Pramana

Research on Why Psychologists Use “Attraction” to Define Orientations

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Pramana   
Pramana
3 hours ago, Nowhere Girl said:

I agree that asexuality shouldn't be defined solely as lack of sexual attraction. For some asexuals their lack of interest in sex is much more decisive that lack of sexual attraction. It's more like they have to align definitions with their feelings, look closely and decide that they probably don't feel sexual attraction anyway. On the other hand, I'm still trying to figure out how would sex-averse allosexuality feel like - even though I may in fact be close to this group - and I feel like such people could benefit from the ace umbrella, identifying as asexual could make them feel better. So asexuality is about more than just attraction, but the solution is not to argue that "asexuality is a lack of orientation" or that attraction doesn't matter.

I think I would probably still be gray-asexual if I wasn't sex-repulsed because I'm not that interested in people sexually or romantically, but sex-repulsion is part of the reason why I identify with the label and the community. I also think the two are interrelated; if I wasn't sex-repulsed then maybe I would think about sex more, and if I didn't have a low level of interest in sex to start with then maybe I wouldn't be as sex-repulsed. 

My impression is that sex-repulsed sexuals would feel more conflicted, experiencing sexual attraction/desire and wanting a sexual/romantic relationship, while feeling a strong sense of disgust pertaining to the physical aspects of sex. On that account, I think maybe their experiences of sexual attraction/desire and their experiences of sex-repulsion may be more compartmentalized and less interrelated than mine, which would explain why they feel more of a conflict.

In terms of the definition, I'm in favour of starting with a lack of sexual attraction following how sexual orientations are usually defined in science, but I would argue there's room to expand the concept to include people who may identify with the community through low levels of sexual desire or other reasons that lead them to feel excluded from sexual society.

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asexjoe   
asexjoe
On 8/11/2017 at 3:15 PM, Nowhere Girl said:

That would imply that a person who has never had sex has no sexual orientation. And this is obviously wrong - allosexual people usually know whom they desire.

Back to the first, I think, topic I posted here: questionnaires about sexual orientation are indeed biased in favor of sexually active people. In case of at least some questionnaires a person who has never had sex simply cannot give valid answers. And that's not something I would accept because I believe that sexually inactive adults, while being a minority, shouldn't be perceived as an anomaly unworthy of being included.

I agree that asexuality shouldn't be defined solely as lack of sexual attraction. For some asexuals their lack of interest in sex is much more decisive that lack of sexual attraction. It's more like they have to align definitions with their feelings, look closely and decide that they probably don't feel sexual attraction anyway. On the other hand, I'm still trying to figure out how would sex-averse allosexuality feel like - even though I may in fact be close to this group - and I feel like such people could benefit from the ace umbrella, identifying as asexual could make them feel better. So asexuality is about more than just attraction, but the solution is not to argue that "asexuality is a lack of orientation" or that attraction doesn't matter.

PS. Yes, I think that one can actually be a paraphiliac who chooses not to act on their attraction for moral reasons. And I believe that such people deserve respect and support.

I have read this post several times. It's got me thinking. Thank you very much.

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humansanity   
humansanity

@Pramana I want to thank you for your work on all of these threads. They're immensely helpful and fascinating — having things I experience articulated in academic literature is validating and I deeply appreciate you finding and summarizing these things.

 

One thought I've always maintained is that attraction-based definitions aren't variable whereas desire is — and if we conclude/agree that orientation does not actually change throughout life, rather just our discovery of it changes throughout life, then desire is always variable — as indicated by some of the back and forth in this thread. I recall this being the rationale in Bogaert's Understanding Asexuality (2012), which is the only comprehensive work on asexuality that I've come across (if anyone had something else to point me towards, I'd take a look at it). 

 

HS

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a minor triad   
a minor triad
On ‎8‎/‎10‎/‎2017 at 0:26 PM, Pramana said:

Brief answer: 

Sexual attraction is the “why”, while sexual desire is the “how”. If you ask someone what it means for them to be heterosexual, they might say it’s because they desire sex with members of the opposite sex, and not with members of the same sex. If you were then to ask why it is that they only desire sex with members of the opposite sex, they might respond that it’s because they only find members of the opposite sex to be attractive.

 

 

 

 

Quotes Regarding Academic Definitions of “Sexual Attraction” and “Sexual Desire” in the Context of Defining Asexuality

 

To show how this understanding of sexual orientation is operationalized in asexuality research, I’ve provided a couple of examples from leading sources on the topic. First, here are quotes from a 2015 article by Anthony Bogaert defining sexual attraction and sexual desire, within the context of defining asexuality:

 

“[A]sexuality is construable as a lack of sexual attraction or a lack of interest in others. Thus, this definition implies a lack of lustful inclinations/feelings directed toward others. This lack of sexual inclinations/feelings toward others should be of an enduring nature or imply an enduring disposition or orientation.”

