Anagnori : What's the difference between sex drive, sexual...

What’s the difference between sex drive, sexual attraction, sexual arousal, sexual desire, and sexual consent?

I realized that this probably gets confusing to most people, so here’s an explanation. Warning: references to sexual assault ahead.

Sex drive, AKA libido: Appetite for sex or sexual release. Sex drive can be satisfied by masturbation, but most non-asexual people prefer to fulfill it with a sexual partner, if convenient. Sex drive is not necessarily targeted at any person or thing in particular, although it can be. Most post-pubescent people will have an active sex drive regardless of their relatioship status. Aphrodisiacs are substances designed to increase sex drive. Sex drive can be stimulated by seeing, hearing, feeling or smelling certain kinds of stimuli, which is why erotica, pornography and forplay exist. Some asexual people have sex drives, and some of them respond to reading, seeing or hearing erotic material, without experiencing sexual attraction.

Sexual arousal: Physical, observable changes in the body that indicate the body is ready for having sex. It usually correlates with sexual attraction, sex drive, and desire for sex, but not always. Arousal does not necessarily indicate that the aroused person is happy, wants sex, or even “feels” aroused. It is not uncommon for people to have trouble knowing whether they’re aroused or not, or for their subjective feeling of arousal to be different from their body’s degree of arousal.

Sexual arousal can also occur as a defensive mechanism during sexual assault, in which case it does NOT mean that the victim “enjoyed” the attack, but actually means the body prepared itself for sex to minimize the risk of injury. Arousal is an involuntary, purely physiological reaction, and can happen even if a person is frightened, angry or hurting, simply because that’s how the body’s organs are programmed to respond to touch. Even orgasms can happen against a person’s will.

Arousal does not mean consent, desire, or pleasure.

Sexual attraction: A feeling of sexual desire, interest or pleasure that is directed at a specific person or thing. It is a subjective feeling and can’t be inferred by looking at sex drive or arousal. Sexual attraction is distinct from aesthetic attraction, romantic attraction and sensual attraction, although some people have difficulty feeling a difference. In the same way that sex drive can exist without sexual attraction, it is possible to be sexually attracted to someone without feeling aroused or having a high sex drive. Sexual attraction is involuntary.

Sexual desire: Some people find it useful to distinguish between sexual attraction and sexual desire, perceiving them as two different but related emotions, both of which are involuntary. In this model, sexual desire is distinct from sexual attraction in that it is focused on participating in the act of sex, and it is distinct from sex drive because it is focused on having a certain person as a partner. (The exact meaning of “sexual desire” may change depending on the individual, however. There are a lot of different opinions about this, and this is not definitive by any stretch.)

Other people, asexual or otherwise, may find this distinction unnecessary or not perceive any difference. Keep in mind that this is an uncommon model, and does not reflect how the phrases “sexual desire” and “desire for sex” are used in most conversations. It is included here because some people find it personally useful. A person who does not feel “sexual desire” according to this model may still “want to have sex” for other reasons.

Aesthetic attraction: A desire to look at someone or something and appreciate their appearance, without necessarily wanting to touch or interact with them. Sometimes likened to enjoying a person’s beauty in the same way one would enjoy a painting or a sunset.

Romantic attraction: Feelings of attraction focused on dating someone and the desire for a romantic relationship with them. Often correlates with sexual attraction, but not always; in asexual-spectrum people it is common to experience one without the other.

Sensual attraction: A desire to touch someone or be physically close to them, often in a non-sexual way. Often involves hugging, kissing, cuddling, etc., but usually not sex. Sensual attraction may be a motivator for an asexual person to seek and enjoy sex.

Sexual consent: Finally, something that is voluntary!…Or should be, at any rate. People can choose whether or not to consent to sex at any time, for any reason, and may also revoke consent at any time and for any reason. It is possible to feel sexually aroused and sexually attracted to someone without consenting to sex with them, and in that case sex should not happen. It is also possible to consent to sex without feeling sexual arousal or sexual attraction, in which case sex is ethically acceptable. Arousal and attraction do not undermine the value of a person’s conscious decisions regarding sex.

How these things relate to asexuality:

Asexual people do not experience sexual attraction, or “sexual desire,” at least not as defined above. Some people who are gray-asexual experience sexual attraction, but not “sexual desire.” (There are many other reasons why someone may identify as gray-asexual, however.) Sometimes, what constitutes “sexual attraction” is ambiguous or confusing for asexual-spectrum people.

Most asexual-spectrum people have a sex drive, can experience sexual arousal, and can choose whether to consent to sex or not. A person with no sex drive may identify as “non-libidoist.” People who cannot consent to sex include children, people in altered states of consciousness, and people with certain severe mental disabilities.

In addition, it is entirely possible for asexual people to genuinely desire sex, even if the definition of “sexual desire” I provided above does not apply to them; remember that that is a limited and non-standard model, and it does not work for everyone.

(Sorry for the terminology weirdness, I hope it’s clear enough.)

Most asexual-spectrum people still experience aesthetic, romantic and/or sensual attraction sometimes, although not all do. Gray-asexual and demisexual people may experience sexual attraction on rare occasion or if specific conditions are met, but they do not experience it as readily or frequently as most non-asexual-spectrum people do.

(If I got anything wrong, please let me know.)

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