05 Jun Take It From an Expert: Same-Sex-Attraction Is More Than Just Sexual
This is the second post in a month-long series on “celibate gay pride,” exploring the glory of God as revealed in the lives of celibate gay Christians. I’d like to publish about 1-2 posts every week over the month of June. But I need your help! The more feedback I get, the more I can make things relevant. As the series progresses, please comment below or share your thoughts via private message. Any interaction will be a HUGE help as I tailor the content. Suggestions and requests are 100 percent welcome!
Also, I’m specifically talking about and for celibate gay Christians in this series. To be clear: this is not an argument for why gay Christians ought to be celibate. I want to clarify this at the outset, because I often receive various criticisms from non-celibate gay people who tell me that my arguments aren’t convincing. But there’s a reason for that. I’m not trying to make arguments for or against any particular sexual ethic in my blog. This blog is simply for LGBT+ Christians who believe in the traditional sexual ethic. It’s not a blog for convincing LGBT+ Christians to accept a sexual ethic they don’t believe in, and I do not believe that all LGBT+ Christians must accept this ethic. However, many LGBT+ Christians nevertheless do live by the traditional sexual ethic. So if you’re interested in learning about celibate gay believers (and/or the larger LGBT+ community that believes in the traditional sexual ethic), then by all means read on.
For more posts in this series:
- Are Celibate Gay Christians Allowed to Have Pride?
- Take It From an Expert: Same-Sex Attraction Is More Than Just Sexual
- Gay Attractions Create the Context for More Than Just Sin
- Gay People Are Fearfully and Wonderfully Made
- Same-Sex Love is Good and Beautiful
- God’s Unique Blessings in the LGBT+ Experience of Christians
- LGBT+ Christians: When Unlikely People Are God’s Greatest Champions
Today, I’m doing something a little bit out of the ordinary for my blog. I invited guest-contributor Lauren Melissa to do an interview discussing the various forms of attraction, and I’m excited to share it with readers! As an asexual person, Lauren has thought about attraction on a much deeper level than most. In a world where people equate attraction with sexual desire, she’s had no choice! Her life and knowledge shed light upon the various forms of attraction that all people experience and which exist apart from sex. In fact, my conversations with her over the years have played an instrumental role in helping me understand that human attraction is not primarily about sex.
This conversation is particularly important for celibate gay Christians because mainstream Christianity often reduces gay desire to simply the desire for sex, thereby reducing gay desire to simply the desire for sin (amongst Christians who believe a traditional sexual ethic). But attraction is far more nuanced than sexual desire alone.
For now, I’ll just let the interview speak for itself. But later this week, I’d like to publish a follow-up post discussing some of the takeaways. I’ve also included the transcript of the interview below. Feel free to listen, read, or do both!
And if you’d like to learn more about Lauren, follow her on Instagram where she updates regularly!
Take It From an Expert: Same-Sex-Attraction Is More Than Just Sexual
Bridget: Hey guys, this is Bridget! Right now we’re going through a series on my blog, Meditations of a Traveling Nun, about gay pride specifically for celibate gay Christians. So I’m here today with my good friend Lauren Melissa who’s here to talk about attraction and the various ways that people experience attraction. This is an important topic for us in particular because attraction is so often sexualized, meaning that celibate gay Christians often experience tremendous sin-shaming over just the fact that they happen to have feelings. Lauren happens to know a lot about this topic and has thought a lot about this topic because she is asexual, and as an asexual she can actually speak with a unique amount of experience into this idea that most human attraction is not actually sexual. She also comes with a tremendous amount of professional experience as a leader in queer communities, and I personally have learned a lot from her.
So hey, Lauren! It’s great to have you here for an interview today!
Lauren: Hi, thanks for having me!
How did you discover that you’re asexual?
Bridget: So I guess I’d like to start things off by asking you, how did you discover that you’re asexual?
Lauren: Discovering that I’m asexual has definitely been a process. Throughout high school and college, I spent a lot of time questioning my sexuality. I noticed that the way I interacted with boys and men — especially boys and men who wanted to pursue a relationship with me — I noticed that I never quite fit into that heterosexual mold. And so I immediately thought that, “Oh, I must be a lesbian.” However, once I started entering into lesbian relationships, I noticed a lot of the same issues that I’d had in my heterosexual relationships continued to turn up. And I wasn’t sure about what that meant. I didn’t know about the term “asexuality” until I was about halfway through my undergrad career, and then I met someone who identified as asexual. And just to be clear, asexuality can be defined as a person who does not feel sexual attraction. Or some people define it as a person who has no desire to have partnered sex.
