We commonly tend to think of 'sexual attraction' as essentially oriented towards directly sexual activity. It seems to be simply a way for people to work out who to marry, and within that to be part of the couple's intimate life. But the attraction between the sexes has a second, fundamental purpose.
The Attraction between the Sexes
One of the key aims of Man+Woman is to bring more clarity to the notion of the emotional-aesthetic-cultural attraction between the sexes, and distinguish it from the more directly sexual attraction closely associated with sexual relations between men and women. When trying to speak about these matters there is a difficulty finding a suitable terminology. The word ‘sexual’ has to serve too many purposes and the term ‘sexual attraction’ is more likely to denote what people colloquially call ‘chemistry’ between two individuals, or to a type of attractiveness more closely associated with the directly sexual.
To clarify this distinction in practical terms let us look at two realms of human behaviour.
Sexual behaviour is oriented towards sexual intercourse, although it might or might not result in it on any particular occasion. It involves overt signs of intent, often including touching, kissing, and so on. It commonly involves direct bodily contact, although it might not, yet involving at least direct signs that sexual relations are hoped for or intended. Prior to sexual intercourse there can be various behaviours that could be called ‘attraction behaviour’, but for present purposes I am reserving the use of ‘attraction’ for a distinctly different kind of behaviour.
We could sum up the sexual by describing it as having a linear character, going from attraction to desire to arousal to consummation, though perhaps stopping at some point along the way.
Attraction behaviour in the sense meant here is not oriented to sexual activity but to fostering and accentuating the aesthetic-emotional-spiritual appreciation of men and women for each other, expressed in cultural forms.
It does not have a ‘linear’ character but a circular one. The attraction that could in another context go on to desire, arousal and consummation begins with attraction but is then drawn in a circle, as it were, so that it retains its character of attraction. It is that aspect of the ‘dance of the sexes’ that remains a dance.
Its purpose is not outside itself but its own end is found within itself. Its ‘end’ is a continuing deepening and broadening attraction that draws men and women together. It is one of the most important sources from which culture springs.
This realm of Attraction involves dress and adornment, manners, and ways of speaking and moving, expressions and customs, rituals and celebrations. It leads women to beautify themselves and men to seek refinement and charm. It encourages deference and delicacy in social relations. It accentuates that which each sex finds most characteristically appealing in the other.
Naming the Reality
People can be inclined to think that this all pretty much goes without saying, and that this is just a penumbra of phenomena surrounding sexual attraction, perhaps an optional extra, and hardly worth making much of. Throughout the articles in Man+Woman I seek to demonstrate that this is not the case, and that the realm of Attraction has great significance. It needs to be identified clearly and named so that it can become the focus of a more concerted engagement.
Distinct but Related
Although a clear distinction can be drawn between the realm of the sexual and of Attraction it won’t have escaped anyone’s notice that they remain closely related.
There is in practice a significant intermediate zone with a certain amount of ‘crossover’.
(This issue is also addressed in Beautiful, or Sexy?)
This is as it’s meant to be. However, if the realm of Attraction is not positively cultivated and clarified in its own right it tends to be assumed into the sexual, so that it appears to be largely an ‘epiphenomenon’ of sexuality. This then makes it harder for people to recognise it and embrace it as something legitimate in its own right. It then seems that almost everything pertaining to the attraction between the sexes is sexual, or so close to it that we’d better just steer clear of it all. It also means that the moderating influence that the realm of Attraction could provide is lost and leaves a vacuum in which culture becomes over-sexualised.
The Sexualisation of Culture
Clarifying and encouraging the development of the realm of Attraction is made more difficult by the sexualisation of culture which is so prevalent in our times.
For those caught up in this sexualisation it would appear that what is proposed as comprising the realm of attraction would not be 'sexy' enough to get their attention. It would appear only as a watered-down version of the sexual, so why bother?
For those who are opposed to the sexualisation of culture some of the kinds of things proposed as legitimate developments of the realm of Attraction might be looked at with suspicion. Since everything else is being sexualised, perhaps this too is just an entry point for more of the same?
Both of these reactions are real problems. This is why we need both a well developed body of thought explaining the why and how of this realm of Attraction, and good examples being put into practice.