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Separation of romantic and sexual attraction

Separation of romantic and sexual attraction


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Occasionally I meet people who say that they are sexually attracted to X group of people (e.g. men) and romantically attracted to Y group of people, X and Y not being the same (Sometimes they overlap, e.g. a bisexual person who is only romantically attracted to people of the opposite gender,but sometimes not at all). Recently I got into an argument with a friend about to what extent this viewpoint (i.e. to what extent such separation is real vs. imagined) is supported by professional researchers and by hard data.

I found a variety of old articles regarding distinguishing between the different neurological and evolutionary bases for these being different separate systems:

  • (https://link.springer.com/article/10.1023/A:1019888024255) Defining the Brain Systems of Lust, Romantic Attraction, and Attachment

  • (https://psycnet.apa.org/buy/1986-21992-001) A triangular theory of love.

and a couple articles from Lisa Diamond which specifically address whether these two modes of attraction can diverge:

  • (http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/0033-295X.110.1.173) What does sexual orientation orient? A biobehavioral model distinguishing romantic love and sexual desire.

  • (https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1111/j.0963-7214.2004.00287.x) Emerging Perspectives on Distinctions Between Romantic Love and Sexual Desire

In the lattermost article, Diamond argues in the abstract "not only can humans experience these feelings separately, but an individual's sexual predisposition for the same sex, the other sex, or both sexes may not circumscribe his or her capacity to fall in love with partners of either gender."

Diamond's work, being the work most directly addressing the question, seems to give a pretty direct answer - yes, this separation a real thing. The articles are very highly cited, making me think that this viewpoint is viewed favorably throughout the field.

However, my friend is not convinced and demands further evidence. I've had trouble finding more research or data that follows up on this topic one way or another. Is there more recent research or data on this question that follows up or supports Diamond's work? Diamond herself admits that she doesn't have much hard-data to draw upon at the time (over 15 years ago).


Stability versus Fluidity of Adolescent Romantic and Sexual Attraction and the Role of Religiosity: A Longitudinal Assessment in Two Independent Samples of Croatian Adolescents

The manner in which individuals report their sexual attraction, self-label their sexual identity, or behave in sexual situations can vary over time, and particularly, adolescents may change their reported sexual attraction or sexual orientation identity over the course of their development. It is important to better understand the social factors that may influence these changes, such as one's religiosity. The present study thus aimed to assess the fluidity of adolescent romantic and sexual attraction over time and to explore the role of religiosity in this dynamic using two independent panel samples of Croatian high school students (N = 849 and N = 995). Response items for sexual and romantic attraction were categorized based on the Kinsey scale, and religiosity was assessed with a standard one-item indicator. Results demonstrated that changes in attraction were substantially more prevalent among non-exclusively heterosexual participants compared to exclusively heterosexual participants in both panels. Although more female than male adolescents reported non-heterosexual attraction, gender differences in attraction fluidity were inconsistent. Religiosity was associated with initial sexual attraction (more religious individuals were more likely to report exclusively heterosexual attraction), but not with changes in romantic and sexual attraction over time. Given that the understanding of adolescent sexual development can play an important role in reducing their vulnerability to sexual risk taking, stigmatization, and abuse, this study's findings have relevance for teachers, parents, and counselors working with adolescents, and in particular for sexual minority youth.

Keywords: Adolescents Religiosity Sexual attraction Sexual fluidity Sexual orientation.


A Word From Verywell

Remember that this list is not exhaustive and the terminology will change over time. While it is important to keep up with recent changes to terms, the best way to ensure that you are using inclusive language is to listen and ask someone what they identify with or what they prefer to be called.

When in doubt, don’t make assumptions based on your own social rubric or point of view, particularly if this involves a normative stance or the experience of being in a position of heterosexual privilege.

While you may not understand the need for being careful with your words, those who potentially face discrimination or prejudice daily will be appreciative of the effort you make to understand things from their point of view.

As terminology continues to evolve, you may also find that terms people prefer that you use also change. Rather than feeling frustrated by this request, acknowledge that you can’t understand what it’s like to be in the other person’s position and do what you can to be an ally and supporter.


Myths and Misconceptions about Being Panromantic

A common misconception is that romantic and sexual attraction are always linked. That’s not the case. Many people have romantic and sexual orientations that are not the same. A panromantic person doesn’t necessarily identify as pansexual. In fact, many panromantic people only feel occasional sexual attraction, or never experience sexual attraction at all.

Another common stereotype of panromantic and pansexual people is that they are less likely to remain monogamous than hetero- or homosexual people. Studies have shown that people who are attracted to multiple genders have the same variety of opinions regarding monogamy as people who are only attracted to one gender. This means that panromantic people are just as likely to remain monogamous as anyone else.


