Journal Club: What does Orientation Orient?

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This month, the ace journal club discussed

“What does Sexual orientation Orient? A Biobehavioral Model Distinguishing Romantic Love and Sexual Desire” by Lisa M. Diamond (2003). (Requires journal access)

The journal club meets once a month on Discord, using text or voice as club members prefer. We discuss a variety of academic works in ace studies, ranging from gender studies to psychology. Don’t worry about journal access, we can provide access. If you’re interested, please e-mail me at for an invite.

Our discussion notes are below the fold.

Diamond proposes a theoretical model for describing the relationship between sexual desire and affectional bonding, proposing: a) that they are functionally independent, b) affectional bonding is not intrinsically oriented, and b) there’s a bidirectional link between the two. This is based on a theory that affectional bonding evolved from the bonding that infants have for their caregivers.

– This paper never mentions asexuality. It predates the first modern asexuality study, by Bogaert in 2004.
– This paper often gets cited to explain the idea of affectional orientation in the context of bisexuality. We also saw that AUREA cites the paper. Such citations may benefit from additional context, since the paper argues that affectional orientation doesn’t exist.
– Another old paper you might cite for affectional orientation is Shively & De Cecco (1977). Sadly these models were left theoretical, and they never surveyed people about them.

The evolutionary theory
– We were skeptical of the theory that affectional bonding evolved from infant/caregiver attachment.
– One of the arguments was that they both involve oxytocin. As described in the paper, oxytocin is involved in many different processes, so we were unconvinced of this as evidence of a link.
– Most of the evidence came from animal research, but the applicability to humans was unclear.
– The paper was reliant on the infant/caregiver theory to argue that there was no reason for affectional bonding to be intrinsically oriented to any gender. However, even if one evolved from the other does not mean that they operate the same way.
– The paper also seems to have a narrow view of what is evolutionarily beneficial, for both romantic attachment and sexual desire. It takes for granted that sexual desire mainly serves the purpose of reproduction.
– There are also the usual criticisms of evolutionary psychology, such as the importance of neutral evolution, and pleiotropy.

The bidirectional link
– The paper argues that the bidirectional link between sex and romance is stronger among women. Some of the evidence for this was dubious, including an opinion poll of undergraduates, and a longitudinal study of lesbian women–without any comparable study of men.
– The paper argued that sexual relationships “trump” non-sexual romantic attachments, based on a mix of anecdotes and animal data.
– The paper briefly mentions the implications on sexual dysfunction, although we didn’t appreciate how this hearkens back to the idea that if people have a sexual dysfunction it must trace to a problem in their romantic life.

Comparing to ace community understanding
– The paper frames romantic and sexual attachments are fundamentally distinct, but supposes that “the boundary between same-gender friendship and infatuation might be relatively permeable”. This contrasts with how aces talk about romance and friendship as being just as distinct.
– Although discussed only in relation to straight and gay people, the article argued for the idea that sexual desires may develop as a result of affectional bonding. We noticed that this idea parallels narratives of demisexuality.
– There was a section talking about “unusually intimate” friendships documented by anthropologists. These are described as “platonic”, in the sense of being nonsexual. The term “smash” caught our eye, because its etymology seems similar to “squish”.
– The paper notes that what is usually called sexual orientation would be more technically accurate to call sexual-romantic orientation.

Interesting claims and remarks
-The paper says that in order to study romantic love “one must first decide what type of romantic love should be investigated.” It notes the distinction between infatuation and companionate love, but doesn’t discuss this further.
– Some of the claims about common assumptions seemed off to us. For instance, it claimed that the conventional wisdom is that sexual desire leads to romantic attachment and not vice versa. It referred to “the common assumption that sexual desire is a more basic, biologically mediated phenomenon than is romantic love”. These might be common views among sexologists, but not in general.
– The paper seems to view affectional bonding as driven by time together, and touch, but we thought this might be reversing cause and effect.
– The paper theorizes that repeated positive experiences might be capable of “restructuring” romantic-sexual orientation.

About Siggy

Siggy is an ace activist based in the U.S. He is gay gray-A, and has a Ph.D. in physics. He has another blog where he also talks about math, philosophy, godlessness, and social criticism. His other hobbies include board games and origami.
This entry was posted in Articles, Modeling, Research, romantic orientation and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

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