Through the lens of the Split Attraction Model, attraction comes in many forms, including sexual and romantic. By discerning among them, we can better explore, direct, and enjoy our various interactions with people, says Ley Cray, Ph.D., director of LGBTQIA+ Programming at virtual mental health clinic Charlie Health.
So, what’s the difference between sexual attraction and romantic attraction? Sexual attraction is perhaps the easiest to explain, says Cray: You see someone, and you experience a psychological and biological response indicating to you that you’d like to engage in sexual activity with that someone. On the other hand, romantic attraction is a little harder to explain, since the widespread notion of romance we see today is a cultural construct—and in the context of human history, a relatively recent one.
“Historically, the concept has connections to the notion of courtship, and at bare minimum, seems to involve some desire to connect on an emotional level, with some variety of intimacy and reciprocal commitment. Some might argue that the concept even presupposes some sense of romanticizing—that is, idealizing—the person you’re attracted to,” Cray explains.
It’s important to note that not all sexual attractions are romantic attractions and not all romantic interests are coupled with a sexual attraction.
“Some folks might identify as asexual but still experience romantic attraction to folks regardless of how their gender identity,” adds sex and relationship coach Azaria Menezes. “Someone who might identify as heterosexual may feel romantic attraction towards others regardless of their gender identity. Being panromantic can apply to many sexual identities.”