How Being Panromantic and Demisexual Works in Relationships

Panromantic demisexual people can benefit from regular, clear communication with their partners. Because they only feel sexual attraction to people with whom they have a bond, they may not be sexually attracted to their romantic partner at first. Open, honest communication can help both people in the relationship feel more comfortable. It can also help the demisexual person maintain their boundaries. No one, even a romantic partner, ever has the right to demand you perform sexual acts with which you are not comfortable.


Romantic VS Sexual Attraction

Romantic vs sexual attraction can be quite challenging to differentiate for some.

Sometimes, we are drawn to a person because of sexual attraction but later on, we see that we aren&rsquot actually compatible with each other and what we are feeling was just strong sexual tension.

However, we can also be attracted to someone romantically and we can even fall in love with this person but we may have little sexual attraction . This can happen and a whole lot of different scenarios too.

There can also be instances where sexual attraction leads to romantic feelings because the more we become intimate with someone, the more we get closer to falling in love. So, consider yourself lucky to be romantically and sexually attracted to the same person.

Here are different signs to look for so you can better know if you&rsquore sexually or romantically attracted to someone.

You&rsquore sexually attracted to someone if &ndash

  1. You find yourself deeply lost with this person. You&rsquore drawn to this person and just when your eyes meet, you know you want to be closer to him or her.
  2. You can&rsquot help but be flirtatious because it&rsquos the science of sexual attraction. Our mind and body will also show signs that it has found a good mate. Even with how you talk, act, and even touch. It&rsquos inevitable not to flirt.
  3. You become a little bit self-conscious with how you act and talk with this person because you might be aware how naughty your thoughts are getting and well, you can&rsquot wait to make a move or get a hint.
  4. The more you&rsquore with this person, the more you want him or her more. The slow burn is not just exciting, it&rsquos also addicting. It may feel that it&rsquos so hard to contain yourself.

You&rsquore romantically attracted to someone if &ndash

  1. You find yourself having many similarities with this person. This gives both of you more reasons to talk and be closer. It&rsquos like time flies when you&rsquore with him or her.
  2. You can see yourself being with this person for a long time. You might even imagine yourself having a family and getting married.
  3. You&rsquore romantically compatible if you want to grow better with this person. You can see yourself being a better person while allowing the other person to grow as an individual as well.
  4. You can cuddle and be with each other for hours and talking about everything without thinking about anything sexual.

Sexuality and Sexual Orientation

Sex and gender are important aspects of a person’s identity however, they do not tell us about a person’s sexual orientation or sexuality (Rule & Ambady, 2008). Sexuality refers to the way people experience and express sexual feelings. Sexual attraction is part of human sexuality and sexual orientation refers to enduring patterns of sexual attraction and is typically divided into four categories:

  • Heterosexuality is the attraction to individuals of the opposite sex
  • Homosexuality is the attraction to individuals of one’s own sex
  • Bisexuality is the attraction to individuals of either sex and
  • Asexuality is no attraction to either sex.

Heterosexuals and homosexuals are informally referred to as “straight” and “gay,” respectively. North America is a heteronormative society, meaning it supports heterosexuality as the norm. While the majority of people identify as heterosexual, there is a sizable population of people North America who identify as either homosexual or bisexual. Research suggests that somewhere between 3% and 10% of the population identifies as homosexual (Kinsey, Pomeroy, & Martin, 1948 LeVay, 1996 Pillard & Bailey, 1995) and has determined that sexual orientation is not a choice, but rather it is a relatively stable characteristic of a person that cannot be changed.

Research has consistently demonstrated that there are no differences in the family backgrounds and experiences of heterosexuals and homosexuals (Bell, Weinberg, & Hammersmith, 1981 Ross & Arrindell, 1988). Genetic and biological mechanisms have also been proposed, and the balance of evidence suggests that sexual orientation has an underlying biological component. Over the past 25 years, research has identified genetics (Bailey & Pillard, 1991 Hamer, Hu, Magnuson, Hu, & Pattatucci, 1993 Rodriguez-Larralde & Paradisi, 2009) and brain structure and function (Allen & Gorski, 1992 Byne et al., 2001 Hu et al., 2008 LeVay, 1991 Ponseti et al., 2006 Rahman & Wilson, 2003a Swaab & Hofman, 1990) as biological explanations for sexual orientation.