Once I learned about this definition, I started to grapple with whether or not it fit me, and eventually, I came to identify as asexual, just through various experiences and each of these experiences pointing towards that lack of sexual attraction. From there, I was actually diagnosed later on down the line as being on the autism spectrum. And it was kind of exciting to learn that many people with autism also identify as asexual. And so my personal identities overlapped and intersected, and I feel most comfortable identifying as asexual now.
How do the experiences of asexual people contribute to the discussion of human attraction?
Bridget: So how do you think that the experience of asexual people can contribute to the larger discussion of how human beings experience attraction?
Lauren: Well, I suppose that when you are asexual, you begin to recognize that there are just so many different ways of being attracted to other people. For example, I personally don’t feel sexual attraction, but I am attracted to others. I feel certain magnetic pulls to other people, but it’s not just through sexuality. In fact, it doesn’t include sexuality at all. And when sexuality is taken out of the equation, I can perceive all these different ways that other people appeal to me — which is not to say that other people aren’t attracted to members of the same sex or opposite sex, or any other gender, in ways beyond sexuality. It’s just that when sexuality is taken out of it, I personally can feel the pull to the other kinds of attraction that are out there.
How do you experience attraction if you don’t feel sexual attraction?
Bridget: So that’s just so interesting because I think that many people in our culture equate attraction so often with sexual attraction, that I can at least imagine that oftentimes asexual people might be mistaken as not being able to have feelings for another person. But you’re saying that’s not the case. So since you don’t experience sexual attraction for people, how do you experience attraction? Maybe you can share with us some stories of ways that you’ve been attracted to other people.
Lauren: Definitely. I have some experiences that are more lighthearted and some that are more serious. So let’s start with a lighthearted experience. I once went to a restaurant with my sister, and we were waited on by this particular woman that I immediately recognized I had an attraction to. She was also a bartender. And because I felt that she was just so appealing, I ended up going to visit her every week just to be around her and talk to her. I really felt a sort of kind of connection with her, and we built up that bartender-bartendee relationship. And it was a lot of fun, and I would go every Monday for “Margarita Monday,” and it was just wonderful to spend that time with her in such a lighthearted way. And overall it was just a really fun experience.
And on a more serious note, I tend to experience more complicated interactions with men, and I think this largely has to do with the lack of friendship that occurs between men and women that doesn’t become complicated by sexual attraction. So thinking of a particular man, I met him and I wanted to be friends with him. But the feeling of friendship, while mutual, was also complicated by the fact that he wanted to have a sexual interaction, and I just loved talking to him and having intelligent conversations with him and spending time with him. And for me, that was more than enough, and it continued to grow and develop, that attraction and that emotional tie I had. For him, building that attraction and that emotional tie was directly related to romance and sex. And as a result, I was unable to continue to pursue friendship with him
Bridget: Wow, so in some ways it’s been a struggle for you in pursuing relationships with others because, where you want to have a close friendship, often times — especially with men — it becomes a sexual thing because they are interpreting your behavior as being sexual. Is that the case?
Lauren: Yes, definitely. I think people have grown to expect that if a person laughs at all your jokes, makes eye contact with you, smiles, contacts you through text messages and social media, and overall just makes you feel happy and giddy inside, that is supposed to mean that there is a romantic and sexual tie. And that isn’t the case for me, especially a sexual tie. And it really can make things difficult when trying to build intimate friendships.
Do most people experience non-sexual attraction?
Bridget: So one thing that I can at least see people saying is that you are asexual, and so this is something that you experience only, and this is not something that someone else who is not asexual would ever actually experience. And so I’m wondering. Do you think that the ways that you have experienced attraction are limited to just asexual people? Or do you think it’s something that other people actually experience too?
Lauren: I certainly think that everyone experiences multiple levels of attraction. For other people, they recognize this in themselves having a friend that they love dearly but they would never imagine having a sexual relationship with, or having familial ties that are extremely strong but in no way romantic. I think that, even within sexual relationships, people recognize that someone that they’re having sex with is someone that they are physically attracted to on an aesthetic level, or someone that they are emotionally tied to or intellectually involved with, and it’s not all just about sex.
