What Is the Split Attraction Model?

Colourful studio portrait of two women

Flashpop / Getty Images

What Is the Split Attraction Model?

The split attraction model, which is sometimes shortened to SAM, is a framework that's intended to help people better understand their sexual attractions and how those may be different from their romantic attractions. It suggests that people may be attracted to different genders romantically than sexually.

In other words, the split attraction model says that there can be a difference between someone's sexual orientation and their romantic orientation. One study even found that sexual desire and what they refer to as "affectional bonding" can be completely independent of one another.

History of the Split Attraction Model

While this may be the first time you're reading about this concept, it's actually been around for a while.

Karl Heinrich Ulrichs, a German gay activist, had written 12 books by 1879 that focused on different kinds of attraction among non-heterosexual identifying people. While a lot of his language wasn't the same as what is used today, the concepts he identified were the same. He broke feelings down into categories he called "tender" and "passionate," and explained that one person can have different feelings for different sexes.

Psychologist Dorothy Tennov wrote a book that described "limerence," which Tennov described as a type of attraction that encompasses sexual attraction but focused more on emotional connection. When the term affectional orientation-attraction was coined, it intended to denote that simply describing relationships in terms of attraction or orientation was reductive because it implied that these relationships were mostly about sex.

This is all-important because it shows that the concept of the split attraction model is not a modern creation but has been around for years.

Differences Between Romantic and Sexual Orientations

While these may not immediately jump out to you like different things, there are some key differences that we walk through below. One author even pointed out that while the two are typically strongly associated, they are not the same.

Romantic orientations: This is romantic in a way that is not physical. For example, in the book "Mostly Straight," the author points out that one of the interviewed people is interested in sex with women but romantic connections with men. The Asexual Visibility & Education Network notes (AVEN) that the names of romantic orientations are similar to those of sexual orientations. They describe what gender the person is attracted to in relation to their own.

  • Heteroromantic: This means that the person is romantically attracted to people of the opposite gender.
  • Homoromantic: This means that the person is romantically attracted to people of the same gender.
  • Biromantic: This means that the person is romantically attracted to people of multiple genders.
  • Panromantic: This means that the person is romantically attracted to people, but gender is not a factor.
  • Aromantic: This means that the person is not romantically attracted to anyone.

Sexual orientations: This is based solely on who a person is physically attracted to and wants to have sex with.

Why It's Often Associated With People Who Identify as Asexual

Specifying sexual and romantic orientations is sometimes thought of as a distinction that is only made by asexual-identifying people. The Asexual Visibility & Education Network notes that asexuals are not the only ones that experience these differences, they're just more likely to specify since, for other identities, both sexual and romantic orientations are conveyed in the same word.

This same post also notes that the split attraction model can be particularly helpful for people who are aromantic because it can give them a way to easily describe their feelings toward romantic relationships.

Criticism of the Split Attraction Model

Some people, primarily within the LGBTQ+ community, think that the split attraction model focuses too heavily on sexual desire and attraction. Some people believe that this model makes it more confusing for young people trying to figure out where they stand within the LGBTQ+ spectrum.

Another criticism is that the SAM model argues that there is no easy way to define attraction and that it can mean different things to different people. This makes it confusing when used as a blanket term.

Overall, many people in the LGBTQ+ community believe that there should be a more inclusive term that is less specific in differentiating between romantic and sexual attraction.

Links & Resources

For more information about the split attraction model as well as sexual and romantic orientations, here are some resources that should be able to help:

A Word From Verywell Mind

It's important not to get caught up in the arguments happening around certain terminology. Instead just focus on the words that help you better understand your own romantic and sexual orientations. If you are interested in speaking with someone who can talk to you more about this model and how it may or may not help describe how you feel, make sure you check out the list of resources above.

Was this page helpful?
4 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Diamond, L. M. (2003). What does sexual orientation orient? A biobehavioral model distinguishing romantic love and sexual desirePsychological Review, 110(1), 173–192. doi:10.1037/0033-295X.110.1.173

  2. AUREA. Splitting Attraction: A History of Discussing Orientation.

  3. Tennov, D. (1979). Love and Limerence: The Experience of Being in Love. Scarborough House.

  4. Savin-Williams, R. (2018). Romantic Orientation. In Mostly Straight: Sexual Fluidity among Men (pp. 25-27). Cambridge, MA and London, England: Harvard University Press.