According to current scientific understanding, individuals are usually aware of their sexual orientation between middle childhood and early adolescence (American Psychological Association, 2008). They do not have to participate in sexual activity to be aware of these emotional, romantic, and physical attractions people can be celibate and still recognize their sexual orientation. Alfred Kinsey was among the first to conceptualize sexuality as a continuum rather than a strict dichotomy of gay or straight. To classify this continuum of heterosexuality and homosexuality, Kinsey created a six-point rating scale that ranges from exclusively heterosexual to exclusively homosexual.


Love's not sex

Why romantic love isn't limited by a person's sexual orientation.

February 2007, Vol 38, No. 2

Most people think romantic love and sexual desire go hand in hand, and that you can't have one without the other.

But a psychologist who argues that it's not that simple, bases her findings on follow-up interviews with a group of women she's followed for more than a decade. Developmental psychologist Lisa Diamond, PhD, started noticing something interesting about her study group's love lives.

Most of the women identified themselves as non-heterosexual, but several reported falling in love with, and developing sexual desire for, individual men in their lives, says Diamond, a University of Utah psychology professor.

Talking to them, Diamond at first thought the women were mistaken about what they were feeling or were confused about their own sexual orientation.

"The more I started listening to their voices, the more I started to think I was wrong," Diamond says.

Diamond started studying the women's experiences for her master's thesis. She's kept in touch with the participants for more than 10 years, interviewing them individually about their sexual identities, sexual desires and romantic relationships every two years.

After reviewing work by other love researchers and delving into accounts of love and friendship across cultures, Diamond developed what she describes as a biobehavioral model distinguishing love and sexual desire.

In her model, she proposes that sexual desire and romantic love are functionally independent that romantic love is not intrinsically oriented to same-gender or other-gender partners and that the links between love and desire are bidirectional.

Based on her model, Diamond thinks it's possible for someone who is heterosexual to fall in love with someone of the same gender, and for someone who is homosexual to fall in love with someone of a different gender.

Diamond's model offers a new interpretation of the implications of the ideas developed by psychologists Phillip Shaver, PhD, and Cynthia Hazan, PhD, who see adult romantic love as similar in certain respects to the infant/caregiver attachment bond, but with attachment and caregiving running in both directions between partners and with sexuality added to the mixture.

While Diamond argues that a person can fall in love with someone to whom they wouldn't usually be sexually attracted to, Shaver sees sexual attraction as one of the three behavioral systems contributing to the blossoming of adult romantic love, making it different from childhood attachments.

Other psychologists such as Pamela Regan, PhD, who studies how adults think about love and sex, say that most people view sexual attraction as an essential ingredient in the development of romantic love, the spark needed to set passion burning.

The links between love and desire

Diamond bases her model on the notion of romantic love evolving from the attachment bond formed between infant and caregiver.

As described in her 2003 article in Psychological Review (Vol. 110, No.1, pages 173-192), her model argues that while the goal of sexual desire is sexual union for the purpose of reproduction, romantic love is governed by the attachment or pair-bonding system, with its goal of maintaining an enduring bond between two individuals.

Sexual desire is driven by the gonadal hormones of estrogens and androgens. Animal research indicates that attachment is mediated by the neuropeptide oxytocin, with a more robust oxytocin-receptor network present in the female brain.

And since romantic love, she hypothesizes, is an outgrowth of infant/caregiver attachment, there's no way to "code" romantic love for gender.

That's because highly dependent infants become attached to the most responsive caregiver present, whether it's a woman or a man, she says.

Diamond also argues that the links between love and desire are bidirectional, because sexual desire can facilitate affectional bonding, and affectional bonding can facilitate sexual desire.

Most people perceive connections between the two experiences. Owing to cultural factors, people are expected to form romantic bonds with people they desire.

But they are not expected to experience novel sexual desires for people they love who are not "appropriate" partners, as judged by society.

An example of the type of relationships that fit in with Diamond's model are the intense friendships developed between girls at boarding schools in the 1800s, called "smashes," and between same-sex individuals in other gender-restricted environments, such as combat units in the military, and college sororities and fraternities.

And because the links between love and desire are bidirectional, developing sexual desires running counter to a person's sexual orientation is possible too.

"It appears to be something everybody is capable of," says Diamond.

Now a psychology professor at University of California, Davis, Shaver helped bring attachment theory to psychology's understanding of romantic love, and sees some aspects of romantic love across a variety of relationships.

While teaching at the University of Denver in the late 1980s, Shaver and Hazan developed a concept of love as being a combination of three different behavioral systems: attachment, caregiving and sex.

Describing himself as familiar with Diamond's work, Shaver says it's possible to see the elements of romantic love in things like the crushes that young children, particularly girls, develop for each other in elementary school.

In such relationships, children become possessive of another person, and can feel some of the anxiety, jealousy and distress at separation experienced by adults in romantic relationships, Shaver says.

