This piece is partly prompted by Rhys Muldoon’s lovely column today, and partly something I have been thinking for quite a while on the subject of whether or not we choose our sexual orientation and who to love.
I can’t approach being anywhere near as eloquent as Mr Muldoon on the subject of love so I will be writing about the mechanics of sexual attraction. I am writing from the male perspective because that’s the only perspective I have, but I would love to hear from women on the topic too.
The question of whether people choose who they are attracted to can be answered in one very blunt sentence of five simple words:
You can’t fake an erection.
It’s that simple. You can’t.
Of course, there are many things that can cause an erection that have nothing in particular to do with sexual attraction, especially if you’re a teenager. It could be a whiff of perfume, a cool breeze, a particular underwear fabric, the way the train jiggles, or even something as simple as waking up. This doesn’t mean you want to marry your bed sheets.
I’ll say that again just in case Cory Bernardi is reading:
This. Does. Not. Mean. You. Want. To. Marry. Your. Bed. Sheets. Is that clear?
An erection is by no means an infallible sign of overt sexual attraction but it is the body saying Mmm, I like that! You can’t just make it happen, it’s completely involuntary. The only way to make an erection happen in a situation that you don’t find arousing is to think of something that you do find arousing – whatever that may be.
You also can’t stop an erection. There’s no saying ‘Down boy, we don’t choose to be turned on by that kind of thing.’ If it’s going to happen, then it’s going to happen and you have no choice in the matter whatsoever. You might – and I stress might – be able to control it a little bit by thinking unattractive thoughts but your chances aren’t good. Arousal is like blinking or getting goose bumps. You don’t do it because you choose to, but because it is (pardon the pun) hardwired.
Every man knows this is true. Almost every woman knows this is true of men. I can’t speak for women (and again, I would welcome women to comment), but given that female arousal is generally a more complex process than in males, I strongly suspect it would support my premise that you can’t make it happen if it isn’t happening and you can’t stop it happening if it is. Women are fortunate that they can still be a bit mysterious and dignified in their arousal, but the penis never lies.
So why on earth is anyone still suggesting that a person’s attraction to another person is some kind of lifestyle choice and not basic programming? Is it because it’s a barely plausible excuse to treat people differently?
And why are some who have finally come to accept the fact that it’s simply how someone is built suggesting that it’s okay if they’re built that way so long as they don’t act on it. That’s like saying it’s okay to be hungry so long as you don’t eat.
If you’re still not convinced, do the experiment yourself. Pick something that doesn’t attract or stimulate you, and try to get off on it. You will not be able to do it. If you can, then it only means that it really does attract and stimulate you. And that’s perfectly alright too.