The split attraction model

aka the concept that romantic attraction and sexual attraction are completely separable and a person can e.g. be romantically attracted to people of one gender but only sexually attracted to a different gender.

[People seem to be finding this post through searches for information about the split attraction model, so I feel like I need to add a better introduction than the little one-sentence explanation I put here originally. I didn’t expect this post to be widely read, so I hurried straight through to my opinions without really explaining the situation I was responding to. Here’s a more detailed explanation.

The basic idea of the split attraction model is that sexual attraction and romantic attraction are separate things. On the level of attraction to indivudal people, this isn’t an unusual or controversial idea– being sexually attracted to someone but not in love with them is a pretty common experience.

But the split attraction model involves applying this idea to sexual orientations. It says that everyone can be described as having both a sexual orientation and a romantic orientation. For most people, these two orientations “line up” and they have sexual and romantic feelings about the same group of people, but some people’s sexual orientation and romantic orientation are different.]

 

So like, some people are going around acting like “lesbian” and “gay” only refer to sexual attraction and not romantic feelings, and that’s bullshit and very clearly disrespectful. It is 100% obvious that that’s not how people use those words, and it’s extra disrespectful because acting like same-sex relationships are only about hedonistic sex and not about love or commitment is a common homophobic trope.

But then I also see people saying that the split attraction model shouldn’t exist at all, and I’m just like ????

It describes an actual thing people experience. If you aren’t offering a better alternative way to describe that thing, then what you’re saying is that some people aren’t allowed to describe their experiences. Because of how their experiences fit into stereotypes or could otherwise be used against other people.

I don’t think that’s justifiable. There has to be an alternative beyond “you can’t describe romantic and sexual attraction as separate, period”.

And if a personal story is what’s needed, to counter the set of personal stories I saw about women who felt pressured to identify as anything other than lesbian, anything that included attraction to men (which you know perfectly well happens in lots of ways and would keep happening without the split attraction model, because sexism and homophobia!)

Well, here’s my story: not knowing about the split attraction model was what fucked me up when I was trying to figure out my sexuality.

I thought that the only difference between friendship-love and romantic love was sexual attraction, that romance and sex were necessarily connected. I thought that if I couldn’t look at the person I was in love with and feel sexual attraction, then that meant I wasn’t really in love. That what I felt wasn’t anything more than friendship. That my feelings weren’t worthy of notice, didn’t mean anything.

Thinking of romantic and sexual attraction as unsplittable pushed me away from realizing I was attracted to women. (And I am both romantically and sexually attracted to women, as it turns out.)

I don’t think my experience trumps the negative experiences other people have had with the split attraction model. But I also don’t think their experiences trump mine?

I think the split attraction model is not any more wrong or more misuseable than most ideas. And we can explain it with caveats (and we can definitely talk about sexist/homophobic/heterosexist pressure on women to be available to men, in general) without getting rid of it completely.

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