The Split Attraction Model (SAM) is a model that says that people’s attractions/orientations can be split into multiple components, such as “sexual”, “romantic”, “platonic”, “sensual”, and so on. Everyone agrees that the SAM model has issues and is not inclusive of everyone. There’s a robust discussion about “SAM” people, who use the model, and “non-SAM” people, who don’t use the model.1
While everyone agrees that the SAM is insufficient, more contentiously, the “SAM vs non-SAM” model is also insufficient. The “SAM vs non-SAM” model is the name I’m giving to the larger model that contains both the SAM model, as well as the notion of non-SAM people. In brief, the problem is that “SAM” is not a single model, but a collection of different models that individuals might fit partially or piecemeal. Thus, the “non-SAM” category, while useful, lacks nuance.
Coyote recently started a discussion about problems with the “SAM vs non-SAM” model, and ways we can improve upon it.2 My goal is simply to summarize the discussion as it currently stands.
You are encouraged to skip to the sections that interest you most, and ignore footnotes unless you want to dig deeper.
A brief history of SAM
There’s a long history of precursors to split attraction,3 but I’m only concerned with recent history. In the period from 2000-2005, asexual communities developed the concepts of romantic attraction, romantic orientation, and aromantics–and not all at once.4 Sensual attraction also dates to around this time.5 These concepts have often, but not always been understood to be optional.6
The term “Split Attraction Model” itself comes much later, in 2015.4 It was coined in the context of Tumblr flame wars (“the ace discourse”). The original usage was to talk about the way that the ace community supposedly required that everyone split their attraction/orientation into multiple parts. The argument had a grain of truth to it–aspec7 communities often take SAM to be the default. Therefore, the term “Split Attraction Model” was adopted by aspec communities in order to talk about that issue.
Note that while the SAM has existed for a long time, it was not previously given a name. Instead, we might have simply talked about romantic orientation vs sexual orientation, or romantic vs platonic relationships. “SAM” provides a useful shortcut to talk about these concepts, but it talks about all of them at once, conflating them all together.
Why SAM vs non-SAM isn’t enough
Just for starters, here are three conflations made by the SAM vs non-SAM model.
- SAM most commonly refers to the romantic/sexual split, but sometimes refers to splits between romantic/sexual/platonic/sensual/etc.
- Although SAM has “attraction” in the name, it just as often refers to “orientation”. This conflates orientation and attraction. For many people attraction could be just one component of their orientation.8
- It’s commonly thought that people who have multiple orientation labels fit into SAM, and people with just one label are non-SAM. However, someone who identifies only as “aromantic” might be doing so precisely because romantic and sexual attraction are split for them. And another person who doesn’t split romantic and sexual attraction might identify as both aromantic and asexual.
Better ways to discuss our experiences
The “SAM vs non-SAM” model has two parts. First, there is the norm, which is the Split Attraction Model. Then there is a spectrum of people who fit the norm (SAM people) vs people who don’t fit the norm (non-SAM people).
Following this same structure, Coyote identifies five distinct norms.9 Each one implies a spectrum of experiences from those that fit the norm, to those that fail to fit the norm. Coyote also proposes terms to talk about each spectrum.10 These are just suggestions, and are not intended to be exhaustive. My summary/paraphrasing is below.
Norm: Using orientation language – Orientation language is used as a framework to understand your desires and the relationships you form.
Spectrum: Some people are comfortable with orientation language, some people are less comfortable.
Examples: Orientation language originates from 19th century Europe, of course it isn’t universal. But even people who use orientation language might not fully embrace it, or might avoid it when talking about certain aspects of their experience.
Norm: Composite sexual orientation – People have just one orientation (e.g. gay, straight, bisexual), often said to be their “sexual orientation”, but is really a composite of all their desires, attractions, and behaviors.
Spectrum: A person has a “convergent” orientation if a composite orientation makes sense, and a “divergent” orientation if they have difficulty describing their orientation as a single composite.
Examples: A person who experiences sexual and romantic attraction mostly towards the same people might have a convergent orientation. An aroace who feels that being aro and ace are two halves of a single orientation has a convergent orientation. An biromantic asexual has a divergent orientation.
Norm: Romantic-orientation/sexual-orientation dyad (RO SO dyad) – People have one orientation label in the “romantic” box and another label in the “sexual” box.