"I think you could have one or two of these motivational systems active, and then you'd see a partial form of the full-blown romantic reaction," he says.

But once a person goes through puberty, all three systems come together for many people's experience of passionate love, he says.

"And then a lot of the driving force, even if the person doesn't know it, is sexual," he says.

Romantic love's essential ingredient

Regan's work supports a more familiar understanding of love and desire.

Now a social psychologist at California State University Los Angeles, Regan started out as an English major in college. Her study of sublimated sexual desire was confined to novels such as "Wuthering Heights," and its portrayal of doomed lovers and thwarted desire.

She switched to studying psychology when she found she could study passion and desire full time.

From the years of research she and her students have done studying how people think about passionate love and sexual desire, Regan has concluded that sexual desire is an integral part of heterosexual adults' passionate love.

"Those are definitely connected experiences," she says.

As described in a 1998 article in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships (Vol. 15, No. 3, pages 411-420), people asked to list the features of passionate love overwhelmingly list sexual attraction as one of its key aspects.

In another study, when presented with information packets supposedly filled out by couples who either said they were "in love" with each other, "loved" each other or "liked" each other, participants rated the couples who said they were "in love" as experiencing the highest levels of sexual attraction, Regan says.

In studies cataloging the experiences of dating couples, Regan found men and women who described themselves as "in love" scored very high on measures of sexual attraction, as presented in an article in Social Behavior and Personality (Vol. 28, No. 1, pages 51-60).

While she thinks sexual desire is a key ingredient to passionate love, Regan says there's a difference between what people find sexually attractive and what they find romantically attractive.

"What turns you on physically is not necessarily what turns you on romantically," she says.

In a curious twist, while both men and women find the attribute of physical appearance as sexually attractive, men misunderstand what women seek, and women misunderstand what men seek, Regan says.

Men think women find a man with resources highly sexually attractive-while women think men find a woman who's stereotypically feminine attractive. The truth is men and women both list physical appearance as the quality that's most sexually attractive.

But the list is more comprehensive for romantic attraction. Both men and women list qualities of kindness, warmth, a sense of humor, sociability, trustworthiness and a stable personality as attributes sought in a romantic partner.

Some attributes make the list for both sexual attractiveness and romantic interest, such as a sense of humor, she says.

Judging from her review of what men and women self-report on their daily levels of sexual desire, Regan says men have a stronger sex drive than women.

She notes that social pressures that approve of an openly expressed sex drive in men, and disapprove of it in women, may influence those results.


The Real Difference Between Romantic And Sexual Attraction

Most people assume that there are two zones when it comes to relationships: the friend zone and the romantic zone. Either you enjoy someone's company, but wrinkle your nose at the thought of a goodnight kiss, or you've already planned out in your mind the names of your future children. Well, we're about to blow your minds, because there are actually three relationship zones, not two. There's the friend zone, the romantic zone, and the sexual zone. All three of these zones can overlap. but sometimes, they don't.

"You can experience sexual attraction to someone but not have a romantic interest in them — a casual hook-up is a good example," Jor-El Caraballo, co-creator of holistic wellness center Viva Wellness and LGBTQ therapist, told Bustle. "And vice versa, you may have a strong affection for someone but not necessarily desire a sexual relationship with that person." To make things even more confusing, your sexual orientation can differ from your romantic orientation, Caraballo added. So you might only want to marry a man, but sexually, you're mainly turned on by women. "People can have a variety of orientations," he said. "Sexuality is one orientation. Romantic orientation is another."


8. Polysexual & Polyromantic

Last on this list but not least is polysexual and polyromantic. With that prefix, you may be wondering if this is similar at all to the identity of polyamorous individuals. The answer to that wonder is no, there is not a correlation between polysexuality and polyamory, though I know the prefixes can be confusing.

Polysexuality is another one of those slightly confusing identities, and again, it is incredibly important to ask the individual who identifies as such.

Simply put, polysexuality is the attraction to multiple genders. This can be used synonymously with pansexual, as we mentioned before, but more often than not, polysexual and/or polyromantic people do not experience attraction every gender, but to specific genders.

For example, someone who is polysexual and/or polyromantic could be sexually and/or romantically attracted to men and then transgender people, or they could be sexually and/or romantically attracted to women and nonbinary people, or they could be sexually and/or romantically attracted to men and women and genderqueer people-- the possibilities are endless.

What do you think of these identities and their definitions? Have you heard of any of these before? Do you identify as one of these, or as something else entirely? Do the definitions match up with what you think you knew, or what you already know?

Make sure to let me know all of these answers down in the comments, and share this with some of your less-educated friends so that everyone can learn more about different sexual identities.

