origin of the “romantic orientation” model?


So I’ve seen some tumblr conflict going on over whether the idea of separate romantic & sexual orientations promotes homophobia (don’t ask; I’m not going to link anything because I can barely remove my palm from my face long enough to type this) and in response… I’ve seen people saying that the idea of romantic orientation was created by ACES for only ACES to use and NO ONE ELSE, and, uh.

  1. I support allos having access to that model if it’s useful to them, which it can be, and
  2. Is that even true?  I vaguely remember being told that the concept — then called “affectional orientation” — actually originated in the bisexual community.

Anyone have any more information on the exact origins?

23 responses to “origin of the “romantic orientation” model?

  • Siggy

    First thing to try is a search! I found this AVEN thread… which for the record I have no memory of participating in. It sounds like romantic orientation terms originated in HHA in 2002 and were widespread by 2004. The idea of romantic orientation slightly predates the words for it.

    I think it originated independently of affectional orientation, although the parallels have been obvious for a long time. In my recollection, in 2009, there was a Wikipedia article for affectional orientation, and searching for romantic orientation would simply redirect you to that one. It seems that now there is only an article for romantic orientation, and searching for affectional orientation redirects you to that one.

  • mintythings

    I don’t know anything specific about the origins of the idea of romantic orientation, but I have definitely heard bi/pansexual people use the basic idea, if not the current terminology. It’s been on my mind lately, because I’ve seen some facepalm-y posts about this, too.

  • Sennkestra

    I’d have to do some hunting to be sure, but as far as I can tell it’s case of bisexual and asexual communities both independently generating very similar concepts (and in the case of the less centralized bisexual communities, it’s probably been innovated multiple times, though they seem to discuss it less formally than ace communities do). One of the earliest formalized non-ace examples I’ve encountered is research from Lisa Diamond in 2003 about the idea of “affectional attraction” (similar but not identical to what we might call romantic attraction). The paper makes no mention of asexual communities, but it is around the same time that ace communities were developing this kind of language .(I’ve seen reference to Diamond’s work in ace communities, but not until later – more “hey look she says what we already say, rather than “this is a good idea lets start using it”)

    What Id’ be interested in learning more about is the history of these concepts in bisexual and other spaces – I know discussions about romantic/affectional vs. sexual attraction happen, and I’ve encountered a few examples (from research like Diamond’s to more casual mentions in conversation), but I don’t have much familiarity with how common those discussions are overall, unlike the familiarity I have with the ace community .It seems both less widespread and to have more variations in how it’s expressed, which makes sense for a much less centralized group of people.

    • Sennkestra

      My completely unresearched personal suspicions are that bi communities have been discussing the concept before ace communities were, simply because of the relative ages of the two communities, but those discussions never caught on the way as standard discourse the way they did in ace communities, so they may take some digging to find.

      • mintythings

        This is also my guess, from my not-very-widespread experience with lgbtq communities online. I know I’ve heard plenty of conversations about romantic attraction and sexual attraction not matching up, but it was never a very big topic of conversation, and it was never very… codified? There wasn’t a standard set of words for talking about it, at least not among the people I knew.
        It tended to come up along with conversations about ID’ing as bi but being attracted to one gender more often than others. And that’s a topic a lot of bi people feel somewhat uncomfortable about discussing, I think, for fear of someone telling them they’re not really bi.

      • queenieofaces

        Anecdata, but I’ve spoken to bi folks who were using the concept of affectational orientation (not sure if they were using those exact words, but the concept was pretty much the same) in bi communities in the 90s. So, yes, predating ace usage.

  • Sennkestra

    Also, in all the discussions about romantic orientation that I’ve seen in ace communities since I joined, the assumption has been that romantic orientations are something everyone has, they just don’t notice much if their romantic and sexual orientations match. Again, I’d have to dig to be sure, but I’m pretty sure it was NOT created as an ace only concept.

  • Sennkestra

    Did some poking around in the HHA archives: https://groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/havenforthehumanamoeba/info

    In the very earliest discourse on HHA and My life as an Amoeba, the term “romantic” is actually often conflated with “sexual”, so you get statements like “I consider a romantic relationship a platonic or nonsexual relationship accelerated and made “active” by sexual attraction” (bloodieredcommie, aka David Jay, Aug 2001)

    Discussion of whether it’s possible to have “romantic” relationships without sex/sexual attraction, as well as discussion about asexuals who might want “romantic” but non-sexual relationships seems like it first sort of starts around November 2001.

    The first mention of separating sexual and romantic attractions (in this case, “sex drive” and “romantic drive”) that I can find is from January 2002 (and the word hetero-romantic is used!): https://groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/havenforthehumanamoeba/conversations/messages/622

    That post and a few after it seem to kick of discussion about romance and romantic relationhips, which as far as I can tell seems to be the earliest origin of the theory of “romantic attraction” – and in the posts I looked at, it seems to have been an original “what if”, with no roots in bi discourse.