What are the levels of attraction?
Bridget: So I guess kind of what I’m wondering is, what are some of those levels of attraction that people can experience, outside of the sexual
Lauren: Well, there are a lot of different levels of attraction, and I can name a few off that are considered the most prevalent. So we’ll start with what’s been the main topic, which is sexual attraction. Sexual attraction is when a person looks at another person and they think that they would be pretty fun to engage with sexually. And that doesn’t mean that it has to be in that moment, like, “Oh I see someone, I want to have sex with them right now!” It can build. Sexual tension doesn’t mean automatic sexual action. You can see someone and think, “That would be a great sexual person for me,” or not even think about it on a mental level but just feel it on a body level. So I would describe that as sexual attraction.
Closely related to sexual attraction is romantic attraction. And I think most people when they feel sexually attracted to someone, they want to date them or pursue a romantic relationship with them. And romantic attraction involves, you know, those stereotypical ideas of candlelit dinners and walking hand-in-hand in the sunset on the beach. It can also include things like desiring marriage and other romantic things that, of course, we see in movies all the time.
A third level of attraction, which is also often tied to that sexual level, is sensual attraction. And sensual attraction includes a lot of the non-sexual intimate touches that we share with people. And I don’t want people to think that by intimate I mean sexual. I’m talking more along the lines of hand-holding, arms around each other, some people might even include close-mouthed kissing. And this is a sort of connection that people can feel with not just romantic-sexual partners but also friends that you link arms with and maybe hold hands with or even family members, who you might have an arm around them. And of course children sit in their parent’s laps, and that is a sensual thing — minus sexuality.
Beyond that, there is sapio-attraction or intelligence attraction. And that involves people who just love running ideas with each other, hearing what you have to say about an intellectual topic. You know, those people you want to get coffee with. And sometimes people can joke and say that can be a little pretentious — “Oh, I like to hang out with this person and talk about all the interesting things in the world.” But those relationships are really valuable. You might see them between students and professors, or maybe between people with the same political inclinations and even in religious church communities there are people that are attracted to each other that like to sit down and talk about theological ideas.
Bridget: So I guess, if I can kind of quickly summarize and make sure I’m keeping up with you, there’s sexual attraction, romantic attraction, sensual attraction — which I guess sounds to me like the desire for physical closeness, physical touch that’s not sexual — and sapio-attraction which is intellectual attraction. Is that kind of a good summary there?
Lauren: Of those four. There are still two more that are most often identified with.
The next is emotional attraction, and this is the desire to grow an emotional bond with the person. It doesn’t need to be romantic. We all have friends that we feel very emotionally close to, or family members that we love to spend time with, that we can really share ourselves with, share our emotions and share our thoughts. And of course romantic and/or sexual partners are often people that we want to build an emotional tie with.
Lastly, we have aesthetic attraction. And those are the people that we look at, and we just say, “Wow! That person’s beautiful!” That can occur with people we see on the street, people that we know personally, or of course we all have our aesthetic attractions to our favorite celebrities that we look at in magazines or on television or in the movies. So that would be aesthetic attraction, and you can kind of maybe relate it to seeing that wonderful beautiful painting in the museum. Some of us like some paintings more than others, and in that same way some of us find other people more aesthetically attractive than others.
Bridget: So out of those six that you just named off, and I definitely resonate with all six of those and can definitely say that I have experienced those levels of attraction at different times and with different people, sometimes overlapping with each other. So I just think it’s amazing to hear you describe that and what they are like, because it just resonates with me so strongly. Do you think that that’s kind of the exhaustive list of all of the attractions, or do you think that there could be other attractions on top of that?
Lauren: I think every individual is unique and they experience attraction in unique ways. So, of course, there are probably other different ways of being attracted to people, and these attractions overlap and exist in silos, individually and together. They’re not mutually exclusive, but they can be mutually exclusive. And they can exist with other kinds of attractions that a person feels individually.
Why do people give so much attention to sexual attraction when there’s so many other ways to experience feelings for another person?
Bridget: So since we have all of these different ways of experiencing attraction to other people that are not just limited to sexual attraction, why do you think people give so much attention to sexual attraction, when there’s so many other ways to experience feelings for another person?
Lauren: Of all the attractions, sexual attraction is probably the only one that can be physically pleasurable and gratifying. So I think a lot of people enjoy that, and they want to continue experiencing that and seeking out that kind of pleasure.