Subscribe to our Newsletter


Someone who is aceflux or aroflux has a sexual/romantic orientation that fluctuates along the spectrum between asexual and sexual, and aromantic and romantic. Some people who are aceflux or aroflux will always stay within the asexual or aromantic spectrum, while others may occasionally fall outside of it.

For more information on asexual and aromantic identities, check out the Asexual Visibility and Education Network and the Aromantics Wiki.

Morgan Pasquier is a GLAAD Campus Ambassador and a senior at the University of Washington, Tacoma studying Psychology. They are an avid traveler and hopes to visit every continent someday.

amp is young creators series, produced by GLAAD, featuring content and stories created by and for young change makers. amp series features original content including op-eds, creative writing, photography, art, videos, and other creative original content.

amp contributors will have the opportunity to share their stories, get trained by the GLAAD Media Institute, and connect with GLAAD’s partners in the media.


Romantic VS Sexual Attraction

Romantic vs sexual attraction can be quite challenging to differentiate for some.

Sometimes, we are drawn to a person because of sexual attraction but later on, we see that we aren&rsquot actually compatible with each other and what we are feeling was just strong sexual tension.

However, we can also be attracted to someone romantically and we can even fall in love with this person but we may have little sexual attraction . This can happen and a whole lot of different scenarios too.

There can also be instances where sexual attraction leads to romantic feelings because the more we become intimate with someone, the more we get closer to falling in love. So, consider yourself lucky to be romantically and sexually attracted to the same person.

Here are different signs to look for so you can better know if you&rsquore sexually or romantically attracted to someone.

You&rsquore sexually attracted to someone if &ndash

  1. You find yourself deeply lost with this person. You&rsquore drawn to this person and just when your eyes meet, you know you want to be closer to him or her.
  2. You can&rsquot help but be flirtatious because it&rsquos the science of sexual attraction. Our mind and body will also show signs that it has found a good mate. Even with how you talk, act, and even touch. It&rsquos inevitable not to flirt.
  3. You become a little bit self-conscious with how you act and talk with this person because you might be aware how naughty your thoughts are getting and well, you can&rsquot wait to make a move or get a hint.
  4. The more you&rsquore with this person, the more you want him or her more. The slow burn is not just exciting, it&rsquos also addicting. It may feel that it&rsquos so hard to contain yourself.

You&rsquore romantically attracted to someone if &ndash

  1. You find yourself having many similarities with this person. This gives both of you more reasons to talk and be closer. It&rsquos like time flies when you&rsquore with him or her.
  2. You can see yourself being with this person for a long time. You might even imagine yourself having a family and getting married.
  3. You&rsquore romantically compatible if you want to grow better with this person. You can see yourself being a better person while allowing the other person to grow as an individual as well.
  4. You can cuddle and be with each other for hours and talking about everything without thinking about anything sexual.

How Being Panromantic and Demisexual Works in Relationships

Panromantic demisexual people can benefit from regular, clear communication with their partners. Because they only feel sexual attraction to people with whom they have a bond, they may not be sexually attracted to their romantic partner at first. Open, honest communication can help both people in the relationship feel more comfortable. It can also help the demisexual person maintain their boundaries. No one, even a romantic partner, ever has the right to demand you perform sexual acts with which you are not comfortable.


Myths and Misconceptions about Being Panromantic

A common misconception is that romantic and sexual attraction are always linked. That’s not the case. Many people have romantic and sexual orientations that are not the same. A panromantic person doesn’t necessarily identify as pansexual. In fact, many panromantic people only feel occasional sexual attraction, or never experience sexual attraction at all.

Another common stereotype of panromantic and pansexual people is that they are less likely to remain monogamous than hetero- or homosexual people. Studies have shown that people who are attracted to multiple genders have the same variety of opinions regarding monogamy as people who are only attracted to one gender. This means that panromantic people are just as likely to remain monogamous as anyone else.


The Real Difference Between Romantic And Sexual Attraction

Most people assume that there are two zones when it comes to relationships: the friend zone and the romantic zone. Either you enjoy someone's company, but wrinkle your nose at the thought of a goodnight kiss, or you've already planned out in your mind the names of your future children. Well, we're about to blow your minds, because there are actually three relationship zones, not two. There's the friend zone, the romantic zone, and the sexual zone. All three of these zones can overlap. but sometimes, they don't.

