i haven’t heard of sensual attraction until recently but i’m having a hard time separating it from romantic attraction? like what //is// romantic attraction vs sensual? sorry if this is a really basic question!
not a “really basic question” at all! honestly, the world at large doesn’t even distinguish between different types of attraction, they’re all considered to be part of the same thing. it’s the asexual and aromantic communities that started dissecting attraction into different categories and it can be very confusing at times.
within ace and aro communities, attraction is commonly broken up into 5 categories: platonic, aesthetic, sensual, romantic and sexual attraction. see these posts to find out the basics on all of them: [ 1 ] + [ 2 ]
not everyone agrees on what is “romantic” and what is not, but romantic attraction is also sometimes referred to as “emotional attraction” because “romance” is commonly considered to revolve around one’s “heart” and (often irrational) emotion. for example, feeling an irrational but urgent need to be near someone or to have someone’s attention or approval. clinging to that person’s every word for no logical reason or feeling distraught when that someone turns you down even though there is literally no real reason for you to feel that way. wanting to spend your life with that person for reasons that maybe you don’t even understand beyond it making you happy and it feeling “right” somehow.
sensual attraction, on the other hand, relates to sensuality. it revolves around The Senses– most notably touch and smell (sight is given its own category, “aesthetic”). if one is sensually attracted to someone, you might be (for example) attracted to how they smell. you might feel yourself wanting to touch them, to hold their hand, to cuddle with them, to press your lips against theirs, etc etc etc. being attracted to someone in a way that triggers a desire for sensory input, is how i think of it. touch and smell can be sexual in nature, but it can also not be sexual (or romantic) in the least. sometimes you just want to hold someone’s hand without anything else being behind those feelings.
this is where things become confusing.
for some people, more than one type of attraction often occurs at the same time– to the point that to that person, those types of attraction might as well all be part of the same thing. for these people, it may be very hard– if not impossible– to distinguish between the types of attraction involved.
for example, every time person X “falls in love” with someone, they love seeing that person, they want to kiss them passionately, to engage in sex with that person and to forever be with that person. all of these feelings happen at the same time for person X. for person X, aesthetic + sensual + sexual + romantic attraction may seem like part of the same thing– what that person considers to be “love”.
on the other hand, for some people it’s easier to distinguish between different types of attraction because they occur independently of each other.
for example, during the course of a day person Z may come across someone whom they feel is utterly beautiful, but at no point does that feeling involve a desire to touch that person, to engage in sex with that person or anything else. the person is just amazingly beautiful, that’s all. in this case, it may be easy for person Z to recognize this as aesthetic attraction. later, person Z returns home to find person Y waiting for them. person Y and person Z park themselves on the sofa in front of the TV and marathon episodes of Steven Universe. person Z rests their head on person Y’s shoulder, soothed by the smell of person Y’s hair and the warmth of person Y beside them. the moment is sensual and platonic, but not at all sexual nor romantic. it’s just what person Z needed at the end of a hectic day.
i swear, i get sent simple and short asks but always end up writing short novels for answers.
TL;DR: romantic attraction revolves around the heart and one’s emotions while sensual revolves around The Senses, especially touch and smell. each type of attraction can occur independently of the other, but for some they always (or often) happen together or never happen at all, making it difficult to distinguish between the two. for some people they ARE part of the same thing and for others they are not. it’s complicated!