How You Can Be Attracted To Someone You Really Don't Like

Photographed by Renell Medrano.
I once went out with a guy I'd met on Bumble, and about an hour into the date, I knew I completely disliked him. He was a total narcissist, he continually spoke over me, and he was extremely rude to our waiter. My brain was telling me this guy was trash, and I knew in my gut that I really didn't like him. But I was also wildly attracted to him, and I wanted to see what was under that wrinkled tartan shirt he was wearing.
So at the end of the night, instead of telling him to never call me again, I took him home. We hooked up a few more times after that, and every single time I tried to get myself to actually like him. Sexually, we sizzled. But when we tried to talk post-coitus, I found myself growing more and more irritated with him. This was all confounding to me, because I'd been raised to think that sex could and should only pop off between someone you loved — or at least liked.
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But, apparently, this phenomenon is quite common — plenty of folks want to get busy with people they really dislike. "Sex and love are two distinct experiences and processes," says Jessica O'Reilly, PhD, sexologist and host of the Sex with Dr. Jess podcast. "We've created a culture in which sex and love are supposed to go together, and one cannot exist without the other. But a lot of times, they don't." In other words, you don't necessarily have to be in love with someone to want to sleep with them. You can have strong feelings the other way — or have no feelings at all. Sometimes, things are purely physical.
"Attraction is so primal and hormonal," says Jesse Kahn, LCSW, the director and supervisor of The Gender & Sexuality Therapy Collective in NYC. "And physical attraction and emotional attraction don't always go hand-in-hand."

"We've created a culture in which sex and love are supposed to go together, and one cannot exist without the other. But a lot of times, they don't."

Dr. Jessica O'Reilly, sexologist
There's also the fact that humans can sometimes find things we're not supposed to like incredibly exciting — and sometimes that excitement gets sexual. "You see this a lot in more kink and BDSM cultures," Kahn says. "Some people in that community have eroticized something we've kind of been told not to like — like pain — and have actually found pleasure between it." The taboo of tapping into something that's challenging or forbidden can be extremely sexy for people, because it offers a sense of escapism. "That may be why you hear of some people in power, like high-powered CEOs, who love to play the role of submissive," Dr. O'Reilly says. They do call it a sexual fantasy, after all.
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For some, however, constantly lusting over people they dislike, or people who aren't all that nice to them, can point to underlying issues. "It's not uncommon to be attracted to things that were harmful to us in our past," Kahn says. "Let's say you grew up in a home where your father was very narcissistic and that affected you as a child. It could continue to affect you and your preferences as an adult." O'Reilly adds that being attracted to someone you dislike and engaging in a relationship that could be potentially harmful are two very different circumstances, so it's important to know the difference.
The good news is that, as long as you're not in a dangerous situation, having sex with someone you don't like can actually be extremely enjoyable for everyone involved. "If you're hooking up with someone, and you're topping them or dominating them with consent and aftercare in a setting that's completely consensual and ethical, it can be really sexy and healing," Kahn says. Sex can teach you a lot about what you like, or what you don't like, so as long as everyone's on board, there's no harm in getting down.
As for me and my narcissist, we figured out pretty quickly that it was best to minimize the talking and part ways shortly after finishing. So even though I didn't like him, I appreciated that.
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