"You can experience sexual attraction to someone but not have a romantic interest in them — a casual hook-up is a good example," Jor-El Caraballo, co-creator of holistic wellness center Viva Wellness and LGBTQ therapist, told Bustle. "And vice versa, you may have a strong affection for someone but not necessarily desire a sexual relationship with that person." To make things even more confusing, your sexual orientation can differ from your romantic orientation, Caraballo added. So you might only want to marry a man, but sexually, you're mainly turned on by women. "People can have a variety of orientations," he said. "Sexuality is one orientation. Romantic orientation is another."


8. Polysexual & Polyromantic

Last on this list but not least is polysexual and polyromantic. With that prefix, you may be wondering if this is similar at all to the identity of polyamorous individuals. The answer to that wonder is no, there is not a correlation between polysexuality and polyamory, though I know the prefixes can be confusing.

Polysexuality is another one of those slightly confusing identities, and again, it is incredibly important to ask the individual who identifies as such.

Simply put, polysexuality is the attraction to multiple genders. This can be used synonymously with pansexual, as we mentioned before, but more often than not, polysexual and/or polyromantic people do not experience attraction every gender, but to specific genders.

For example, someone who is polysexual and/or polyromantic could be sexually and/or romantically attracted to men and then transgender people, or they could be sexually and/or romantically attracted to women and nonbinary people, or they could be sexually and/or romantically attracted to men and women and genderqueer people-- the possibilities are endless.

What do you think of these identities and their definitions? Have you heard of any of these before? Do you identify as one of these, or as something else entirely? Do the definitions match up with what you think you knew, or what you already know?

Make sure to let me know all of these answers down in the comments, and share this with some of your less-educated friends so that everyone can learn more about different sexual identities.

Subscribe to our Newsletter


Someone who is aceflux or aroflux has a sexual/romantic orientation that fluctuates along the spectrum between asexual and sexual, and aromantic and romantic. Some people who are aceflux or aroflux will always stay within the asexual or aromantic spectrum, while others may occasionally fall outside of it.

For more information on asexual and aromantic identities, check out the Asexual Visibility and Education Network and the Aromantics Wiki.

Morgan Pasquier is a GLAAD Campus Ambassador and a senior at the University of Washington, Tacoma studying Psychology. They are an avid traveler and hopes to visit every continent someday.

amp is young creators series, produced by GLAAD, featuring content and stories created by and for young change makers. amp series features original content including op-eds, creative writing, photography, art, videos, and other creative original content.

amp contributors will have the opportunity to share their stories, get trained by the GLAAD Media Institute, and connect with GLAAD’s partners in the media.


A Word From Verywell

Remember that this list is not exhaustive and the terminology will change over time. While it is important to keep up with recent changes to terms, the best way to ensure that you are using inclusive language is to listen and ask someone what they identify with or what they prefer to be called.

When in doubt, don’t make assumptions based on your own social rubric or point of view, particularly if this involves a normative stance or the experience of being in a position of heterosexual privilege.

While you may not understand the need for being careful with your words, those who potentially face discrimination or prejudice daily will be appreciative of the effort you make to understand things from their point of view.

As terminology continues to evolve, you may also find that terms people prefer that you use also change. Rather than feeling frustrated by this request, acknowledge that you can’t understand what it’s like to be in the other person’s position and do what you can to be an ally and supporter.


Sexuality and Sexual Orientation

Sex and gender are important aspects of a person’s identity however, they do not tell us about a person’s sexual orientation or sexuality (Rule & Ambady, 2008). Sexuality refers to the way people experience and express sexual feelings. Sexual attraction is part of human sexuality and sexual orientation refers to enduring patterns of sexual attraction and is typically divided into four categories:

  • Heterosexuality is the attraction to individuals of the opposite sex
  • Homosexuality is the attraction to individuals of one’s own sex
  • Bisexuality is the attraction to individuals of either sex and
  • Asexuality is no attraction to either sex.

Heterosexuals and homosexuals are informally referred to as “straight” and “gay,” respectively. North America is a heteronormative society, meaning it supports heterosexuality as the norm. While the majority of people identify as heterosexual, there is a sizable population of people North America who identify as either homosexual or bisexual. Research suggests that somewhere between 3% and 10% of the population identifies as homosexual (Kinsey, Pomeroy, & Martin, 1948 LeVay, 1996 Pillard & Bailey, 1995) and has determined that sexual orientation is not a choice, but rather it is a relatively stable characteristic of a person that cannot be changed.

