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Sexual Attraction and Desire

The Roots of Attraction

What makes me sexually attracted to someone?

Human sexual attraction is complex, and researchers are learning that it’s not entirely based on either looks or personality. We tend to be attracted to people with symmetrical faces, who are healthy, and who are genetically compatible with us, but studies show that much of this may be determined as much by smell as by sight, in ways the conscious mind cannot control. Other studies find that a powerful source of sexual attraction is the knowledge that someone else is sexually attracted to us; playing hard to get it turns out, is less of an attractor than many people imagine.

How do I know if someone is attracted to me?

Someone’s body language—leaning in, making eye contact—is a sign of potential sexual attraction, as is touch, such as finding excuses to reach out and touch you. Someone is also more likely to be attracted to you if they know you are attracted to them, research finds. But nonsexual arousal can be confused for sexual arousal in the phenomenon called misattribution of arousal, such as when people cross a scary bridge or ride a roller-coaster together and confuse their feelings of nonsexual arousal for sexual arousal.

Fantasies and Turn-ons

Should partners try to satisfy each other’s sexual turn-ons?

Not necessarily, but partners should also not hide their turn-ons out of guilt or shame. When partners communicate openly about what they desire sexually, their overall levels of sexual satisfaction tend to increase, while a couple’s sexual satisfaction may suffer when one or the other partner is reluctant to talk about what they want. Understanding that their desires are “normal,” even if a partner may not share them, brings couples closer together.

Is intelligence a turn-on?

Sapiosexuality refers to being sexually attracted to someone because of their intelligence. For sapiosexuals, intelligence appears to be the most powerful driver of sexual attraction, and for these people, it is not a sign of some level of genetic fitness but a pure turn-on itself. However, research also finds a dropoff in attraction when someone’s intelligence is too high—well past an IQ of 120. Studies of dating and sapiosexuality find that seeking partners with a strong sense of humor is a way of pursuing sapiosexuality.

Unconventional Sex

How rare is unconventional sex?

“Unconventional” sex is actually pretty common. Outdated ideas about sexual activity—such as that heterosexual vaginal intercourse is the only “proper” type of sex—linger in many people’s psyches but the truth is that masturbation, oral sex, using a vibrator, polyamory, and kink, to say nothing of fantasies about these and other activities, is far more common than most people imagine. A better understanding of what is and isn’t “normal” could help people experience less shame and reluctance about their sexual desires.

Is BDSM a sexual orientation?

BDSM, or kink, is often perceived as a hobby or pastime separate from one’s sexual orientation, but some experts now suggest that it could or should be seen as an orientation itself, because it meets many of the standard criteria including a strong, consistent sexual attraction, early onset, lifelong patterns of arousal, and psychological consequences from denying or repressing it.

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