Psychotherapy Tips

Can you be sexually attracted to someone but not physically

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Have you ever met someone for the first time and felt like you’ve known them forever? Or become instantly drawn to another person without being that into them physically?

If so, you’ve likely experienced the pull of emotional attraction — being captivated by someone’s heart, mind, or humor instead of their physical appeal.

“Many people go on a date looking for a ‘spark,’” says licensed psychotherapist Rachel Perlstein. “The tricky thing about that feeling is that it’s often more reflective of a physical attraction or sexual chemistry.”

Emotional attraction is a different, deeper type of attraction, she explains, because it not only draws you to someone, but keeps you feeling connected in a lasting, meaningful way.

And unlike physical attraction, it’s often developed based on things like the other person’s values, their personality, and how they show they care.

Can it exist without physical attraction?

Yes, emotional and physical attraction can be completely separate, explains mental health counselor, Lily Ewing.

“You might love someone for their humor or intelligence and just never get interested in them physically or sexually,” she says.

For instance, maybe you greatly admire and trust one of your colleagues or classmates but know you’d never want to date them. On the other hand, you might be physically attracted to someone but the emotional connection never happens.

Sometimes, people find themselves initially drawn to the person they’re most physically attracted to, notes Perlstein. But when there isn’t a deeper, emotional connection, they have a hard time continuing the relationship.

Is it always romantic?

Appreciating someone’s personality doesn’t mean you have romantic feelings for them. For example, think about the bonds you have with your friends.

You’ve likely experienced the feeling of being drawn or attracted to a person at work or a social gathering more than others, Perlstein says, whether it’s because of their sense of humor, shared interests, or just the way they make you feel validated and heard.

“This emotional attraction really reflects this sometimes-instant ability to relate on a different level and connect, to feel understood and cared about,” she says.

Usually, if the emotional attraction continues, you’ll both become closer friends or be pulled into each other’s social circle.

Is it always sexual?

Emotional attraction isn’t necessarily sexual, especially if physical attraction isn’t a factor.

“Sexual attraction builds as we see both emotional and physical attraction connecting into a stronger sexual draw,” Ewing explains.

For example, you might be emotionally attracted to someone but aren’t immediately drawn to them physically. Over time, as the emotional connection deepens, they may start to seem more physically attractive to you.

For some people (but not all), experiencing sexual attraction doesn’t happen without emotional attraction.

A person who identifies as demisexual, for example, may not feel sexually attracted to someone unless they form a strong emotional connection with them first.

“Our minds like balance,” Ewing adds. “So if we’re feeling the butterflies about someone who is funny, smart, and kind, we soon will start to appreciate more and more about their physical appearance. When both are in place, the sexual attraction sparks begin to fly.”

How important is it?

Being open and vulnerable with someone else and having them do the same with you is the basis of intimacy, says Carrie Krawiec, LMFT.

“It’s important because feeling safe, comfortable, accepted, and understood as a person is the root of attachment, connection, and intimacy,” she explains.

If you’ve ever been attracted to someone primarily for their sense of humor, intelligence, or the way they care for children or animals, says Ewing, you know that emotional attraction is just as powerful — if not more so — than a chiseled physique or mesmerizing eyes.

Emotional attraction is “also more important in the long run of a relationship and can create a stronger connection than physical attraction alone.”

What are some signs of emotional attraction?

Sometimes, it’s easy to tell when the emotional sparks fly. But other times, things can be a bit more confusing.

Here’s a look at some common examples of emotional attraction and how to spot them:

Feeling like they “get you”

If you feel seen and heard by the other person, it’s a sign you’re experiencing a deeper connection. You’re able to communicate easily and things flow effortlessly.

Being with the other person feels nurturing and like they understand you on another level.

Constantly thinking about them

You find yourself day dreaming about seeing them or thinking about what you talked about the previous night. Whether you’re at work or running errands, you constantly draw them to mind and remember the way they make you feel.

Long, late night conversations

If you’re on the phone, talking about things long beyond setting up plans for your next meet up, it’s a good sign of emotional attraction.

“Those long late-night conversations about your families, high school heartbreaks, and the like, are full of shared emotional experiences that deepen connection,” says Ewing.

Gushing over their qualities

You love their sense of humor or personality and can’t stop telling other people about it.

When you’re emotionally attracted to someone, you can’t help but absorb these small quirks or qualities and want to share them with others.

Your values are in sync

They welcome you into their personal life and you feel emotionally compatible. When you share similar views on family, work, and fundamental beliefs, your bond becomes stronger and can develop into a long-term relationship.

You never get sick of each other

No matter how much time you spend together, it never gets old. Even if you’re just hanging out and not doing anything exciting, you’ll still feel a sense of connection from their presence.

You’re comfortable being vulnerable

“Any time you’re sharing or listening to vulnerable personal details, emotional connection and attraction grow,” notes Ewing.

