We all know about the whole “law of attraction” that frequently gets miscast or at least trivialized as “wish for it and it will come to you!” That, let’s set aside for now. I’ve never really subscribed to the whole Law of Attraction thing, but I see no point in attacking something that harms no one and that has helped people I know have a more positive mindset.
The law of attraction I’m talking about is the one that has been hard-sold to westerners since at least the 1920s: the idea that attraction and attractiveness is solely or even primarily visual. That men are “wired” visually, and there’s nothing we can do about it but scramble to please them – which leads to a cascade of other complete and utter bullshit about women’s value in society based on the real estate of man they link to, etc. etc.
Your eyes, they deceive you.
Attraction is not about what you see, but since visual stimulus is the most obvious, we attribute our physical and emotional responses to what we’re looking at. But what we see – what our eyeballs observe – isn’t attraction. Smell definitely has an influence, although anosmic people can and do have sex (although I suspect, anecdotally, they suffer a much lower sex drive.) Blind people definitely have sex, and even have something of a reputation as excellent lovers. If attraction were primarily or solely visual, then getting to the actual deed would be impossible or close to it for those without sight. Subconscious signals, body language and motion, which while visual is more of an emotional trigger, in some ways a deeper level of touch, that definitely has everything to do with attraction. Attraction is about what we feel, both in direct touch and in what we feel in the immediate environment of what attracts us.
This whole “that’s how men are wired” or “that’s how women are wired” is not a wiring borne of nature. We do the wiring ourselves, with every idiotic Disney Princess and boobie magazine. Men or women may say they’re turned on by the image put before them, but they’re not. They’re turned on by what they project onto the image in front of them – what we see as the primary stimulus is at best, the secondary, and may even be tertiary. This is why the women in Playboy look radically different as each decade passes. Visual trends in female beauty have nothing to do with actual attraction and attractiveness.
The same is true of women, and their perceptions of men.
When I see a picture of an attractive, shirtless man, I may say I like the sexy picture. What I really like is the idea of running my hand up that shirtless body – an experience I can have elsewhere, and where the action is much more of a turn-on than what the person I do it to looks like.
I really feel like a lot of people have struggled with a lot of unnecessary shame over what they’re genuinely attracted to, because they’re confused by the constant stream of pictures telling them what they’re supposed to be attracted to. Add in fear that someone they know they’re not attracted to is going to demand their attraction – as though attraction were something that could be helped any more than orientation – and the whole thing gets destructive and explosive when it should lead to some self-honesty and perhaps just a little less self-hatred.
Men and woman across all sexualities suffer a bit because of this, while the genderqueer movement is breaking out of it simply by eliminating gender norms. This gives those of us ensconced in heterosexuality to whatever degree something to learn.
Sexual attraction has nothing to do with how you look. Your responses to what you see in other people are mostly socialized. You might see a nice pair of legs, and think it’s about what you see, but really it’s because you either know or would like to know what it’s like to touch a nice pair of legs. You might like someone’s eyes, but really you’re responding to what you believe is kindness and hidden depth, maybe a little bit of mischief. You might like something deemed visually unacceptable by culture – and again, it’s because of the feelings evoked, not because of what you see.