The Pros And Cons Of The Split Attraction Model

Medically reviewed by Andrea Brant, LMHC
Updated April 23, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

The split attraction model is based on the idea that people can have different identities when it comes to sexual attraction and romantic attraction. Some individuals find the split attraction model empowering because it gives them the vocabulary to express and claim their unique identity. However, others feel that separating sexual and romantic orientations overanalyzes attraction and creates divisions and boundaries that may not be necessary.

This article explores the split attraction model and its pros and cons. We'll also look at how methods like talk therapy can help individuals discover and explore their identities. 

Facets of attraction

Many elements influence sexual orientation and attraction. First, individuals can experience two distinct kinds of attraction toward potential partners: romantic and sexual. While they are similar and may overlap for some people, they aren't the same. Not only are romantic and sexual attraction two different concepts, but for many fellows of the LGBTQIA+ community, they're sometimes in opposition to one another.

And when gender identity and sexual orientation come into play, attraction falls into additional distinct divisions. For example, people can experience romantic and/or sexual attraction to their opposite gender, their same gender, multiple genders, or no gender at all.

To take it a step further, some experience fluidity in attractions and identity, meaning that romantic and sexual attraction and gender identity are not fixed for these people; instead, they're fluid and may change over time. 

About the split attraction model

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The split attraction model recognizes that sexual and romantic attractions are complex. And while the idea that romantic and sexual attraction are two separate phenomena has been around for a long time, there hasn't always been a name for it. For most of the past, the word "attracted" was used for both romantic relationships and sexual attraction.

History of the split attraction model

The roots of the split attraction model began with the work of a 19th-century German writer, Karl Heinrich Ulrichs. Long before words like "bisexual," "transgender," or "asexual" entered mainstream discourse, Ulrichs explored and defended these concepts and ideas in his writings about romantic and sexual attraction.

Ulrichs defined himself as "Urning," his term for a man who feels a natural sexual desire for other men. Some would say he "came out" before anyone knew what "coming out" was. But his writings went deeper than self-exposure. 

Ulrichs pondered the nature of love, systematically deconstructing the simplistic Victorian views of his time. One of his many significant contributions was his distinction between "tender" or "sentimental" love as opposed to "sensual" love. He believed it was possible for men to feel sentimental love for women while having feelings of sensual love and sexual desire for other men at the same time.

While Ulrichs was ostracized for his views at the time, he never backed down from them. And gay rights activists often cite him as one of the earliest architects of the modern LGBTQIA+ movement. 

LGBTQIA+ refers to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or questioning, intersex, asexual, and other orientations and identities.

The split attraction model and asexuality

Ulrich's work has specific implications for the asexual community. In the 1990s, with the emergence of the internet and growing awareness of LGBTQIA+ issues, the concept of asexuality began to develop in the public consciousness. During that time, it became clear that further distinctions within the asexual community were necessary and that we needed a descriptive vocabulary to represent people's identities accurately. 

Like the larger LGBTQIA+ community, which cannot be all lumped under the umbrella of "the gay community," individuals with other identities also have different ways of identifying as asexual, broadly defined as the lack of sexual attraction or desire for other people.

Some individuals have no interest in sexuality and choose to practice abstinence. Others may enjoy sex but do not form romantic attachments to their partners. Others can develop strong romantic feelings of affection for a person of the opposite or same gender without experiencing much or any sexual desire. 

The split attraction model helps include and acknowledge a potentially marginalized group in the complex world of human romantic and sexual experiences. 

Lumping all these identities and experiences under the umbrella of "asexuality" can lead to more profound confusion because it emphasizes sex while ignoring romantic orientation. Therefore, further distinctions are necessary to give this group a greater sense of belonging and self. 

The split attraction model developed from this discord, mainly due to comments and discussions held in online asexual communities. The split attraction model as we know it became part of the mainstream discussion around 2005, so young people have grown up with a more nuanced understanding of romantic and sexual orientations.

Asexual and aromantic experiences


Designations of "asexual" and "aromantic" might appear clear-cut. An asexual person experiences little or no sexual attraction or desire, while aromantics experience little or no romantic attachment.

Sometimes, these categories can overlap — someone who is asexual may also be aromantic — but one does not equate to the other, and describing these two identities as the same is inaccurate and potentially harmful.

It's important to note that most asexual and aromantic people still experience desires for love and connection. Some asexual people find that their needs for love and connection are fulfilled through friends and family and emotionally intimate relationships with long-term partners. Aromantic people may also enjoy deep friendships and close relations with others but do not desire monogamous, long-term romantic relationships.

Others may experience infrequent feelings of sexual or romantic attraction without being asexual or aromantic. Some people who identify with this description have embraced the terms "graysexual" or "gray-romantic" to indicate that they feel romantic attraction differently and are somewhere in a gray area between asexual/aromantic and mainstream feelings of attraction. 

