What Is Aesthetic Attraction? The Nuances Of Attraction, Explained
When you think of the concept of "attraction," it's likely that romance and sex pop up into your head. But did you know that there are other kinds of attraction that don't have a sexual or romantic component? One such type of attraction is known as aesthetic attraction. Here, we'll dive into what aesthetic attraction is and how to discern it from other kinds of attraction out there.
What is aesthetic attraction?
"Aesthetic attraction is being drawn to, or appreciating, the physical beauty of another person without necessarily desiring any physical, romantic, or sexual connection with that person," explains licensed clinical psychologist Corrie Goldberg, Ph.D.
If you've ever seen someone and thought "Wow, they are so attractive!" while also not wanting to touch, date, or have sex with them, then you have likely experienced aesthetic attraction.
In addition to the obvious—liking someone's body or face—being aesthetically attracted to someone's appearance can include an attraction to their fashion style, tattoos, piercings, hairstyle, and overall demeanor, says licensed therapist Neathery Falchuk, LCSW-S, CGP.
The types of attraction.
Aesthetic attraction is one of many types of attraction. Others include:
- Romantic attraction: An intense emotional draw toward someone, characterized by a strong desire to intertwine your lives intimately.
- Intellectual attraction: Being pulled in by someone's cognitive abilities, thoughts, and opinions.
- Sexual attraction: A physical draw toward someone that leads to bodily sexual responses and a wish to have sex with them.
- Physical attraction: A nonsexual physical urge to be close to someone and to touch and/or be touched by them, which could include cuddling, kissing, just being physically near them, or sex.
- Sensual attraction: A type of physical attraction involving any of the five senses, usually the sense of touch. However, sensual attraction can also be experienced in nontactile ways, such as an attraction to voices.
- Tertiary attraction: An umbrella term originating in the aromantic and asexual communities that describes forms of attraction besides just romantic or sexual attraction.
Aesthetic attraction vs. sexual attraction.
The key difference between the two is that sexual attraction includes a desire to have sex with someone, whereas this isn't necessarily present with aesthetic attraction. Aesthetic attraction is about being attracted to the way someone looks but doesn't necessarily need to include sexual interest, and likewise, sexual attraction can also come with or without aesthetic attraction.
"There is a misconception that you have to experience aesthetic attraction in order to feel sexual attraction. There are many people who develop sexual attraction after an emotional connection and may not be at all aesthetically attracted to the person," clarifies Falchuk.
Aesthetic attraction vs. physical attraction.
Physical attraction is the desire to be close to a person either in proximity (physical closeness) or through touch, including nonsexual touch. Someone can experience aesthetic attraction and have no desire of getting physically close to the person, explains Falchuk. A person who is physically attracted to someone might similarly not be aesthetically attracted to them yet still desire that physical closeness.
Signs of aesthetic attraction.
Some common signs that you might be aesthetically attracted to someone can include:
You might feel a sense of excitement or positive energy when you see them, says Miriam Geiger, LMFT, LPCC. You get a rush or a thrill just from being in their presence, even if you don't necessarily interact or touch each other (or want to do so). Just the sight of them is enough.
You love their...
You find yourself being drawn to specific physical features, such as their eyes, hair, hands, or smile, continues Geiger. You might focus on the way their eyes crinkle when they smile or how their hair looks when the light catches it. Maybe you gush to your friends about how pretty or handsome they are.
Can't get enough
You find yourself coming back to look at photos of them over and over again. You always watch their Instagram stories or TikTok videos, for instance. When you daydream, you picture their face, and maybe you zone out specifically just to think about how cute they look.
You want to be around them all the time
If you have an excuse to be in their presence, you'll take it, just so you can look at them more. You might feel a bit like nothing else is as interesting and beautiful to look at, and you get a deep sense of satisfaction from being around them.
Looking at them pushes you to want to express yourself in new ways. Maybe they have beautiful red hair, and you decide it's time to take the plunge and dye your hair, for example. Or maybe you get inspired to paint a portrait of them or write a song.
You don't feel physically moved
As opposed to sexual attraction, where you have a bodily response to someone, aesthetic attraction is much more cerebral. You might notice that you're super into how someone looks, but that the feeling doesn't extend to wanting to sexually interact with the person.
Aesthetic attraction and asexuality.
The concept of aesthetic attraction originated within the asexual community as a way to explain attraction without a sexual component. It's therefore an important and helpful concept for people on the ace (asexual) spectrum who don't or rarely experience sexual attraction to help them express their desires.
Some asexual people further clarify their identities by using terms such as panaesthetic and biaesthetic to help describe how they experience aesthetic attraction (i.e., a biaesthetic person is aesthetically attracted to people of more than one gender, as a bisexual person is sexually attracted to people of more than one gender).
Can you have an aesthetic crush?
Yes, you totally can! If you're into someone's appearance but don't necessarily want to sleep with or be with them, that can be called an aesthetic crush. It's sometimes referred to as a "swish" in asexual communities.
Can you be aesthetically attracted to someone without sexual or romantic attraction?
Yes, you can! Just because you appreciate someone aesthetically doesn't mean you want to fall in love with them or sleep with them.
What is panaesthetic?
Someone who is panaesthetic is aesthetically attracted to people of all genders, or to people regardless of their gender, in the same way someone who is pansexual is sexually attracted to people of all genders or to people regardless of gender.
There are so many different types of attraction, and it's worth trying to think about how you personally experience attraction and what draws you to people. So, the next time you're feeling attracted to someone, you'll have a better understanding of what exactly is going down for you. Maybe you just want to admire someone's beauty without sleeping with them or falling for them. There's nothing weird about that. That's just aesthetic attraction.
Kesiena Boom, M.S., is a sociologist, writer, and poet. She has a bachelor’s degree in Sociology from the University of Manchester and a master’s degree in Gender Studies from Lund University. Her work has been featured at Slate, Buzzfeed, Vice, Autostraddle, and elsewhere. Her writing focuses on sex, pleasure, queer experience and community, feminist theory and practice, and race and anti-racism.