Differentiating Attraction/Orientations (Or, the “Split Attraction Model” by any other name is so much sweeter.)

This is my entry for the April 2020 Carnival of Aces on “Names,” hosted by Jam.

Many of you may be familiar with the term “Split Attraction Model” (SAM), which is often used to refer to the idea in ace communities that there are multiple types of attraction – especially sexual vs. romantic attraction – and that some people may therefore use two (or more) different labels to refer to their romantic and sexual orientations.

However, as you may or may not also know, these terms have also been the subject of some criticism – especially regarding the fact that it’s not actually a good proxy for describing the ways many aces use romantic, sexual, and other attraction/orientation concepts, and that it was in part coined and popularized by anti-ace trolls, I’m not going to provide an in-depth discussion of the many reasons some people don’t like using “SAM” in the post, but I do recommend checking out the links above.

Instead, I want to focus on advocating for the kind of phrasing I do like to use: specifically, the concepts of differentiating attraction and differentiated orientations.

What do “Differentiated Attraction” and “Differentiated Orientation” mean?

While intended in part as a replacement for the terminology of the “split orientation model”, these phrases don’t actually have a 1:1 correspondence to it – they actually refer to the much larger ideas of identifying and “differentiating” between different kinds of, aspects of, or parts of attraction – as well as the idea of “differentiating” different kinds of, aspects of, or parts of one’s “orientation” based on the ways our patterns of attraction can differ.

While the ace community concepts of sexual/romantic/aesthetic attraction etc. are one example of the concept of differentiated attraction, it’s hardly the only one – other examples could include things like the so-called “greek words for love“, the “triangle theory of love“, Shively and DeCecco’s “components of sexuality” and the other thousands hits that come up on google when you search for things like “types of attraction” or “types of love”.

I also use two different phrases (“differentiating attraction” and differentiating orientation“), because these two concepts, while related, do not always go hand-in-hand. For example, there are many gay, straight, lesbian, bi, etc. people who regular differentiate between different types of attraction – romantic interest, sexual interest, aesthetic interest, platonic interest, etc. – while still choosing to use a single orientation label for the sum of their experiences.  On the flip side, there are other people like yours truly who do not personally differentiate types of attraction (after all, how can I tell a difference when all I know is I don’t seem to have any) but choose to use multiple orientation labels (like “aromantic asexual” in order to communicate that to those who have other experiences.

Thus, while “differentiating attraction” can refer to the concept of identifying different types of attraction, “differentiating orientations” involves layering a second idea on top of that – that different orientation terms or concept could be applied to “differentiate” the varied patterns of different types of attraction that a person might have.

What are the advantages of “Differentiated Attraction/Orientation” over “The Split Attraction Model”?

In addition to the fact that it’s used mostly by ace and/or aro folks ourselves (and is now being advocated for by at least one), and that it doesn’t conflate attraction models and orientation models, there’s a couple other reasons I prefer this kind of phrasing:

  • Removing the word “model” removes the implication that this concept is a single coherent model that can be cleanly defined and that is uniform across ace and aro communities – when in actual fact, there are many different but related models that are used by different people and different corners of the community.
  • “Concepts” vs. “Model”: while this may just be a me thing, I prefer to refer to this as a “concept” instead of a model, as it feels like a slightly more vague/freeform way of referring to an idea, rather than “model” which carries connotations of scientific precision – which is the last thing we need in a community that cares so much about letting people use labels as flexible tools rather than strict boxes.
  • Removing the word “split” allows more flexibility in terms of how many differentiations we want to make – whether it’s differentiating two, three, four, or more types of attraction/orientation, while “split” often carried implications of splitting something in half / into two.
  • “Differentiating” in general is a very versatile verb that need not be limited to discussions of attraction or orientation types – it can be just as applicable for “differentiating” relationship types, or labels, or types of intimacy. This kind of framework thus is flexible enough to be extended into discussions of other adjacent concept.

What does this phrasing look like in action?

When it comes to actually using “differentiation”  phrasing, here’s a couple examples of how I might use it:

Rather than treating attraction as an all-in-one package, Asexual communities commonly differentiate types of attraction, such as romantic, sexual, aesthetic, sensual, etc. Many aces may report that their experiences with one type of attraction may be different than with another.

Because of this, some asexuals have also begin to use multiple orientation labels to differentiate these patterns, especially with regards to sexual vs. romantic attraction. Thus, someone who was not sexually attracted to anyone, but who was romantically attracted to all genders, might consider themselves a “panromantic asexual”, where “panromantic” is their romantic orientation, and asexual is their sexual orientation.


Asexual communities often differentiate between what they refer to as “sexual orientations” (a persons patterns of sexual attraction) and “romantic orientations” (a persons pattern of romantic attraction). This concept of differentiated orientations based on sexual vs. romantic attraction is similar to but not the same as the concept of affectional orientation suggested by Lisa Diamond…


Differentiating Attraction: A Primer

One somewhat novel concept in the ace community is the idea of that attraction can be differentiated into many types….


While some people conceive of their attraction as differentiated, others feel that it’s a phenomenon that can’t be so easily parsed.


Who coined this?

No single person, really – it’s more a natural outgrowth of the common english term “differentiating” rather than a single, novel, coinage. I’ve been deliberately using in offline presentations for a while, and you can also see Coyote use it here, or see it in this Arocalypse thread, and to be honest it will probably pop up in a lot of discussions on this topic however far back you look.

The fact that it’s not a novel coinage is also part of it’s charm, because it means that people can usually intuit what you are referring to pretty easily.

11 thoughts on “Differentiating Attraction/Orientations (Or, the “Split Attraction Model” by any other name is so much sweeter.)

  1. Yes! I’d also add that “split attraction model” centers the word “attraction” but people frequently used it to talk about *orientation labeling*, which doesn’t necessarily have to be (just) about attraction, and I think it’s important for the ace and aro communities to get away from that kind of attraction fixation.

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