this may apply to you, of course. It's just my own story. But I hope it helps.
posted by Tin Man at 8:05 AM on June 17, 2010 [2 favorites]

That's why I'm wondering about the difference between aesthetic appeal and sexual attraction.

To try to answer your question more directly, I will say that aesthetic appeal is more intellectual, while sexual attraction is a physical reaction.

Sexual attraction is measured in your heart rate increasing, the sweat building under your arms, your throat feeling tight as you try to talk, your knees feeling weak, and a sense of excitement building as the object of attraction approaches.

Aesthetic appeal is the observation of lines and shapes, the appreciation of balance and symmetry - a sunset, or a horse, can provide that sense of aesthetic appeal, the satisfaction of beauty in the world, as well as a person.

A person who you're attracted to will usually fulfill both - they'll be aesthetically and sexually attractive - beautiful and hot. But a person can be beautiful without being hot (for many people this is true of an entire gender), and sometimes, hot without being beautiful.

From your questions, it seems like you find guys hot. That doesn't mean you can't find women beautiful, but if they don't make you feel all crazy, nervous, excited and full of desire, then they (visually) are like a gorgeous sunset for you - a perfect topic for a painting but not something you lust after.
posted by mdn at 8:30 AM on June 17, 2010 [2 favorites]

@dirtynumbangelboy -- just to avoid confusion for the poster -- your sentiment that it's "duh, not a choice" doesn't work for everyone, myself included. lots of people think of their sexualities as malleable by and inextricable from their other desires, politics, values, etc. that is, my sexual self is tied to everything else about my and what i value. so yeah, for me, it's definitely a choice to be queer, and i don't think that makes my sexuality any less valid. i respect that others don't feel this way about their sexualities -- and expect the same respect in return.
posted by crawfo at 8:56 AM on June 17, 2010

No. Acting on your sexual desire is a choice. Beyond that it is not a choice. You cannot decide who you will be attracted you. Oh sure, you can force yourself to get wet/get it up for someone, you can find something about a given person to be aroused by, but it is not a conscious decision.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 9:08 AM on June 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

@dirtynumbangelboy -- i'm not telling you how to define your sexuality, and i'm not sure why you think it's in any way respectful to tell me what my own experience is.

but what you describe -- again -- is not an accurate descriptor for all people, myself included. if a person self-identifies by saying their sexuality is a choice, their attraction/desire is a choice -- it's valid. aka, it's not for you to pass judgement or flat out deny it with a "no."

respect for a multiplicity of experiences is what makes being queer so great. i'll continue to respect yours, and request again that you think about why you seem to think it's ok to flat-out deny mine.
posted by crawfo at 11:45 AM on June 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

To further clarify this discussion, yes I do exclusively j-o to guys.
posted by antgly at 11:53 AM on June 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

Well, then. Calling yourself gay doesn't mean you're never allowed to change, or to be attracted to women. If this is who you are right now, you may as well put on the pink sweater and go for it.
posted by koeselitz at 12:05 PM on June 17, 2010 [3 favorites]

Right. It sounds like your question is whether you might someday find a woman as hot as the guys you fantasize about now. And the answer is... well, sure, you might. Someday. There's never any guarantee that you won't. But right now in the actual world you're really digging the idea of being with men, and you may as well take that and run with it.
posted by nebulawindphone at 1:49 PM on June 17, 2010

To further clarify this discussion, yes I do exclusively j-o to guys.

Um. Not to put too fine a point on it then but, well, what exactly is the issue? I submit there is a 95% chance you are totally gay and a 5% you are bisexual with a strong male preference. But does the label really matter? There's no reason you have to label yourself or can't change your label later.

But if you aren't sexually attracted to women and you exclusive fantasize about men when engaged in sexy alone time it's pretty dang likely that you're, you know, gay.
posted by Justinian at 5:14 PM on June 17, 2010 [2 favorites]

crawfo, if you can prove that your desire for Person X is a deliberat choice as in you feel utterly neutral about everyone in the world unless you decide to become attracted to them, I will grant the validity of what you say.

Sorry, but desire just doesn't work like that.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 6:35 AM on June 21, 2010

I respect multiplicity. I do not respect delusion and denial of reality.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 6:36 AM on June 21, 2010

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