Opening up and revealing insecurities and private aspects of your life establishes greater trust between you.

Are there ways to deepen an emotional connection?

Do you have physical attraction but want to strengthen the emotional side of things? Here are some pointers to get you started:

Start small

“Building intimacy is a little bit like the egg toss or water balloon toss game,” says Krawiec.

The gist, she explains, is that you start small and gentle with some reveals of personal information like hopes, dreams, fears, humiliations, and happy memories.

As you go back and forth with safety, nonjudgement, acceptance, and kindness, you can reveal increasingly deep or personal information.

Not sure how to start? Our guide to building intimacy can help.

Ask questions and really listen to the answers

There’s no better way to foster emotional attraction than by asking the right questions.

Older research has shown that you can create closeness and deepen your understanding of another person by asking meaningful questions and truly listening to their answers.

Starter questions

Here are some questions you can try out:

  • What do you feel most grateful for in life?
  • If you could wake up tomorrow with only one quality, what would it be and why?
  • What do you most value in a friendship?

Be willing to self-disclose

When you’re first getting to know someone, you’re more cautious about sharing personal information. But Perlstein recommends being vulnerable, open, and honest about yourself when trying to deepen your connection.

Building any kind of successful relationship isn’t just about learning more about the other person. It also involves sharing your own hopes, thoughts, dreams, and fears.

Introduce them to friends and family

Introducing someone to your inner circle when you’re forming a bond is an important way of showing care and respect.

Inviting them to a family reunion or a friend’s birthday party, for example, are connection-deepening activities that can help increase emotional closeness.

Enjoy high-emotion experiences together

Offer your undivided attention in shared moments that elicit a lot of emotions.

“Bungee jumping, watching a belly-laughing comedy, or attending a wedding together are all high-emotion experiences of joy, fear, and excitement that can bond you together,” says Ewing.

The bottom line

Being physically attracted to someone is a thrilling experience, but it’s also fleeting.

When you’re going through difficult situations, having strong emotional ties is what helps you maintain longevity in your relationships. And it’s these shared experiences that ultimately bring meaning to our lives.

As Perlstein notes “emotional attraction is important because it’s reflective of deep connection and often happens when someone feels truly seen and heard by someone.”

So I’m really sexually attracted to someone but not physically attracted to them? Is this the norm? I feel like physical attraction is usually first?

The guy I feel this for, I know him fairly well, so I guess there’s an emotional element. But we don’t have much in common and I find him really annoying.

Idk it just really took me by surprise as I’ve only ever felt sexually attracted to someone who I physically fancied or had a strong emotional connection (but then physical attraction came second)

We had sex once, it wasn’t great but it wasn’t bad… and I can’t help but sometimes daydream about doing it again

(I hope this doesn’t sound stupid, I’m just wondering what other’s thoughts are)

What is attraction?

Attraction describes interest, desire, or affinity that’s emotional, romantic, sexual, physical, or aesthetic in nature.

Many people mislabel attraction as purely romantic. But many feelings qualify as attraction, from taking an interest in someone to admiring someone’s appearance to experiencing sexual feelings.

Attraction is a key part of how you connect to other people and build your support network, whatever form it takes.

Why does it matter?

Attraction can take many forms and it’s possible to experience more than one type simultaneously.

Learning about the nuanced and multifaceted nature of attraction helps us gain insight into our own feelings, as well as the boundaries we need to set to ensure those feelings are respected and understood.

Check out the following breakdown of the different types of attraction. We also explain different terms that show the subtle differences between varying types of attraction.

Emotional attraction

emotional attraction illustration

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Illustration by Yaja’ Mulcare

This type of attraction isn’t necessarily physical in nature and is rooted in a desire for connection because of someone’s heart, mind, or personality.

Alterous

This describes the desire for a type of emotional relationship and emotional closeness that the terms “platonic” or “romantic” don’t feel like they accurately characterize.

It can also convey discomfort or de-identification with the word “romantic” as a primary descriptor or focal point for different types of attraction.

Attachment

Attachment refers to a type of bond or connection that’s often necessary or present in committed or long-term relationships of any kind.

Attachment can be a factor in relationships with:

  • friends
  • children
  • parents
  • caregivers
  • family members
  • loved ones

Intellectual

This type of attraction isn’t necessarily physical in nature and is rooted in a desire for connection due to someone’s intelligence.

Love

This is a deep or passionate feeling of connection or affection that often involves an element of emotional attachment.

The meaning of love and things associated with love can vary from person to person, relationship to relationship, and across cultures.

Passion

This describes feelings of deep desire, intense emotion, or strong enthusiasm.

Platonic

This is the nonsexual or nonromantic desire to be in a relationship with someone. Friendships, for example, are often platonic.

