What Is The Split Attraction Model?
Updated December 11, 2018
Reviewer Avia James
While it may feel like a simple and basic urge, the attraction is comprised of many elements. First, there are two different kinds of attraction: romantic and sexual. While these are similar, they are not the same. Attraction falls into even smaller and more precise divisions when sexual orientation is part of the discussion: people can experience romantic and sexual attraction to the opposite gender, the same gender, both genders, or no gender at all.
For many of us, attraction is a black-or-white concept: either we feel attracted to someone, or we don't.But for many others, feelings of attraction are influenced by parts of our identity that make it very gray.A classic example of this "gray area" is demonstrated by something called the "split attraction model."This theory came about within the asexual community to describe the idea that romantic and sexual attraction are twodifferent concepts that may at times even be in opposition of one another
Somepeople find the split attraction model empowering because it gives them the vocabulary to express and claim their unique sexual identity.Others, feel that it over-analyzes attraction, putting up even more divisions and boundaries where they aren't necessary.
Can't we all feel attraction for whom we want without putting a label on it? Does it have to be so complicated?Does the split attraction model give us more clarity and deeper understanding? Or does it just confuse things even more?
Let's take a detailed look at the split attraction model as it relates to different groups of people and tease out some of the nuances of this controversial theory.
A Little History
The idea that romantic and sexual attraction are two separate phenomena has been around for a long time…but there hasn't always beena name for it.
We can find the roots of this idea in the work of a 19th-century German writer named Karl Heinrich Ulrichs.
Long before words like "bisexual," "transgender" or "asexual" entered mainstream discourse, Ulrichs had been exploring and defending like ideas in his writings.
Ulrich defined himself as Urning: his term for a man who feels a natural sexual desire for other men. In a sense, he "came out" before anyone had any idea what "coming out" even meant.
But his writings went far deeper than self-disclosure. Ulrich pondered the nature of love itself, systematically deconstructing the simplistic Victorian views of the time. One of his many important contributions was his distinction between "tender" or "sentimental" love as opposed to "sensual" love. He believed that it was possible for men to feel such sentimental love for women, but at the same time have feelings of sensual love for other men.
Ulrich was hated and ostracized for thoseviews, but he never backed down from them. He is often cited by gay rights activists for he's consideredone of the earliest architects of the movement.
But Ulrich's work has implications for another community besides LGBT: the asexual community.
In the 1990s, with the emergence of the Internet and raising awareness of LGBT issues, the concept of asexuality became to form and grow inpopularity. It was during that process thatit became clear that further distinctions within the community were necessary. Like the LGBT community, which cannot be all lumped under the umbrella of "gay," "bisexual" or "transgender," people also have different ways of identifying as asexuals.
There are those who have a firm conviction that sexuality in any form is wrong, and choose to practice abstinence. There are others who enjoy sex but cannot form a romantic attachment to their partners, or alternatively, those who can develop strong romantic feelings of attachment to a person of the opposite or same gender but do not experience much (or any) sexual desire.
Humping all these preferencesunder the umbrella of "asexuality" can lead to deeper feelings of confusion. Therefore, further distinctions are necessary to help members of this marginalized group feel a greater sense of belongingand self.
The split attraction model was bornout of this discord, mostly as a result of comments and discussion held in online asexual communities. The most famous of these was a Yahoo email group back in 2001 called "Haven for the Human Amoeba," in which some posts and comments explored the idea of asexuality. The split attraction model as we know it became part of the mainstream discussion around 2005.
Here is how the split attraction model plays out among different groups.
Designations of "asexual" and "aromantic" appear to be pretty cut and dried. An asexual is a person who haslittle or no feelings of romantic attraction, during aromantic experiences.
We often lump asexuals and aromatics into the same category, and sometimes, this is correct. Very often, those who identify as asexual do not experience the sexual or romantic attraction.
But to lump all asexuals into the same category is inaccurate and unfair.
Like anyone else, asexuals experience the desire for love and connection. Some will rely on friends and family to meet this need. But others find fulfillment in emotionally intimate relationships with long-term partners.
Like asexuals, aromantics also enjoy friendships and deep connections with others. However, they do not have the desire to seek out monogamous, long-term, romantic relationships. Some aromantics have the desire for sex; others do not.
There are also those who experience very slight or infrequent sexual or romantic attraction. They are not asexual or aromantic, but the level of attraction they feel is significantly less than the norm. People in this group have embraced the terms "graysexual" or "gray-romantic," to indicate that they are somewhere in that gray area between asexual/aromantic and normal feelings of attraction.
The split attraction model helps us grasp the difference between asexuality and aromanticism in a way that makes sense.
But the waters are about to get a whole lot murkier, as we discuss what these differences can mean to those who identify as LGBT.
What Split Attraction Means For LGBT
Is it possible for someone who identifies as lesbian or gay to also identify as asexual?
This may be hard for some to get their heads around but the answer is - yes, it is.
It's quite common for someone to feel sexual attraction for one gender, and romantic attraction for another.
It's even possible to feel attracted to both genders sexually, and neither of them romantically, or the other way around.
Here are a few of the many identities you might find within the LGBT community, which demonstrate the complexity of the split attraction model.
- Asexual homoromantic: a person who does not experience sexual attraction, but does experience romantic attraction to people of the same gender.
- Bisexual gray-romantic: a person who is sexually attracted to both males and females, and who is somewhere on the spectrum between romantic and aromantic.
- Heterosexual biromantic: a person who experiences sexual attraction only towards the opposite gender, but the romantic attraction to both men and women.
- Graysexualheteroromantic: someone who experiences very slight or infrequent sexual attraction but is romantically attracted to the opposite gender.
And these are just a few possibilities.
So, as you can see, the concept of attraction is by no means as clear-cut as it mayappear to those of us who identify with more traditional labels found in "heterosexual textbooks".
Why The Controversy?
While many have found the split attraction model to be helpful in defining different kinds of attraction they experience, there are some problems with it. Some individuals within the LGBT community aremoving away from using it, for some reasons.
- It oversexualizes LGBT by emphasizing sexual desire or attraction over everything else.
- Other thanasexuals and aromantics, most people experience attraction that does not fall under either one categories, i.e., sexual or romantic.
- Attraction is different for everyone and varies between individuals when considering all aspects of it.
- It prioritizes asexual identity over LGBT identity, making it harder for lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and transgenders to connect with and support each other.
- It makes life even more difficult and confusing for young people who are trying to come to terms with their identity as LGBT.
- It pushes the negative label of "homosexual" onto gay people.
- It reinforces stereotypes of the LGBT community as hyper-sexualized.
What's The Solution?
Is it useful to hang onto the split attraction model? Does it enhance our understanding? Or does it just make things unnecessarily confusing?
Those who identify as asexual or a romantic have found this model helpful in making themselves understood in a culture that dramatically emphasizes romantic relationships and sex. Like lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals, asexuals have often felt misunderstood and disconnected. The split attraction model helps them see their experiences and feelings as normal, and this can be healing.
However, it also has the effect of dividing the LGBT community, a group that needs unity and solidarity in the face of persistent discrimination.
The split attraction model is simply a theory, which can be embraced or dismissed. It is one way of understanding attraction, but not the only way.
When it comes to accepting or rejecting this model, the choice is ultimately a personal one.