Sensuality and Touch

2 May

I’ve been telling everyone that I was going to write about dressing up, asexuality and geek culture, but I’d really like to sort through some more resources before I write about it.  I have a feeling it will wind up being a two-part post, with the second part being observations after returning from CONvergence in July.

So instead of talking about that, I’ll delve into the occasionally confusing topic of sensuality and touch.

There have been some lovely posts about sensuality and asexuality recently, and I’d highly recommend you take a look at them.  They certainly helped me figure out how to articulate my own specific needs and wants in life.

I’m a big fan of touch.  For me, it’s an important way in which I can communicate with other people (though obviously not the only way, or the most important way – there are plenty of people who can do without much touch at all and are perfectly happy without it.  Talking is another beautiful way of communicating, and usually more direct and comprehensive).  Touch can provide comfort or communicate feelings of deep affection, familiarity or trust.  Touch can be playful and fun, or intimate and profound.

While a lot of people who know me in real life might not notice much, I’m a very tactile person.  If I have a soft blanket or stuffed animal I’ll wind up mindlessly caressing it for ages.  I’ll savor the taste of my favorite food for as long as humanly possible.  I crave physical contact with other people; hugs are the primary form of touch I give and receive.  However, I do wish I had more of a variety of touch in my life.  I love cuddling but am absolutely terrible at actually asking for or initiating it, which is funny because most of my friends are cuddlers.  I have the same issue with giving or receiving massages, because it’s just so awkward to ask for one.  Massages are probably one of my favorite things in life – it may be the closest I’ve come to understanding how people love sex so much.  If I could get a massage every day, I would.  I could lie for hours in someone else’s arms, completely at ease and loving every second of that contact.  I love holding hands but there are only certain people or situations in which that’s deemed appropriate, partly because a lot of people (okay, most people) see hand-holding as a sign that you’re in a romantic relationship with the person you’re holding hands with.  I don’t necessarily see it that way, but unless the person you want that kind of touch with understands the words you’re using and where you’re coming from, it’s difficult to just say “I want to hold your hand” without it apparently having to mean something.  I’ll eventually have a post about words and definitions, because I Love Words and Definitions because it can mean that everyone’s on the same page.

There’s a somewhat similar problem with kissing.  In my ideal world with my ideal relationship structures in place, I would be able to casually kiss my friends (perhaps even in public, as a husband and wife leaving for work would be able to; again, “ideal world”).  Of course, there are different kinds of kissing, with different kinds of meanings.  As I said, touch is communication.  I wouldn’t be making out with friends who I felt only strictly platonic affection for (unless it was at a party where that sort of thing was expected for lulz or funtiemz), because it would communicate something other than what I meant.

Which brings me to the rather lovely term “sensual attraction,” which can, as with romantic attraction, be experienced without sexual attraction (though all three can be experienced at once, as well, or in different combinations).  Sensual attraction is experiencing the desire to be in physical contact with someone, though that physical contact, no matter how close or intimate, need not be sexual.  It can be, but need not be, which is an important thing to mention.

I seem to experience a rather high level of sensual attraction while experiencing romantic attraction, which has caused some misunderstandings in my personal life.  I remember briefly dating a guy last year who, when we started getting involved in some slightly more heavy kissing, couldn’t understand how I didn’t want our physical relationship to go further, and in fact he couldn’t accept that once I explained further, even though he already knew I was ace.  Hence that relationship ending rather quickly.  Hugs, and cuddling, and hand-holding, and kissing and even more intimate forms of touch are all things I need rather a lot of in a romantic relationship, and for some people it’s difficult not to conflate those with a sexual component or desire for sexual activity.

It is possible for me to thoroughly enjoy certain activities that are considered sexual or only appropriate in a sexual relationship, but I don’t experience them as sexual.  I experience them sensually, and I’m focusing on the physical sensations, and the emotions at play, and whatever else is going on that I find interesting.  This different way of experiencing things is why compromising in a mixed relationship, in theory, can either work very well or fail spectacularly.  I think a large part of it falls on whether the sexual partner is comfortable with the asexual partner experiencing sexual activities in a nonsexual way.  Also, sexual attraction seems to be tied up in self-esteem issues and feeling loved and cared for for most sexuals I’ve met, but that’s another topic for another day.

At least for me, romantic attraction and high levels of sensual attraction tend to be intertwined, most of the time, though I’ve definitely experienced them both separately.  In fact, I’d say I experience a low to moderate level of sensual attraction to a lot of my non-romantic friends.  It’s that flexible/fluid/changing definitions thing again.

I find it so interesting (and rather disappointing) that close physical contact with other human beings is usually considered a sign that you’re in a sexual relationship, or wanting a sexual relationship, when that really doesn’t have to be the case.  There are so many different kinds of touch, and I enjoy a great deal of them, but specifically sexual touch is far lower on the list of priorities for me.  As soon as genitals get involved?  Not interested.

There’s something therck said in an old LiveJournal discussion about the mis-sexualizing of relationships in slash fiction (one of my favorite posts ever; years before I’d even heard of asexuality this spoke to me), which reflects my feelings about the sorts of relationships I want to have in my life.  “Other sorts of relationships require more explanation, more work from all parties involved. That doesn’t make them less worthwhile (rather the opposite, IMO), but it does make them harder to do right.”

I suppose, as usual, everything comes back down to communication.  Being able to talk about what you want and need physically out of your relationships with other people, and making sure everyone has the same definitions and…if not the same wants and needs as yourself, at least complementary wants and needs.  Complementary configurations of sensuality and sexuality and various forms of attraction are entirely possible and not only that, but totally workable.  I’m hoping that more people will come to that conclusion, too, as time goes on and people learn more about these sorts of things.

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6 Responses to “Sensuality and Touch”

  1. semiel May 11, 2011 at 4:16 pm #

    This is an incredibly interesting post. I tried to explain my pattern of sexual attraction over at Purple and Grey:

    http://purpleandgrey.wordpress.com/2011/05/04/a-question-for-my-sexual-readers/#comments

    It strikes me after reading your post that you could plausibly say that I experience immediate sensual attraction, but sexual attraction comes later.

    This seems like a really useful concept, I will have to think on it more.

    • Antissa May 15, 2011 at 10:59 pm #

      Oh, how interesting. I’m always curious about how other people experience attraction, and what kinds and in what order. There are so many different combinations of…well, everything, out there.

      I think splitting things up into “sensual attraction” and “sexual attraction” also make it a lot easier to explain to someone how you can want to do certain things with them, but not certain other things. At least, it’s helped me. Granted, you have to define those things to the person you’re talking to. Heh. I sometimes wish people could just read my brain, or that I could just direct them to this blog because I’m so much more eloquent here than in real life.

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