I’ve been asking myself this question, because I’ve been thinking about the difference in how I’ve seen people relate, and go about dating, in the “vanilla” world versus those who claim a queer or alternative sexuality. My theory is limited at best, I know, but I think that the more of those badges you put on yourself, and the more corresponding requirements you ascribe to a future relationship or sexual partner, the less of a role physical attractiveness plays (at least, some of the time and for some people).
The thing is, belonging to a subculture does limit your dating pool quite a bit. When I look for a partner, sexual or otherwise, I’m looking for someone who is queer, interested in genderqueer folk and those who have the vulva-and-breasts combination of body parts, kinky and dominant, poly or open to someone who is non-monogamous, and willing to practice safe sex even in the absence of a penis. I very rarely meet anyone fitting this description in my day-to-day encounters, and it does mean that a certain amount of talk is required before any sex–but also that I can pretty clearly enumerate at least the basics of what I’m looking for in a sexual partner.
If I contrast this to my experience in the heterosexual, vanilla dating world, I’m struck by how much more physical attraction seemed to enter into the picture there. Currently, it’s low on the totem pole because the people I’m most physically attracted to are unlikely to line up with the above list of essentials. Before I had this list in hand, physical attraction was a big part of narrowing down the dating field. If 50% or so of the population is theoretically available to you (narrowed somewhat due to who’s available for dating/sex, but you’re still probably looking at 5-10% of the population, which is a lot of people), then you need something other than labels or identities to go by. Of course, you can easily end up with a very attractive person that you’re not compatible with in bed, and this is why I actually kind of like my list, even though I’m not a huge fan of labels. I’ve had enough sex where I was just mentally hoping and praying to have my hands held above my head, my queerness accepted, any little fragment of sexual desire met. I think it would be helpful if “vanilla” and “straight” people interrogated their sexual desires and then figured out frank, shorthand ways to find sexual partners based on whatever desires are most important to them. Maybe if this was the norm–if sex positivity and frank discussion about sex were also the norm–physical attractiveness would be phased out as the assumed method of identifying a potential partner in our society. And I think that would be a step in the right direction.