Protective

This describes attraction toward those who require caretaking, such as a child, pet, or loved one.

Social

This describes those who are generally well-liked by the majority. A person who’s socially attractive is typically also someone many people want to be around.

Squish

The desire for a strong, nonromantic relationship that often includes elements of emotional depth or intimacy.

It’s considered the nonromantic version of a crush.

Zucchini

Also known as a queerplatonic partner, zucchinis are people engaged in queerplatonic relationships.

Romantic attraction

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Illustration by Yaja’ Mulcare

This can describe a deep emotional interest or connection that isn’t purely physical or sexual in nature.

Alloromantic

This describes people who experience romantic attraction.

Amatonormativity

A social force that presumes romantic relationships are more ideal or “the norm” for everyone, subsequently viewing this type of relationship as more valid than or superior to others.

Aromantic

Also known as “aro,” this identifier describes the spectrum of people who experience little to no romantic attraction or desire for a romantic relationship.

Autoromantic

This describes those who experience romantic attraction to oneself.

Biromantic

This describes the experience of being romantically attracted to people of two or more genders.

It doesn’t indicate the specific genders someone is romantically attracted to, but the fact that the individual is romantically attracted to people of more than one gender.

Crush

The object of someone’s romantic attraction or the desire for a romantic relationship with someone.

Demiromantic

On the aromantic spectrum, demiromantic describes those who only experience romantic attraction after developing an emotional connection.

Grayromantic

On the aromantic spectrum, grayromantic describes someone who rarely experiences romantic attraction, or only experiences romantic attraction under particular circumstances.

Heteroromantic

This describes those who are romantically attracted to members of the “opposite” sex or gender.

Homoromantic

This describes those who feel romantic attraction to members of the same sex or gender.

Panromantic

This describes someone who’s capable of experiencing romantic attraction to people of all gender identities.

Generally speaking, gender and sex don’t play a major role in governing romantic attraction for those who are panromantic.

Polyromantic

This describes someone who experiences romantic attraction towards people of many, but not necessarily all, gender identities.

Sexual attraction

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Illustration by Yaja’ Mulcare

This attraction takes the form of the desire for intimately physical or sexual contact with someone.

Lust

This describes intense feelings of passion, desire, affection, or attraction toward someone.

Objective sexual

This type of attraction occurs when the majority of people consider someone sexually attractive, even if you personally don’t experience sexual attraction toward them.

Subjective sexual

This describes sexual feelings or the desire for sexual contact based on personal feelings and individual experiences that aren’t necessarily shared by the majority.

Subjective sexual attraction is often viewed as sexual chemistry that exists in a given relationship, connection, or interaction.

Physical attraction

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Illustration by Yaja’ Mulcare

This describes the desire for touch or to receive touch — not necessarily in a romantic or sexual way. For example, this can include hugging or kissing a family member or petting a dog.

Intimacy

This term describes physical, sexual, romantic, or emotional closeness between people in personal relationships of any kind.

Objective physical

This type of attraction occurs when the majority of people consider someone physically attractive, even if you personally don’t feel attraction around their physical appearance.

Subjective physical

This type of physical desire or admiration involves personal feelings and individual experiences that aren’t the most people don’t necessarily share.

Subjective physical attraction is often observable as physical chemistry that exists in a given relationship, connection, or interaction.

Sensual

Very similar to physical attraction, sensual attraction describes a desire to touch or receive touch that isn’t necessarily sexual in nature.

Aesthetic attraction

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Illustration by Yaja’ Mulcare

Aesthetic attraction refers to the ability to admire someone’s appearance without the need or desire to have physical, sexual, or romantic contact with them.

You might find that elements of aesthetic attraction cross over into other types. For example, you may think the way a person dresses makes you feel romantic or sexual attraction, while you also find them aesthetically attractive.

Some people describe the distinction between aesthetic attraction and other types as a feeling similar to the experience of observing a beautiful painting or lush scenery.

The bottom line

Many people have had the experience of feeling fond of someone but having a hard time identifying the exact emotion. For example, they may wonder, “Am I attracted to them physically? Do I admire their personality or intelligence? Do I have the desire to be romantic or sexual with them?”

Attraction can be confusing and takes time to understand. Just remember: There’s no right way to experience attraction and one form isn’t better or more valid than another.

Expanding your understanding of attraction beyond romantic and sexual boundaries can help you navigate the various feelings that inform your interests, desires, boundaries, and relationships.

Mere Abrams is a researcher, writer, educator, consultant, and licensed clinical social worker who reaches a worldwide audience through public speaking, publications, social media (@meretheir), and gender therapy and support services practice onlinegendercare.com. Mere uses their personal experience and diverse professional background to support individuals exploring gender and help institutions, organizations, and businesses to increase gender literacy and identify opportunities to demonstrate gender inclusion in products, services, programs, projects, and content.

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