Not Telling You Who To Be Attracted To

I recently participated in a discussion on Facebook about the word “sapiosexual” and how it is ableist, among other problems. While many responses were good, several people objected, claiming that we were telling them who they should be attracted to or who they should sleep with. I’ve seen this with many other discussions about people’s attractions related to race, weight, and other traits as well. Someone usually comes into those discussions and says “I can’t help who I’m attracted to! I can’t just decide to be attracted to someone!”

I think what isn’t clear to some people is that we’re not asking people to be attracted to people they’re not attracted to. Rather, when someone’s preferences are in line with some axis of oppression, it’s worth examining how society has lead us to those preferences. It is absolutely not true that our desires exist in a vacuum – they’re a product of our culture, and our biases.

In other words, if you find you are only attracted to white people, it would be a good idea to examine your feelings about race. If you find you are only attracted to thin people, you may have underlying negative feelings about fat people. If you only are attracted to people you deem to be “smart enough” it’s likely you need to think hard about your ideas about intelligence. If you defend these preferences aggressively when someone points out you may be coming from a place of prejudice, then you especially need to examine your biases – they’re showing.

In fact, there is evidence that prejudice corresponds with sexual attraction in these cases. Last year an Australian study found “Sexual racism, therefore, is closely associated with generic racist attitudes, which challenges the idea of racial attraction as solely a matter of personal preference.” Body size preferences also seem to be influenced by culture, according to this study which found “The universality of an ideal [waist-to-height ratio] is thus challenged, and historical changes in western societies could have caused these variations in men’s preferences.” In other words, our culture and the biases of that culture influence our sexual preferences.

No one is saying you have to be attracted to people you’re not attracted to. Attraction doesn’t generally work that way. However, since attraction is in part based on our subconscious biases and prejudices, we can use our attractions to help us better recognize in what areas we may be judging people unfairly. Furthermore, I suspect working to become less racist, sizeist, ableist, and otherwise oppressive will likely change our sexual preferences over time. Challenging our own prejudices often changes many things about our views of the world, and I doubt that excludes our sexual outlooks.

Not Telling You Who To Be Attracted To

7 thoughts on “Not Telling You Who To Be Attracted To

  1. 1

    I have little patience for these “sapiosexual” types. For one, I doubt that most of them would smart college degree having me attractive because I also don’t fit general beauty standards.
    I also think that these people are trying to claim minority status while actually not being one and not being discriminated against in the least (same goes for “demisexual”)

    As for sexual preferences: of course they don’t exist in a vacuum. How could latex and fishnets give you sexual pleasure if those things were independent of culture?

    1. 1.1

      Right, there are a bunch of problems with “sapiosexual” and those you name are included. It’s just not the subject I wanted to tackle here, largely because it has been discussed very thoroughly in other places. In practice it usually means “Likes the same geeky media as me” and/or “Demonstrates a particular aesthetic in appearance and vocabulary generally associated with middle to upper class white people.”

      Lots of people seem to think that all of their attractions are innate – that they just HAPPEN to find thin, large breasted, white, red haired, young, feminine, abled women hot! Their tastes are TOTALLY not related to the expectations they’ve been fed their entire lives, honest! It’s just NATURAL!

      1. Yep, it’S something that applies to about all areas: The continued refusal to critically examine our cultural likes, products and preferences. It’s just an especially annoying area because those people want to claim the rights and protection of minorities for themselves and accuse all people who have some critical words to say as bigots. Similar things are true for kink and porn: heavens forbid you take a critical look at it!

  2. 3

    I have a question: since I’m totally unable to feel attracted to peapole whith whom I cannot have a good conversation (which means in the same time being smart and having common interests) in you opinion I am racist\ableist?
    Please be patient since, by summing the fact that english is not my mother language and my “cubic” mind set, I have often troubles to understand nuanches when people talk about emotionally charged topics….

    1. 3.1

      I think it’s very normal to feel attracted to people with whom we can have good conversation, and with whom we share common interests. I would consider investigating, if I were you, what things make a good conversationalist to you. If you find that the people you have “good conversation” with are mostly one race then yes you may want to examine why that is.

      As for ableist, I wonder how you define “smart?” That word is really charged, and almost never means the same thing for any two people.

      In general, working on our biases (we all have them) will broaden your options for good conversation, good friends, and good partners.

  3. 4

    HI Benny

    no not only of one race, in my experience interesting people come in all colours. Even though I admit I am xenophobic regarding certain particular cultural habits (e.g. sending kids begging in the streets), but in this case I would go against the individual behaving that way not the whole ethnicity.

    A good conversation? Can range from talking about common interest to debating a subject while having very different ideas about it. I guess the ability to analyze the subject, rationally explain your ideas + sense of humour seals the deal for me 🙂

    Smart. You are correct I choose a word which is very vague and nebulous.
    What I like mentally in other people?
    > Honesty & coherence
    > Good analysis capacity
    > Good capacity to explain themselves
    > Kindness
    > humour
    > Patience

    I have asperger so I tend to avoid people, being then neurotypical or not, that tend to have frequent emotional bursts (mood changing, expressing emotion in very loud ways, etc) or at least to limit contacts. I guess this makes me a bit of an asshole, since its nor a crime nor a sin to be emotional… but I can’t really handle these kind of things for long time spans before starting to overload (and risking to start to meltdown or explode).

    Now that I think about my problem is mainly with neurotypical white(*) people: I found most of them to be very false and unstable. I find pretty annoying the way many of them lie to themselves and to other (like pretending to be super-friend to someone you actually despise), not to mention the frequent emotions and convictions changes. So annoying and tiring.

    Regarding mentally disabled people I have myself no particular problems (got friends with social anxiety problems & co), even though in some cases I fear my lack of understanding of emotional shades (like subtle sings of uneasiness, sadness, etc) might lead to harm. I try to think at least 3 times before opening my mouth, but some times I really say THE wrong thing… and I’m unable to understand on my own why it was wrong 

    (*) I live in Italy and often immigrants or other minorities (eg. Jews, protestants, etc) have been much more accepting of my weirdness… and geeks of course.

    Ok I’ll stop here or I’ll drawn you all into an ever longer wall of text 
    Thanks for your patience.

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