 

“Using a definition that centers on a lack of sexual attraction would not necessarily mean asexual people lack sexual desire. Sexual desire refers to an urge for sexual stimulation (including potentially an orgasm) and may include both partnered and nonpartnered stimulation (e.g., masturbation).” 

 

See: Anthony F. Bogaert, Asexuality: What It Is and Why It Matters, Journal of Sex Research,  May 2015, Volume 52, Issue 4, pages 362-379.

 

Something that confuses me about Bogaert's statement is when he writes that asexuals can still feel sexual desire when earlier, you (and others) effectively wrote that sexual desire comes from sexual attraction. Following this logic, I feel we are almost using two different definitions of sexual desire. The first is the sexual desire towards those you are attracted to and the second is the sexual desire Bogaert defines as the "urge for sexual stimulation." 

 

Personally, with more research I read about sexual attraction, desire and orientation, I become more in favor with a neither/nor definition for asexuality. If you aren't sexually attracted towards anyone, then your sexual desire isn't "orientated" towards anyone, so you wouldn't have sexual desire for partnered sex.

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Pramana   
Pramana
On 8/19/2017 at 0:23 PM, a minor triad said:

Something that confuses me about Bogaert's statement is when he writes that asexuals can still feel sexual desire when earlier, you (and others) effectively wrote that sexual desire comes from sexual attraction. Following this logic, I feel we are almost using two different definitions of sexual desire. The first is the sexual desire towards those you are attracted to and the second is the sexual desire Bogaert defines as the "urge for sexual stimulation." 

 

Personally, with more research I read about sexual attraction, desire and orientation, I become more in favor with a neither/nor definition for asexuality. If you aren't sexually attracted towards anyone, then your sexual desire isn't "orientated" towards anyone, so you wouldn't have sexual desire for partnered sex.

I think the idea is essentially that sexual attraction provides an internal motivational state which directs sexual desire towards specific people, but there are other reasons why someone could desire partnered sex (Bogaert provides an example in his book of a homosexual man who liked the feeling of sexual intercourse with women despite not being attracted to women) which is why the "desire for partnered sex" language on its own is insufficient to explain orientation. In other words, it may be said that sexual attraction creates an innate desire for partnered sex with specific types of people, but there may also be learned desires for partnered sex with types of people who fall outside its scope.

I found some research on the subjective feeling of sexual attraction which supports the internal motivational state interpretation:

 

 

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humansanity   
humansanity
23 hours ago, Pramana said:
On 8/19/2017 at 0:23 PM, a minor triad said:

Personally, with more research I read about sexual attraction, desire and orientation, I become more in favor with a neither/nor definition for asexuality. If you aren't sexually attracted towards anyone, then your sexual desire isn't "orientated" towards anyone, so you wouldn't have sexual desire for partnered sex.

I think the idea is essentially that sexual attraction provides an internal motivational state which directs sexual desire towards specific people, but there are other reasons why someone could desire partnered sex (Bogaert provides an example in his book of a homosexual man who liked the feeling of sexual intercourse with women despite not being attracted to women) which is why the "desire for partnered sex" language on its own is insufficient to explain orientation. In other words, it may be said that sexual attraction creates an innate desire for partnered sex with specific types of people, but there may also be learned desires for partnered sex with types of people who fall outside its scope.

I found that example in Bogaert's book persuasive, and I think it also speaks to the distinction between what forms of sex you find pleasurable and what you are attracted to. For example, plenty of asexuals find masturbation to be pleasurable, in a distinction that somewhat baffles those outside of the asexual community, and by extension plenty find partnered sexual activity that results in the same physical effect (e.g. orgasm) to be pleasurable. Invoking some of the themes of the article by Sloan ("Ace of (BDSM) clubs: Building asexual relationships through BDSM practice" (2015)) which was posted by Pramana in a similar thread, asexuals can engage in even "sexual" BDSM activity (as in involving intercourse) but do so for different ends. To excerpt Sloan:

 

Informants consider a behavior ‘sexual’ when one performs, invests in, and values it due primarily to its capacity to vitalize a desire for intercourse, or to incite pleasurable arousal, anticipation, or fantasy derived from the idea of intercourse. If an individual is not chiefly motivated to perform an act by its capacity to incite these kinds of desire, then it is accurate to describe that act as non-sexual. (p. 556-557)

 

Moreover, desire is often indeterminate and is also dependent on the purpose of that desire. One of Sloan's informants said:

 

We have a dominant/submissive relationship, so [sex is] much more of a power dynamic. He’s stuck ice in my vagina because he’s evil (laughs) and uses nipple clamps because they hurt. We use forced oral as breath play (where one practitioner is deprived of air to create a sense of submission, panic or disorientation, or an endorphin-induced high). (p. 558)

 

In this case, while there is, strictly speaking, a desire to have oral sex (or rather be forced to have oral sex), the informant is still asexual because the desire even had an object (e.g. their partner) but the motivation was non-sexual. 

