Romantic orientation, also called affectional orientation, indicates the sex or gender with which a person is most likely to have a romantic relationship or fall in love. It is used both alternatively and side by side with the term sexual orientation, and is based on the perspective that sexual attraction is only a single component of a larger dynamic. For example, although a pansexual person may feel sexually attracted to people regardless of gender, the person may experience romantic attraction and intimacy with women only.
The relationship between sexual attraction and romantic attraction is still under debate and is not fully understood. Sexual and romantic attractions are often studied in conjunction. Even though studies of sexual and romantic spectrums are shedding light onto this under-researched subject, much is still not fully understood.
- Aromantic: Little to no romantic attraction towards anyone (aromanticism).
- Heteroromantic (or heteromantic): Romantic attraction towards person(s) of the opposite gender (heteroromanticism).
- Homoromantic: Romantic attraction towards person(s) of the same gender (homoromanticism).
- Biromantic: Romantic attraction towards two or more genders, or person(s) of the same and other genders (biromanticism). Sometimes used the same way as panromantic.
- Panromantic: Romantic attraction towards person(s) of any, every, and all genders (panromanticism).
- Polyromantic: Romantic attraction towards person(s) of various, but not all, genders (polyromanticism).
- Demiromantic: Romantic attraction towards any of the above but only after forming a deep emotional bond with the person(s) (demiromanticism).
- Greyromantic (or grayromantic): Experiencing romantic attraction rarely or only under certain circumstances (greyromanticism or grayromanticism).
Relationship with sexual orientation and asexuality
The implications of the distinction between romantic and sexual orientations have not been fully recognized, nor have they been studied extensively. It is common for sources to describe sexual orientation as including components of both sexual and romantic (or romantic equivalent) attractions. Publications investigating the relationship between sexual orientation and romantic orientation are limited. Challenges in collecting information result from survey participants having difficulty identifying or distinguishing between sexual and romantic attractions. Asexual individuals experience little to no sexual attraction (see gray asexuality); however, they may still experience romantic attraction. Lisa M. Diamond states that a person's romantic orientation can differ from whom the person is sexually attracted to. While there is limited research on the discordance between sexual attraction and romantic attraction in individuals, the possibility of fluidity and diversity in attractions have been progressively recognized. Researchers Bulmer and Izuma found that people who identify as aromantic often have more negative attitudes in relation to romance. While roughly 1% of the population identifies as asexual, 74% of those people reported having some form of romantic attraction.
The first recorded conceptualization of orientation that took into account split attraction was in 1879 by Karl Heinrich Ulrichs, a German writer who published 12 books on non-heterosexual attraction. In these books, Ulrichs has presented several classifications that are quite similar to modern LGBT identities. Among his works, he described people who are “konjunktiver Uranodioning” and disjunktiver Uranodioning” or conjunctive bisexuality and disjunctive bisexuality. The former is described as having tender and passionate feelings for both men and women, which would be a biromantic bisexual in modern times. The second is one who has tender feelings for people of the same gender/sex, but 'in love' feelings for people of a different gender/sex, which would now be a heteroromantic homosexual. However, the Ulrichs model never became popular due to the complexity.
An example of the separation of sexual and romantic attractions was in 1979 by psychologist Dorothy Tennov, with the publication of her book Love and Limerence – the Experience of Being in Love. In the book, Tennov described limerence as a form of attraction that could be described as a crush on someone. Although Tennov saw sex as part of limerence, she recognized that it was not its main focus. The term "non-limerent" is sometimes considered the precursor of aromantic.
Aromanticism is a spectrum of romantic orientations characterized by experiencing little to no romantic attraction. Aromanticism is sometimes included in the expanded LGBT initialism LGBTQIA+, where the letter "A" stands for asexual, aromantic, and agender. Individuals who identify their romantic orientation as aromanticism are referred to as aromantic (or "aro", colloquially). The opposite of aromanticism is alloromanticism, which is defined as having a romantic orientation in which one experiences romantic love and/or romantic attraction to others; those whose romantic orientations fall on the spectrum of alloromanticism are called "alloromantic". However, although aromanticism and alloromanticism are considered to be antonymous, the status of aromanticism as a spectrum of identities means that there are some aromantics who would describe themselves as having experienced romantic love or romantic attraction at some point in their lives. Such aromantics may adopt labels for more specific identities on the aromantic spectrum, such as “grayromantic” (rarely experiencing romantic attraction), “demiromantic” (only experiencing romantic attraction after a strong emotional bond has been formed), “frayromantic” (experiencing romantic attraction which fades once an emotional bond is formed), or “quoiromantic” (unable to determine whether or not one experiences romantic attraction, often due to an inability to distinguish between romantic and platonic feelings).
Although some aromantic people might choose to be in a romantic relationship, they are less likely than alloromantic individuals to do so. Like anyone, aromantic people form non-romantic relationships of all types as well as enjoying sexual relationships. This is because aromanticism is primarily related to romantic attraction, not sexuality or libido, so although many aromantic people are asexual, they can still identify with the familiar sexual orientations such as aromantic bisexual, aromantic heterosexual, gay aromantic, aromantic lesbian. Aromantic people may also form strong familial bonds or even have children; in fact, there is some evidence that, among asexual populations, those who are aromantic are no less likely to have children than those who are alloromantic. Furthermore, aromantics can experience platonic love and have committed friendships, and some form intimate partnerships called queerplatonic relationships. A common slang for someone who is both aromantic and asexual is aroace, and a common shorthand for being both allosexual and aromantic is alloaro.
Since romantic attraction is a subjective experience, some aromantic individuals may find it difficult to determine whether or not they experience romantic attraction. As such, individuals who identify as aromantic may have trouble distinguishing the affection of family and friends from that of a romantic partner.
Some publications have argued that aromanticism is under-represented and under-researched, and frequently misunderstood. Of the academic studies which discuss aromanticism, these tend to discuss aromanticism as it relates to asexuality, and there are very few studies which focus primarily on aromanticism. Furthermore, in society at large, aromantic people are often stigmatized and stereotyped as being afraid of intimacy, heartless, or deluded. Amatonormativity, a concept that elevates romantic relationships over non-romantic relationships, has been said to be damaging to aromantics.
Panromanticism is described as having romantic attraction to people of all genders or regardless of gender. Panromantic people are seen to have romantic attraction for people both inside and outside the general gender binary. They are capable of love regardless of the gender of the person the love is aimed towards. Sexual and romantic attractions are not necessarily always the same and hence being panromantic does not necessarily mean being pansexual. Panromantic asexuality describes people who do not feel sexual attraction to those of any gender but have panromantic attraction.
Biromanticism is defined as having romantic attraction to two or more genders. This could mean different things for different people. For example, one could be attracted to both men and women, or attracted to men and non-binary people etc.
- Cross-sex friendship
- Emotional affair
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