Sexual Identity What Is the Split Attraction Model? By Brittany Loggins Brittany Loggins LinkedIn Twitter Brittany is a health and lifestyle writer and former staffer at TODAY on NBC and CBS News. She's also contributed to dozens of magazines. Learn about our editorial process Updated on January 29, 2022 Medically reviewed Verywell Mind articles are reviewed by board-certified physicians and mental healthcare professionals. Medical Reviewers confirm the content is thorough and accurate, reflecting the latest evidence-based research. Content is reviewed before publication and upon substantial updates. Learn more. by Monica Johnson, PsyD Medically reviewed by Monica Johnson, PsyD Dr. Monica Johnson is a clinical psychologist and owner of Kind Mind Psychology, a private practice in NYC specializing in evidence-based approaches to treating a wide range of mental health issues (e.g., depression, anxiety, trauma, and personality disorders). Additionally, she works with marginalized groups of people, including BIPOC, LGBTQ+, and alternative lifestyles, to manage minority stress. Learn about our Medical Review Board Print Flashpop / Getty Images The split attraction model, which is sometimes shortened to SAM, the split attraction model, which is sometimes shortened to SAM, is a framework that's intended to help asexual and aromantic people better understand their sexual attractions and how those may be different from their romantic attractions. 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 further clarify homophobic and biphobic stereotypes that implied that same gender 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 a different gender. Homoromantic: This means that the person is romantically attracted to people of the same or similar gender. Biromantic: This means that the person is romantically attracted to people of multiple genders. While its definition is the same as panromantic, some people might prefer identifying with this term because of its long history, while some people identify as both. Panromantic: This means that the person is romantically attracted to people of multiple genders. While its definition is the same as biromantic, some people might prefer identifying with this term because of its newness, while some people identify as both. Aromantic: This means that the person is not romantically attracted to anyone. Sexual orientations: For aromantic people, sexual orientations refer to who they are physically attracted to. For people not on the asexual or aromantic spectrums, sexual orientation encompasses who they are romantically and sexually attracted to. For this group, the “sex” in sexuality refers to sex and gender not intercourse. What Does It Mean to Be Pansexual? Why It's Often Associated With People Who Identify as Asexual The split attraction model is solely for asexual and aromantic people because other people’s identities are conveyed in one word. 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. Furthermore, for people who are asexual and not aromantic or who are aromantic and not asexual, their identities involve both who they are attracted to and whether romance/intercourse is involved in their attraction. It’s two axes: attraction to people and how they are attracted to people. That’s why the SAM works for them. It gives those communities more specific language to describe what kind of relationships they are open to. I Belong to the LGBTQ+ Community Even If Others Disagree 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. Additionally, criticisms of the split attraction model are directed at the idea that the SAM applies to everyone. The model can be extremely helpful for people who are asexual or aromantic. 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: Asexual Visibility and Education Network Glossary of Must-Know Sexual Identity Terms The Centers for Disease Control has a list of youth resources. Here is a list of mental health resources. The Trevor Project, is an organization that provides resources, education, and support to the LGBTQ+ community. Gender Spectrum is a resource and education site. A Word From Verywell 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. 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. Diamond, L. M. (2003). What does sexual orientation orient? A biobehavioral model distinguishing romantic love and sexual desire. Psychological Review, 110(1), 173–192. doi:10.1037/0033-295X.110.1.173 AUREA. Splitting Attraction: A History of Discussing Orientation. Tennov, D. (1979). Love and Limerence: The Experience of Being in Love. Scarborough House. Savin-Williams, R. (2018). Romantic Orientation. In Mostly Straight: Sexual Fluidity among Men (pp. 25-27). Cambridge, MA and London, England: Harvard University Press. By Brittany Loggins Brittany is a health and lifestyle writer and former staffer at TODAY on NBC and CBS News. She's also contributed to dozens of magazines. See Our Editorial Process Meet Our Review Board Share Feedback Was this page helpful? Thanks for your feedback! What is your feedback? Other Helpful Report an Error Submit Speak to a Therapist Online Advertiser Disclosure × The offers that appear in this table are from partnerships from which Verywell Mind receives compensation.