Additionally, some individuals use the term "demisexual" to describe an identity that only experiences sexual attraction once a deep emotional connection has been formed. Asexual and aromantic people are highly varied in how they experience sexual and romantic attractions.

The split attraction model helps us grasp the differences between asexuality and aromanticism, as well as other identities and orientations that fall along the spectrum of attraction.

What split attraction means in the context of LGBTQIA+

Is it possible for someone who fits within another LGBTQIA+ category to also identify as asexual? Yes, absolutely!

Someone may feel sexual attraction for one gender and experience romantic attraction for another. It's also possible to feel attracted to all genders sexually and none romantically (or the other way around).

Here are a few of the many identities you might find within the LGBTQIA+ community, demonstrating the complexity of the split attraction model:

  • Asexual homoromantic: A person with this attraction orientation does not experience sexual attraction but experiences romantic attraction to people of the same gender.
  • Pansexual gray-romantic: This is a person who can feel sexual attraction to all genders and who is somewhere on the spectrum between romantic and aromantic.
  • Heterosexual biromantic: This person experiences sexual attraction only towards the opposite gender but romantic attraction to men and women.
  • Graysexual heteroromantic: This term refers to someone who experiences slight or infrequent sexual attraction but is romantically attracted to the opposite gender.

Why is this model controversial?

While many have found the split attraction model helpful in defining different kinds of attraction and romantic identification they experience, others see problems with this attraction model. As a result, some individuals within the LGBTQIA+ community are moving away from using the split attraction model for several reasons. For example: 

  • Oversexualization: Some argue that the split attraction model oversexualizes the LGBTQIA+ community by emphasizing sexual desire or attraction over everything else and reinforcing stereotypes of the LGBTQIA+ community as overly focused on sexuality.
  • Confusion: Attraction can vary so widely for each individual when considering all aspects of it that the terminology can become untenably complex, making other people's identities hard to understand.
  • Asexual prioritization: In some minds, this model unfairly prioritizes asexuality over other LGBTQIA+ identities. 
  • Complexity: Some have stated that this model makes life more complicated and confusing for young people trying to come to terms with their identity as LGBTQIA+.

What's the solution?

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Is it useful to hang onto the split attraction model? Does it enhance our understanding? Or does it make things unnecessarily confusing?

Pros and cons

Some individuals who identify as asexual or aromantic have found this model helpful in making themselves understood within cultures that emphasize romantic relationships and sex. Like lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender individuals, asexual people experience feelings of being misunderstood or disconnected and often seek a like-minded group for support. The split attraction model can help some individuals frame their experiences and feelings in descriptive ways, which can be healing, giving them a stronger sense of belonging to an understanding community.

However, it also has the potential to divide or further complicate the LGBTQIA+ community, a larger coalition that needs unity and solidarity in the face of persistent discrimination. 

In short, the split attraction model is a theory that can be embraced or dismissed. It's one way of understanding attraction, but not the only way. When it comes to accepting or rejecting this model, the choice is ultimately personal.

Therapy can help

If you are evaluating your gender identity or sexual orientation and finding terminology you relate to, take hold of what you consider useful. Doing so can be helpful because our sexual and romantic feelings, or lack thereof, are essential to who we are. 

For example, recent research has found that people who belong to gender and sexual minority groups are statistically more likely to experience minority stress, such as internalized stigma, rejection sensitivity, and concealment, which can have adverse long-term effects on physical and mental health. However, the same study showed that compassionate psychotherapy and therapy that affirms asexual and aromantic experiences could counteract these stress effects. 

Support is available through various national and regional services to help you live the happy, fulfilling life you deserve. A great way to find additional support is through online therapy. Online therapy is convenient and allows you to get a broader range of specialists. It also offers facelessness, which could be helpful if exploring your sexuality, gender, and attraction is new for you. 

Additionally, research has shown that online therapy is as effective as in-person therapy. In one BYU study, there were no significant differences in therapy results and satisfaction between in-person and online therapy. 


The split attraction model is a theory that provides a way to define how you experience sexual and romantic attraction separately. This can be helpful for those exploring their identities and seeking a community in which they feel understood and supported. However, some feel the split attraction model overcomplicates or oversexualizes the LGBTQIA+ community. Ultimately, it's up to each individual to decide whether to apply this theory to their identities and human experiences. 

For those who are hesitant to seek help exploring this in person or are trying to figure out where to start, online resources like BetterHelp are available to provide flexible, online counseling and one-on-one support. Online therapy allows you to speak to your therapist in the comfort of your home, creating a safe and hidden space to discuss anything related to the split attraction model or other identity thoughts you may have. 

A licensed therapist at BetterHelp can assist you in exploring aspects of your identity and orientation without judgment in a hidden and safe space. We'll match you with a therapist familiar with the split attraction model and the diversity of sexual and romantic orientations based on your needs and preferences. Whether you'd prefer to connect via video, voice call, or text, you can see your therapist on your schedule from any device with an internet connection.

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