Research has consistently demonstrated that there are no differences in the family backgrounds and experiences of heterosexuals and homosexuals (Bell, Weinberg, & Hammersmith, 1981 Ross & Arrindell, 1988). Genetic and biological mechanisms have also been proposed, and the balance of evidence suggests that sexual orientation has an underlying biological component. Over the past 25 years, research has identified genetics (Bailey & Pillard, 1991 Hamer, Hu, Magnuson, Hu, & Pattatucci, 1993 Rodriguez-Larralde & Paradisi, 2009) and brain structure and function (Allen & Gorski, 1992 Byne et al., 2001 Hu et al., 2008 LeVay, 1991 Ponseti et al., 2006 Rahman & Wilson, 2003a Swaab & Hofman, 1990) as biological explanations for sexual orientation.

According to current scientific understanding, individuals are usually aware of their sexual orientation between middle childhood and early adolescence (American Psychological Association, 2008). They do not have to participate in sexual activity to be aware of these emotional, romantic, and physical attractions people can be celibate and still recognize their sexual orientation. Alfred Kinsey was among the first to conceptualize sexuality as a continuum rather than a strict dichotomy of gay or straight. To classify this continuum of heterosexuality and homosexuality, Kinsey created a six-point rating scale that ranges from exclusively heterosexual to exclusively homosexual.


Love's not sex

Why romantic love isn't limited by a person's sexual orientation.

February 2007, Vol 38, No. 2

Most people think romantic love and sexual desire go hand in hand, and that you can't have one without the other.

But a psychologist who argues that it's not that simple, bases her findings on follow-up interviews with a group of women she's followed for more than a decade. Developmental psychologist Lisa Diamond, PhD, started noticing something interesting about her study group's love lives.

Most of the women identified themselves as non-heterosexual, but several reported falling in love with, and developing sexual desire for, individual men in their lives, says Diamond, a University of Utah psychology professor.

Talking to them, Diamond at first thought the women were mistaken about what they were feeling or were confused about their own sexual orientation.

"The more I started listening to their voices, the more I started to think I was wrong," Diamond says.

Diamond started studying the women's experiences for her master's thesis. She's kept in touch with the participants for more than 10 years, interviewing them individually about their sexual identities, sexual desires and romantic relationships every two years.

After reviewing work by other love researchers and delving into accounts of love and friendship across cultures, Diamond developed what she describes as a biobehavioral model distinguishing love and sexual desire.

In her model, she proposes that sexual desire and romantic love are functionally independent that romantic love is not intrinsically oriented to same-gender or other-gender partners and that the links between love and desire are bidirectional.

Based on her model, Diamond thinks it's possible for someone who is heterosexual to fall in love with someone of the same gender, and for someone who is homosexual to fall in love with someone of a different gender.

Diamond's model offers a new interpretation of the implications of the ideas developed by psychologists Phillip Shaver, PhD, and Cynthia Hazan, PhD, who see adult romantic love as similar in certain respects to the infant/caregiver attachment bond, but with attachment and caregiving running in both directions between partners and with sexuality added to the mixture.

While Diamond argues that a person can fall in love with someone to whom they wouldn't usually be sexually attracted to, Shaver sees sexual attraction as one of the three behavioral systems contributing to the blossoming of adult romantic love, making it different from childhood attachments.

Other psychologists such as Pamela Regan, PhD, who studies how adults think about love and sex, say that most people view sexual attraction as an essential ingredient in the development of romantic love, the spark needed to set passion burning.

The links between love and desire

Diamond bases her model on the notion of romantic love evolving from the attachment bond formed between infant and caregiver.

As described in her 2003 article in Psychological Review (Vol. 110, No.1, pages 173-192), her model argues that while the goal of sexual desire is sexual union for the purpose of reproduction, romantic love is governed by the attachment or pair-bonding system, with its goal of maintaining an enduring bond between two individuals.

Sexual desire is driven by the gonadal hormones of estrogens and androgens. Animal research indicates that attachment is mediated by the neuropeptide oxytocin, with a more robust oxytocin-receptor network present in the female brain.

And since romantic love, she hypothesizes, is an outgrowth of infant/caregiver attachment, there's no way to "code" romantic love for gender.

That's because highly dependent infants become attached to the most responsive caregiver present, whether it's a woman or a man, she says.

Diamond also argues that the links between love and desire are bidirectional, because sexual desire can facilitate affectional bonding, and affectional bonding can facilitate sexual desire.

Most people perceive connections between the two experiences. Owing to cultural factors, people are expected to form romantic bonds with people they desire.

But they are not expected to experience novel sexual desires for people they love who are not "appropriate" partners, as judged by society.

An example of the type of relationships that fit in with Diamond's model are the intense friendships developed between girls at boarding schools in the 1800s, called "smashes," and between same-sex individuals in other gender-restricted environments, such as combat units in the military, and college sororities and fraternities.

And because the links between love and desire are bidirectional, developing sexual desires running counter to a person's sexual orientation is possible too.

"It appears to be something everybody is capable of," says Diamond.

