what is autosexuality?

Exploring the idea of being in love, sexually and romantically, with yourself.

by Mahoro Seward
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29 March 2019, 8:00am

“If you can’t love yourself, how in the hell you gonna love somebody else?!” has by now become a pop-cultural knell, co-opted by all the straight girls in Clapham and sundry along with ‘YAAAAASS KWEEN!’ around season four of RuPaul’s Drag Race. But, in spite of the ubiquitous cawing it’s birthed, it would seem that Mama Ru’s message of amorous introspection is increasingly being taken in earnest. As reports would have it, the demand for Eat-Pray-Love-esque self-marriage ceremonies is at its highest, with some service providers charging north of £2500 to those looking to sign up to a life of ‘sologamy’.

Though this particular practice of self-marriage might better be viewed as an extreme extension of #selfcare, there is, in fact, an elusive sexual demographic that professes to experience legitimate sexual and romantic attraction to themselves. Don’t get me wrong, there have been rare moments when I’ve caught myself in the mirror and thought damn, but on reflection it’s mostly down to whatever I’m wearing, and I’m not sure if a fleeting appreciation of the enhanced self I’ve expensively curated through material possessions really matches up to what might fairly be described as inflected sexual attraction.

I first thought that autosexuality might have something to do with that thing where conventionally attractive white gays date their effective twins, but it turns out it covers those that experience sexual attraction to themselves. There’s also autoromanticism, which speaks to a desire to experience a romantic relationship with oneself. The shade of difference between the two was admittedly a tricky one for me to grasp, though that changed when I considered my own love life as a sort of Venn diagram, with one circle comprising people with whom the interactions I seek are solely physical, and the other containing those with whom the relationship I’m looking for predicates on something more profound, and isn’t fuelled by the same primal desire — a romantic crush on a close friend, for example. There is, of course, a pretty significant overlap between those two groups, but there are still a fair few people that straggle in one or the other.

New York-based Ghia Vitale, without a doubt the most prolific writer on this near-prohibitively niche subject, identifies as both autosexual and autoromantic, which is to say that as well as experiencing sexual attraction to her own body, she also experiences romantic desire towards herself as a fully-fledged person. In a 2017 article for Medium, she writes of her relationship with herself as akin to that between committed lovers, emphasising the crucial effect it bears on interactions beyond those with herself: “It’s essentially sacred to me. When I am a good lover to myself, I am, in turn, a good lover to everyone else in my life.”

I first thought that autosexuality might have something to do with that thing where conventionally attractive white gays date their effective twins, but it turns out it covers those that experience sexual attraction to themselves.

‘Hold on,’ I hear you say, ‘isn’t she meant to be in a relationship with herself? Does that mean she’s cheating on herself?’ How naïve. Now would be a good moment to clear up a little technicality: sexual identification and relationship styles can and do exist exclusively of one other: just as there are monogamous non-binary folk and polyamorous straight girls, non-monogamous relationship practices remain as open an option to those who identify as autosexual as anyone else. “I can say that my being attracted to my own self has never dampened my desire for other partners,” Ghia continues, “and I can’t imagine I’m the only one out there who feels this way. Not only am I polyamorous, but I’ve been in a steady relationship for over a decade.”

Interestingly, it was through first discovering ‘relationship anarchy’, described in an earlier article of ours as a “refusal of socially imposed or inherited hierarchies within relationships, rejecting the prioritisation of relationships that said hierarchies call for”, that she first came to fully actualise her identity as an autosexual and autoromantic: “Before I discovered relationship anarchy, I wasn’t able to conceive of my relationship with myself as independent, sexual, and romantic. Only then did I begin seeing my relationship with myself as a viable and romantic love in its own right. Only then did I become emotionally free.”

So what does a date out with oneself look like? I mean, sure, I’ve taken myself for nice dinners before, and had a more pleasant time than I’ve had sharing sustenance with some of my pretty close friends. But was I on a date? Perhaps not, but were I to identify as autoromantic, I may well have been. From dancing in the mirror in your finery to a solo glass of biodynamic wine and a good read at P. Franco, the crux of an autoromantic date is stealing time to take smitten pleasure in just how great you are. What goes down between the two of you after, or during, the date is very much down to a consensual accord between you and, well, yourself. As Ghia puts it, “my sexual and romantic orientations turn just about any mundane activity into a full-blown date. For me, a walk through a graveyard is more than a relaxing stroll through a death sanctuary. I alternate between admiring the tombstones and admiring myself.”

Perhaps the most compelling aspect of autosexuality, however, is its in-built propensity to act as a catalyst for self-esteem, serving as a means for those that identify with it to view their bodies as worthy of wanting. In an article for Quail Bell magazine, Vitale writes that “being autosexual and autoromantic while also being fat defies all of the toxic attitudes I've learned about fatness. I am worthy of love from myself and others. I am allowed to embrace my body at every size and find myself attractive in any state I please.” As such, she has been able to employ her sexual identity as a strategy of self-acceptance, an act of defiance against a cultural space that typically excludes bodies like hers from narratives of what’s hot. And so successful a strategy has it been, that she recently announced her self-engagement.

Though I’m as yet unsure as to whether I’ll be getting down on one knee for me, there’s certainly something to be gleaned here. After all, I imagine it’d be much easier, and far less emotionally taxing, to be able to sate burning lust with little more than a mirror and one’s own company… Anyway, if this article has flipped any switches, I’d suggest, as with any relationship, that you start slow -- a glass of biodynamic wine perhaps? Just leave P. Franco alone. That’s my thing.