 

This does raise a question in my mind about what is a "sexual" motivation. This is an area where our discussion would, in my mind, want to be informed by people who are sexual (by any definition) because my only rationale for ever having sex would be pleasure, but is that rationale different from someone who does experience sexual attraction? Moreover, given all this confluence of factors, motivation seems difficult to define (and I'm still mulling over whether Sloan's argument is that the stated motivation of asexual individuals to have sex in BDSM is non-sexual or their actual motivation is non-sexual [and I'm mildly terrified if it is the former, it makes me skeptical of an argument that intrinsically doubts people's ability to self identify]). At that point, the definition that seems most clear to me is still the definition based on sexual attraction, because desire does seem so mixed. 

 

Hopefully that all makes sense. I may have rambled/been disorganized.

 

HS

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Pramana   
Pramana
13 hours ago, humansanity said:

This does raise a question in my mind about what is a "sexual" motivation. This is an area where our discussion would, in my mind, want to be informed by people who are sexual (by any definition) because my only rationale for ever having sex would be pleasure, but is that rationale different from someone who does experience sexual attraction?

I think the answer here would depend on one's philosophical theory concerning intrinsic goods (hedonists who believe that all actions aim at obtaining pleasure and avoiding pain, versus those who recognize a broader range of objectives), and hence not likely to be a resolvable question. But for an interesting discussion of the differences between states of sexual desire and states of sexual attraction as motivators of action, I really like this paper:

T. Bradley Richards, Sexual Desire and the Phenomenology of Attraction, Dialogue: Canadian Philosophical Review/Revue Canadienne de Philosophie, 2015, Volume 54, Issue 2, pages 263–283.

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humansanity   
humansanity
11 hours ago, Pramana said:

I think the answer here would depend on one's philosophical theory concerning intrinsic goods (hedonists who believe that all actions aim at obtaining pleasure and avoiding pain, versus those who recognize a broader range of objectives), and hence not likely to be a resolvable question. But for an interesting discussion of the differences between states of sexual desire and states of sexual attraction as motivators of action, I really like this paper:

I guess a hedonist may have a fundamentally different outlook on this than someone like me would, even if I was sexual. However, barring a more binaristic/simplistic value structure, I do think it can still be asked what the value is asexual people may find in sex and similarly the value that sexual people may find in sex. But you are correct that other people have different value systems, and while I live my day to day life wondering disgruntledly why everyone doesn't share mine, I think perhaps with regards to things like pleasure/pain/value in specific actions there may be more consensus, but you could well be right.

 

I'll give that article a read. I've read the abstract and part of the intro so far, and it's fascinating. 

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Pramana   
Pramana
19 minutes ago, humansanity said:

I guess a hedonist may have a fundamentally different outlook on this than someone like me would, even if I was sexual. However, barring a more binaristic/simplistic value structure, I do think it can still be asked what the value is asexual people may find in sex and similarly the value that sexual people may find in sex. But you are correct that other people have different value systems, and while I live my day to day life wondering disgruntledly why everyone doesn't share mine, I think perhaps with regards to things like pleasure/pain/value in specific actions there may be more consensus, but you could well be right.

 

I'll give that article a read. I've read the abstract and part of the intro so far, and it's fascinating. 

My speculative theory is that it's at least partly a quantitative difference. There's some research which shows that having sex releases more pleasurable brain chemicals than masturbation, although I think the researchers assumed the subjects were attracted to their partners. It's an interesting question to consider how a sex-favourable asexual's brain would register with respect to masturbation compared to partnered sex.

In addition, the T. Bradley Richards article suggests that the phenomenology of sexual attraction is very different from the phenomenology of sexual desire. Sexual desire is experienced as a tension that is relived through acts that address it (kind of like eating to address hunger, one moves from a less satisfying state to a more satisfying state). With sexual attraction, on the other hand, there's no better state that we can move to, much like how when we're viewing a beautiful painting there's no further object that we're trying to get to). Thus, part of the reason why a sexual person would desire partnered sex might simply be because the other person is attractive.

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