Now a psychology professor at University of California, Davis, Shaver helped bring attachment theory to psychology's understanding of romantic love, and sees some aspects of romantic love across a variety of relationships.

While teaching at the University of Denver in the late 1980s, Shaver and Hazan developed a concept of love as being a combination of three different behavioral systems: attachment, caregiving and sex.

Describing himself as familiar with Diamond's work, Shaver says it's possible to see the elements of romantic love in things like the crushes that young children, particularly girls, develop for each other in elementary school.

In such relationships, children become possessive of another person, and can feel some of the anxiety, jealousy and distress at separation experienced by adults in romantic relationships, Shaver says.

"I think you could have one or two of these motivational systems active, and then you'd see a partial form of the full-blown romantic reaction," he says.

But once a person goes through puberty, all three systems come together for many people's experience of passionate love, he says.

"And then a lot of the driving force, even if the person doesn't know it, is sexual," he says.

Romantic love's essential ingredient

Regan's work supports a more familiar understanding of love and desire.

Now a social psychologist at California State University Los Angeles, Regan started out as an English major in college. Her study of sublimated sexual desire was confined to novels such as "Wuthering Heights," and its portrayal of doomed lovers and thwarted desire.

She switched to studying psychology when she found she could study passion and desire full time.

From the years of research she and her students have done studying how people think about passionate love and sexual desire, Regan has concluded that sexual desire is an integral part of heterosexual adults' passionate love.

"Those are definitely connected experiences," she says.

As described in a 1998 article in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships (Vol. 15, No. 3, pages 411-420), people asked to list the features of passionate love overwhelmingly list sexual attraction as one of its key aspects.

In another study, when presented with information packets supposedly filled out by couples who either said they were "in love" with each other, "loved" each other or "liked" each other, participants rated the couples who said they were "in love" as experiencing the highest levels of sexual attraction, Regan says.

In studies cataloging the experiences of dating couples, Regan found men and women who described themselves as "in love" scored very high on measures of sexual attraction, as presented in an article in Social Behavior and Personality (Vol. 28, No. 1, pages 51-60).

While she thinks sexual desire is a key ingredient to passionate love, Regan says there's a difference between what people find sexually attractive and what they find romantically attractive.

"What turns you on physically is not necessarily what turns you on romantically," she says.

In a curious twist, while both men and women find the attribute of physical appearance as sexually attractive, men misunderstand what women seek, and women misunderstand what men seek, Regan says.

Men think women find a man with resources highly sexually attractive-while women think men find a woman who's stereotypically feminine attractive. The truth is men and women both list physical appearance as the quality that's most sexually attractive.

But the list is more comprehensive for romantic attraction. Both men and women list qualities of kindness, warmth, a sense of humor, sociability, trustworthiness and a stable personality as attributes sought in a romantic partner.

Some attributes make the list for both sexual attractiveness and romantic interest, such as a sense of humor, she says.

Judging from her review of what men and women self-report on their daily levels of sexual desire, Regan says men have a stronger sex drive than women.

She notes that social pressures that approve of an openly expressed sex drive in men, and disapprove of it in women, may influence those results.


Stability versus Fluidity of Adolescent Romantic and Sexual Attraction and the Role of Religiosity: A Longitudinal Assessment in Two Independent Samples of Croatian Adolescents

The manner in which individuals report their sexual attraction, self-label their sexual identity, or behave in sexual situations can vary over time, and particularly, adolescents may change their reported sexual attraction or sexual orientation identity over the course of their development. It is important to better understand the social factors that may influence these changes, such as one's religiosity. The present study thus aimed to assess the fluidity of adolescent romantic and sexual attraction over time and to explore the role of religiosity in this dynamic using two independent panel samples of Croatian high school students (N = 849 and N = 995). Response items for sexual and romantic attraction were categorized based on the Kinsey scale, and religiosity was assessed with a standard one-item indicator. Results demonstrated that changes in attraction were substantially more prevalent among non-exclusively heterosexual participants compared to exclusively heterosexual participants in both panels. Although more female than male adolescents reported non-heterosexual attraction, gender differences in attraction fluidity were inconsistent. Religiosity was associated with initial sexual attraction (more religious individuals were more likely to report exclusively heterosexual attraction), but not with changes in romantic and sexual attraction over time. Given that the understanding of adolescent sexual development can play an important role in reducing their vulnerability to sexual risk taking, stigmatization, and abuse, this study's findings have relevance for teachers, parents, and counselors working with adolescents, and in particular for sexual minority youth.

Keywords: Adolescents Religiosity Sexual attraction Sexual fluidity Sexual orientation.



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