Spectrum: After trying multiple terms, Coyote decided to coin a word for this one. A person is “rosol” if they’re comfortable having these two orientation labels. They are “non-rosol” if they feel distance from the dyad.
Examples: A aroace who is comfortable identifying as aromantic+asexual is rosol. An aroace who feels like “aromantic+asexual” doesn’t quite capture their experience is more non-rosol. An asexual who prefers not to use romantic orientation language is non-rosol.
Norm: Orientation is sexual and/or romantic only – Orientations pertain strictly to romance, sex, or any combination of the two, and do not pertain to other types of attraction such as sensual, platonic, etc.
Spectrum: Romantic and sexual orientations are the “orthodox” types of orientations. A person’s orientation is “unorthodox” if it incorporates other elements (such as sensual, platonic, or aesthetic), or if they simply feel distance from the emphasis on the romantic/sexual element.
Examples: An aroace who identifies as gay because they experience mild sexual attraction to men has an orthodox orientation. An aroace who identifies as gay because they form platonic bonds with men has an unorthodox orientation.
Norm: Orientations by axis – Each orientation is associated with a specific named axis, such as sexual, romantic, platonic, sensual, alterous, etc.
Spectrum: A person has an “axial” orientation if each of their orientation labels aligns with a specific axis. A person has a “non-axial” orientation if they have orientations not aligned with specific axes, or if they feel distance from the axis-based system.
Examples: Someone who is aromantic homoplatonic has an axial orientation. Someone who is just “gray”, with no further specifics, has a non-axial orientation. Another non-axial example: someone who identifies as asexual and bisexual might be using “bisexual” to refer to a set of experiences not relating to any particular axis.
The “Split Attraction Model” has been useful to talk about a framework that has been dominant in aspec communities, and especially useful for people who individually depart from that framework. But asexual communities have built framework upon framework for decades, so there isn’t just one single framework to depart from.
Coyote pointed to many distinct frameworks, such as the idea that people have just one orientation, the idea that people have two, the idea that each orientation pertains to romantic or sexual, and the idea that each orientation is aligned with an axis. Individuals may feel alignment with or distance from each of these frameworks.
The reader is also welcome to use Coyote’s ideas, come up with new ideas, or to ignore them entirely. If we’ve learned anything, it’s that all of these models are optional.
1. The Split Attraction Model: Pros and Cons, and also see a two part video series. (return)
2. Remodeling: on the Reclamation of the Term “Split Attraction Model”, Romantic Orientation and the “Split Attraction Model” are not the same thing, and also two Arocalypse threads: What can y’all tell me about the Split Attraction Model?, Orientation Modeling (return)
3. What kind of attraction? A history of the split attraction model (return)
4. See first part of Romantic Orientation and the “Split Attraction Model” are not the same thing (return)
5. See Thoughts on definitions of sensual attraction. Other kinds of attraction, such as “platonic” may be dated later. (return)
6. Naturally, when a concept is new, it must be optional. But even later on when romantic orientation terminology was established, it was still often presented as optional. For example, in my very earliest presentation on asexuality in 2010, I discussed the split attraction model (not under that name) with the intention of discussing multiple experiences that didn’t fit. (return)
7. I use “aspec” in the common way, to refer to aro and ace communities collectively, without any implication that there is a single aromantic+asexual community. (return)
8. There’s a long history of people heatedly arguing that “asexual” should either be inclusive of, or exclusively defined by sexual desire, sex drive, sex repulsion, and various other things that aren’t sexual attraction. I am most sympathetic to the perspectives in this 2015 linkspam, arguing that a broader definition is not only necessary, but also more descriptive of current use. There is also an analogous history of varied definitions for “aromantic”, see for example Updating the Map: Romantic Attraction and Friendship vs Romance. (return)
9. See the bottom of Remodeling: on the Reclamation of the Term “Split Attraction Model”. (return)
10. Coyote has cycled through a bunch of terms, and might change them again. If Coyote makes any minor changes within a few weeks of this post, I will edit it in, and record the changes in this footnote. (return)
Nice article! I use the SAM (biromantic asexual), but there is so much argument around the topic I tend to avoid discussions. I focus more on asexuality in the media and for young people. I am currently preparing a piece about Yasmin Benoit and another one about Cavetown, and I am really excited about them. (I post my LGBT+ stuff elsewhere because I just started this blog, but I plan to relocate it here soon.)
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In case anyone finds this article and decides to cite it, I have a quote for you:
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