Chemistry Classroom – What Causes Sexual Attraction?

HBy Mardi Kaye on April 28, 2014

He Loves Me He Loves Me not??

A phenomenon that has evoked our curiosity since before the Greeks, sexual desire is one of life’s great mysteries. The issue, at first, seems as though it should be painfully obvious: have not all of us experienced sexual desire?

Yet, for most, introspection becomes revelation: few can explain why they are attracted to some and not to others. So Let’s try and explore /explain the nature of sexual attraction and its causes.

You meet a beautiful woman and you are instantly sexually attracted to her. Now, what if you were told that this same woman had a criminal record, or she had a disease that would see her attractiveness fade very quickly over the coming years.

Would you feel the same?

What if, instead of having a disease, this woman were a single mother of three children; to three separate partners, would you be more or less attracted to her than you were initially? What has changed about the woman?

Let’s say you meet a rather ordinary man and you feel no attraction; Would you suddenly find yourself attracted to him if you discovered he was an extremely wealthy or a Prince? What if someone close to you was dying of cancer and you were told this man had just found the cure, would you find him arousing then? Did anything change about the man? What if you meet a person online, and you are very attracted to his intelligence, his wit, and his ability to dialogue with you in a stimulating way, but discover (upon meeting him in person) that he has body odour and is sloppy in appearance; Would this affect your attraction? What if, you also discovered he had lied about his intention to seek a lasting relationship? Maybe It became clear he was utilising on-line dating to achieve a “Purple Patch sex –life” Is sexual attraction the great unknown? Or rather could it be 100% about Judgment. Attractions that appear at first to be solely physical can be heightened or destroyed by intellectual judgments, while attractions that appear at first to be solely intellectual are either heightened or destroyed by physical considerations. The issue is not whether, your personal attraction actually changed, but realizing that such change is possible based on your judgments. Clearly, there is some connection between judgments and sexual attraction?

Think carefully, have I just exposed there is a connection between judgment and sexual attraction: one that most of us would prefer to deny. Maybe it’s the immediacy of the response or perhaps it’s due to poor relational skills; either way, few people recognize that judgment plays an active role in sexual attraction until it is pointed out for them. It’s clear that judgments can be based on different things: above we saw judgments based on beauty, intelligence, fame, et cetera. In each judgment, an individual is judged according to his/or her possessions, or aesthetic characteristics. Will this person enhance or enrich my life –what do they have to offer? These characteristics are either attractive or not to the judge – consequently, we either pursue or avoid them. So can we now conclude, attraction is clearly based on a specific kind of judgment “A value judgement” A value is that which promotes our lives; a disvalue is that which inhibits or retards our lives. Given that we are human, we must identify values and utilise them every day. However social media & our fast-paced, dynamic lives, does not always allow us the leisure to analyse many situations sufficiently. Consequently, by the time we reach 25 and have achieved full cognition, we have become so adept at quick value judgments that we rarely need to perform this process consciously. Our subconscious evaluation is based on past events & judgments that we may have experienced & the emotion that has resulted from this.

For instance, if a child falls from their bicycle when young & injures them self, they may dislike bicycles throughout their adult life. Clearly this emotion can be changed by rational reflection, (i.e.) If this person realizes that they were a clumsy child but as an adult have grown graciously into co-ordination – they need not fear bicycles. This person will need to consciously change their judgment.M

When we experience an emotion, we are experiencing an instantaneous result of prior value judgments. We are judging, albeit implicitly and instantly, that the object of our emotion would either be a value or disvalue in our lives. Because of the immediacy of our emotions, it is easy to think of them as unanalysable primaries. However, we can analyse them in terms of the antecedent value judgments upon which they are based.

For instance, if a child falls from their bicycle when young & injures them self, they may dislike bicycles throughout their adult life. Clearly this emotion can be changed by rational reflection, (i.e.) If this person realizes that they were a clumsy child but as an adult have grown graciously into co-ordination – they need not fear bicycles. This person will need to consciously change their judgment.

While this example is of a simple emotion resulting from the judgment of only one experience, most emotions are more complex than this and have many antecedent judgments. Indeed, even an emotion as complex as sexual attraction can be understood in terms of antecedent judgment. To whom a particular person is attracted will depend upon his particular antecedent judgments, but we can easily show some general ways in which attraction operates.

Let us say that we find a woman who is attracted to the sight of a man’s broad shoulders and strong chest. If we were we to ask her, why she was attracted to this, she might be able to tell us or, more likely, she would not know? This attraction could be based on her thinking that broad shoulders means that her lover can protect her. Alternatively, she might think that a broad shoulders reflects a strength of character. It could also be that a broad shoulders reminds her of her first lover who was the first male in her life to treat her as a woman and not as a child. The point here is not to determine why our example is attracted to broad shoulders, but rather to show that all of us already think about attraction in terms of antecedent judgments.

If our friend expresses attraction to a person to whom we do not feel attracted, often we express dismay & ask – “what do you see in her?” We want an explanation in terms of value judgments. However, sexual attraction is rarely so simple as to be based on a single feature. Most people have a collection of physical characteristics that they find aesthetically pleasing, certain character traits they desire, and a certain similar way of viewing life.

If asked to explain why a particular man is arousing, a woman might not be able to tell us, but with careful questioning we would see that her attraction is based on a well-developed criteria. Indeed, sexual attraction is rarely based on either physical or psychological characteristics alone, but some combination of the two. Of course, a person’s attraction to certain individuals will be entirely based on his/her past experience and judgments, and we do not have direct access to these things. This however, does not concern us because we are not trying to understand why certain individuals are aroused by each other, but rather we are seeking to unravel sexual desire itself.

So can we now conclude that sexual desire is the result of a person’s antecedent value judgments and it reflects characteristics that the person judges to be desirable. Although we cannot make exact claims about who will desire whom, we can make very precise claims about certain types of people & the underlying philosophy’s which drive their decision making process on sexual desire.