    (for bonus fun, the first mention of “aromantic” that I could find was actually in reference to a something like a non-asexual but aromantic person: https://groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/havenforthehumanamoeba/conversations/messages/1165 )

    THe discussion on HHA is off and on, and I didn’t find any mentions of the specific phrases like “romantic attraction” or “romantic attraction” or “homoromantic” etc., so I expect that the final fleshed out theory and terminology solidified over on AVEN, which could be a fun little research project for someone. (AVEN’s early archives are also searchable, it just takes a little more work)

    I will note though that the idea of romantic vs. sexual attraction shows up in the earliest version of the AVEN “Big FAQ” that I can find, from February 2003: http://web.archive.org/web/20030225191733/http://www.asexuality.org/bigfaq.htm . At this point romantic orientation is sort of being discussed, but it looks like the phrasing isn’t fleshed out as much yet.

    • Coyote

      Interesting. So no talk of it being ace-only?

      • Sennkestra

        Not that I saw, although I’d have to sit down and actually read things in full to get a better sense, which is probably a full weekend project. I might add that to my to-do list.

        But generally, yeah, it’s currently looking (like I suspected) like it was never intended to be an ace only topic. And it definitely wasn’t considered an ace-only topic back in 2010 when I found ace communities, so even if it was at some point it would be moot point for current arguments.

  • Sciatrix

    I had always assumed that it was borrowed from bi communities through David Jay or Nat Titman, who were both active in local queer communities–I know Nat Titman in particular was around in bisexual communities at some point, if I remember right–and were also active on early asexual communities. The concept got taken but the names got changed. Asexual communities used to refer to affectional orientation fairly commonly but this later got changed to romantic orientation, which was I think more intuitive to people. All of that is “off-the-top-of-my-head” style memory, though.

    It’s never been considered an ace-only topic that I’m aware of, either, and I was actually surprised when I began to run into allo queer people starting around 2011 who asked me if it was “okay” for them to borrow the concept. The way I had always heard it framed was “everyone has both romantic and sexual orientation; just, in most people (though not all) they happen to match up, so it’s not as important to discuss them as separate entities.”

    • Sennkestra

      I wouldn’t be surprised if Nat was involved – I haven’t gone through the AVEN or LJ archives (the main areas they seemed to be involved with) yet, so I have no idea what went down there or whether either of those sites brought up the idea before HHA did/ unrelatedly to HHA.

      As far as DJ goes, I don’t think it initially came from him (though he may have helped spread it later) since when the topic first comes up in the HHA archives he seems kinda skeptical lol.

      It’s funny sometimes to see messages from people I know now in these old archives, since a lot of the ideas and terminology and things have changed so much over time.

  • Carmilla DeWinter

    Total aside? I’ve been writing allosexual aromantic characters before I knew about those concepts. Obviously I made observations that supported the idea that aro allosexuals exist and that there’s no reason to shame them for not being into romance.

  • Kat

    The earliest reference to affectional orientation that I have found come from 1959 from the Section of Individual Rights and Responsibilities Newsletter, which reads, “Rather, child custody cases should be evaluated solely on the merits of which party is the better parent, without regard to that person’s sexual and affectional orientation.” Similar texts can be found throughout the 1970s, where the phrases “sexual and/or affectional orientation” show up in other forms of model legislation. Reference to the idea of cross or mixed orientations seems to start in 1982, with this intriguing snippet from “Counseling lesbian women and gay men: a life-issues approach” by A. Elfin Moses and ‎Robert O. Hawkins, “If this same woman also has no gender preference for affectional relationships, then her physical and affectional orientation components are ambisexual. If a man prefers sexual relationships with another man and prefers affectional relationships with a woman, then his physical orientation orientation would be homoerotic and his affectional orientation would be heteroerotic” and elsewhere distinguish both sexual and affectional orientation from “fantasy orientation.” By the 1990s this definition is reasonably common, albeit within fairly niche publications.

    Romantic orientation has a more complicated history, as expected given the etymology of “romance.” It began as a description of one’s attitude towards the Romantic movement and its values, then became associated with a prioritization of romance (as opposed to work/family or commitment/arranged marriage/conjugal love/realistic love or sex – a similar distinction exists for affectional orientation vs sexual orientation as historical description of prioritization a la “boys have a psychosexual orientation, girls have a psychoaffectional orientation” but was less common), then became associated with leadership style/idealization, etc. Google books pulls up a promising reference to the book “Romantic Orientation and Reproductive Behavior” from 1965 but doesn’t show the text so it’s hard to tell what context was meant. Basically, the references I can find prior to 2002 are ambiguous or unrelated to the meaning developed in ace discourse (aside from the recognition of multiple relationship styles, even among married couples). I did manage to find an additional reference supporting the 2002 origin, namely the wikipedia page “romantic orientation” was created (likely by a bot) in 2002: https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Romantic_orientation&oldid=958625

    I’d like to also reiterate the third possibility that these concepts were understood in some form but were conflated with sexual orientation. People have used their sexual orientation to refer to romantic attraction rather than sexual attraction. There have been a couple of posts on this (links seem to be dead now though), there’s also Boston Marriages: Romantic But Asexual Relationships Among Contemporary Lesbians by Esther D. Rothblum and Kathleen A. Brehony from 1993 seems like a promising lead.

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