The missing link in queer discourse: The Split Attraction Model

This amazing article explains what the 'split attraction model' is, and how so many of us fall into the grey zone of sexual or romantic identities. This offers space for self- expression and realisation in an entirely new way, and a healthy approach to thinking about our relationships with people. 

So what is the split attraction model? Many people are familiar with the terms “gay” and “bi” or perhaps even “pan”, but what about aromantic? Or greysexual? There’s a lot less awareness of a concept called the split attraction model—that romantic and sexual attraction are two different things and two different orientations. Of course, for some people, the two are inextricably linked, and they’re only sexually attracted to people they’re also in love with and vice versa, but for many people that’s not necessarily true.

Some people might be romantically attracted to all genders, but only sexually attracted to one. Others are sexually attracted to one gender but romantically attracted to another, or to no one at all. So how are these different attractions defined? There’s no one definition, just as there’s no one common experience with regards to love and sex, but generally, romantic attraction is wanting to be in a relationship with someone and having what’s commonly considered a “crush”, whereas sexual attraction involves being physically turned on by someone’s being and oftentimes desiring to sleep with them. The two frequently go together, but they don’t have to.

For instance, many people can look at celebrities in music videos or movies and be physically/sexually attracted to them. However, that doesn’t mean they’re automatically in love with those celebrities or genuinely dedicated to the idea of dating them just because they desire them sexually. Similarly, you can fall in love with someone’s mind and personality without necessarily being attracted to them on a sexual level.

The distinction between these two attractions becomes especially important when you include asexual people and aromantic people in the conversation. Aromantic people are people who don’t experience romantic attraction, and asexual people don’t experience sexual attraction. When the split attraction model is not acknowledged, or sexual and romantic orientation are equated, these identities are erased.

There are many pros to the split attraction model. It allows people to more accurately identify their feelings, as well as provides clarity for people whose romantic and sexual attractions don’t align. It emphasizes the existence of asexual and aromantic (and greysexual and greyromantic) people and also makes it clear that it’s possible to have sex with someone without wanting to date them, and no one should feel pressured to have sex with someone simply because they’re dating them.

However, there are many people who don’t find the split attraction model useful. For some, sex and love are inextricably linked and it’s not possible to separate their attraction to someone into two different feelings. No one should feel obligated to categorize their attraction to others into boxes they don’t identify with.

Despite this, I think including the split attraction model in discourse around lgbt issues can bring an important element of nuance to the discussion. For many people, understanding that not all attraction is the same can be a liberating breakthrough in their understanding of themselves.