I also think a big contribution to the emphasis on sexual attraction is the media. Because of that pleasure center in sexual attraction, the media and marketing and promotions like to kind of throw sexual attraction in our faces, because it reminds us of things that make us feel really good. And as a result, people like to look at it, watch it, and pursue more of it when the media makes it seem so instantly gratifying.
How would you respond to the idea that a gay Christian’s attractions are inherently sinful?
Bridget: So the trouble that celibate gay Christians often run into when it comes to their attractions is that there is this message that exists within larger evangelicalism, Christian evangelicalism, that their attractions are inherently sinful and to act on their attractions is sinful. And that to me seems to miss the level of nuance that we’ve been discussing in this conversation and leads gay people to feel very shamed about their attractions. And any time they feel anything for anyone, they feel like they’re sinning in some way or they need to repent in some way. So what would be your response to this idea that a gay Christian’s attractions are inherently sinful? What would be your response to that?
Lauren: Within your questions, I’m hearing two key words: attraction and action. And there’s a metaphor that gets thrown around a lot in the asexual community about sex and sexual attraction that relates to coffee. So some people really enjoy the smell of coffee, but they have no desire to drink coffee. And that’s the difference I think between action and attraction, and it sounds like for celibate gay individuals who are choosing this path of celibacy, they can think that coffee smells good but choose not to drink it for whatever reason that they have. And so I would say for celibate gay people to be told that the attraction is inherently sinful is a little unfair because they’re not actually doing anything. It’s a feeling that they have, and they’re making a choice not to pursue that feeling. And if that is the way that an LGBT person feels they can live out their faith that is best for them, then that’s pretty honorable that they can find and feel something that is attractive and say, “No.” So I don’t quite understand that there would be this thought process that the smell of coffee or the sexual attraction makes a person immediately broken. Just like a straight person, if they’re attracted to someone of the opposite sex, they’re not immediately lusting, or immediately wanting to jump into bed with that person. It’s a feeling of attraction. And then there’s a choice of how to act on it.
How does a more nuanced understanding of attraction empower a celibate gay person?
Bridget: So I think that’s an excellent way for a celibate gay Christian to approach their sexual attraction. Like you said, that analogy of, “I like the smell of coffee but I’m not going to drink the coffee.” And that’s something that I do quite often because I’m trying not to have coffee anymore. So that makes a lot of sense to me. What about the other attractions that a gay person experiences? What about emotional attraction and aesthetic attraction and intellectual attraction and those others that we listed off earlier. How do you think a more nuanced understanding of attraction for a gay person empowers them in that area?
Lauren: Well, I think if a gay person is choosing not to act upon sexual attraction, they can spend more time focusing on the other attractions which are equally beautiful, honorable, and valuable. Paying attention to how someone is aesthetically attractive, how a person may want to build an emotionally-attracted bond with another person — those attractions can be more and more emphasized and more and more pursued. And I think that can be a really wonderful way for a celibate Christian person to perceive and act out in relationship with others.
Love can be expressed in so many different ways beyond sex. And looking at these different levels of attraction and parsing them out, I think can only help us enhance the ways that we express, feel, and pursue love.
Bridget: Absolutely, so I just appreciate everything that you’ve had to say and have learned so much from this conversation. Is there anything else that you would like to add for a celibate gay Christian before we end things off today?
Lauren: I just want to say to celibate Christians that truly you have so much freedom in expressing the way that you love others and the way that you feel towards others. And by choosing not to act upon sexual attraction, that doesn’t mean that the world of love is closed off. There are so many different ways to feel and pursue attraction and love that are beautiful. And I feel that the more that you explore this and the more that you take in those other levels of attraction, the more that you will feel that freedom to love other people — and the more that you can teach others about what love is and what love looks like. And there’s a lot of pride in that, and I hope that celibate Christians can just continue to explore this and become teachers on this.
Bridget: Well, thank you so much, Lauren, for sharing your knowledge and experience. And if you’ve been listening, thank you for joining us! I’d love to hear your thoughts on some of these ideas we’ve talked about today, especially as we continue this current series on gay pride for celibate gay Christians. The conversation definitely doesn’t stop here. So comment on the blog or send me a private message. I’d love to hear from you! And if you haven’t already, subscribe to my blog using the little red button on the right.
And if you’d like to learn more about Lauren, follow her on Instagram!