Once more, from the top: The term “split attraction model” came from anti-ace and anti-bi reactionaries on Tumblr. In this post, I rehash why this is relevant to explain and then link specific sources that demonstrate the nature of its origins. If you’ve been using the term unironically/without scare quotes, then I’d kindly ask for you to stop.
Why even talk about this?
Those of you who follow my WP blog might be wondering why I’m revisiting the subject now. Last year, I already wrote three different posts on why romantic orientation and the “SAM” aren’t the same thing, some problems with “SAM”/”non-SAM” terminology (summarized by Siggy here), and a mini history of different types of attraction. I’ve since come to the conclusion that those first two could use revisions, but I want to keep them up as a record of how certain conversations unfolded.
I’m writing this here as a more tightly-focused post to address a few other things that have come up since then. Most recently, Lib has noticed that the term “SAM” has a PR problem, and I want to explain why that problem is intertwined with the term itself. Also on Twitter, the FYA account recently asserted its supposed origins, ostensibly in reference to this flawed historicallyace post. And then there’s AUREA’s post, which draws on my posts and then tries to detract from them by bringing in some questionable evidence. This is apparently the approach they prefer to just using the comment section, and their own post doesn’t have a comment section, so I’m following their lead here and responding with a new post of my own.
The term “split attraction model” comes from anti-ace, anti-bi reactionaries.
This term first emerged in 2015 in a highly specific discursive context. Many of the original posts have since been lost to deactivation, deletion, and URL changes, but a friend of mine has helpfully dug up some representative posts that still remain online, and I’ve since tracked down a few more. Here are some of the relevant excerpts, with links:
- “i got a prollem w ppl splitting a complex sociocultural influenced ting like attraction into only two distinct experiences that ppl present as inherently unrelated all the time.” (approx. 3/25/15)
- “the split attraction model plays into homophobia and particularly lesbophobia […] the idea that sexuality refers only to sex (as in the split-attraction model) is a homophobic invention“ (approx. 5/10/15)
- “Again, the split attractions idea does apply to some people. But the model in which sexual and romantic attractions are intrinsically different is not.” (approx. 6/25/15) [note the tags on this reblog: #i was relieved to find the terms ‘homoromantic bisexual’ and ‘biromantic homosexual’ in my late teens #it made telling myself that i’m not gay so much easier #i would’ve been better off if i’d been told that it’s ok to be lesbian #rather than ‘are you *sure* you’e not attracted to men in xyz way’]
- “split attraction model is the idea that every single person experiences romantic/platonic/sexual/aesthetic/sensual attraction entirely separately and identifies every single LGBT+ person using that as a guide […] using that model to label & categorize non-ace identifying people can be really, really messy.” (7/22/15)
- * “i don’t think the split attraction model does anything but force confused young girls to include attraction to men as a part of their orientation” (7/22/15)
- * “the split attraction model puts all LGBT people – including ace spectrum folks – in a position where they are required to share personal, sensitive information about themselves publicly and bc of that it will never truly be a functional means of identification.” (7/22/15)
- * “new ideas like ‘heterosensual’ are a symptom of the pushing of the universal split-attraction model, which itself has homophobic roots.” (approx. 7/25/15)
- * “No one goes by the split model of attraction because it has no basis in fact, it has no studies to back it up, no statistics, absolutely nothing, just people who assert it so they can disavow their straight privilege and claim they’re queer.” (7/25/15)
- * “the split attractions model encourages the maintenance of internalized homophobia“ (approx. 7/27/15)
- * “I do not care nor have time for homophobic heteros no matter their ‘other attraction’ as if the bullshit split attraction model has any use outside of ace/aro spectrums.” (8/10/25)
- * “idk it just feels extremely inappropriate for ace/aro people to champion the split attraction model, even when it is flawed, suggest everyone use it and pressure them to do so” (8/11/15)
- * “honestly i am so full of regret for how much time i wasted trying to split my feelings into categories like ‘aesthetic’ or ‘romantic’ or ‘sexual’ attraction so that […] i could still avoid the dreaded term lesbian […] #mogai shit and the split attraction model fucked me up and i have zero tolerance” (8/25/15)
- “the split attraction model is homophobic. thats because people outside the acearo community are using it to excuse their homophobia. the split attraction model is used by the ACEARO community because often the DEGREES to which they feel sexual attraction and romantic attraction DO NOT ALWAYS LINE UP. an individual may be completely asexual, but experience romantic attraction, which is why the model was made: so people on the ASEXUAL and/or AROMANTIC spectrums could have better, more defining labels.” (8/31/15)
- * “Perhaps the most tragic part of this split attraction nonsense is […] they’re just repackaging ancient homophobic bullshit (internalized homophobia and compulsory heterosexuality)” (9/4/15)
- * “if you aren’t ace and/or aro u shouldn’t be using split attraction models, period” (9/4/15)
- * “why do MOGAI’s and proponents of split attraction models (outside of ace and aro identities) try so hard to claim that theyre not homophobic“ (9/11/15)
- * “the split attraction model is flawed and causes people to try and fit a square peg into a round hole.” (9/13/15)
- * “…’why can’t i use the split attraction model for everyone?’ […] if u have said any of these things the discourse/theory you’ve been reading is homophobic at its core.” (9/16/15)
- * “I find it really suspicious how this site applies the ‘split-attraction model’ bs to lgbt [sexualities] waaay more often than straight people’s sexuality. It really seems like a ‘progressive’ rebranding of the idea that lgbt relationships are either purely lust-filled frenzies of hedonism with no heart, or they’re idealized, romantic (but not sexual!) pure ‘love-friendships’ so long as they don’t stain themselves with icky gay sex” (11/25/15)
- * “You can’t pretend things like the split attraction model are only being used by individuals to ID themselves and it’s at everyone’s discretion. Nope, mogai discourse is being adopted as the newest and best interpretation of things, despite insistence by many many lgbt folks that these models and ways of thinking and speaking about gender and sexuality are harmful and unhelpful to lgbt justice.” (approx. 12/4/15)
- * “when we’re talking about constructions like ‘heteroromantic bisexual’ especially with young people, it’s important to remember that we live in a society that devalues every conceivable type of relationship between women, and basically sees romance between women as an impossibility. Promoting this dichotomous split between sexual and romantic attraction has the potential to enforce that notion.” (approx. 12/13/15)
Note the patterns here:
- accusations of homophobia, sometimes framed in terms of internalization or a threat to those who are questioning
- objecting to universalization, meaning criticism of blanket statements and overgeneralizing
- anti-bi alarmism, framing the mere concept of mixed orientation labels (especially bi/pan ones or “contradictory” ones) as a threat to gay people
- ace/aro exceptions, i.e. attempting to restrict and contain the “split attraction model” as only acceptable for aces and aros to use but otherwise a dangerous contaminant to everyone else
- scrutiny of ace language more generally — see for instance this post where criticism of the “split attraction model” is talked about alongside criticism of “allosexual,” or this post which does the same
For these reason, I am describing these original uses as the backlash of anti-ace and anti-bi reactionaries who were responding to (sometimes overgeneralized) uses of attraction subtyping and romantic orientation labeling.
So if you’re noticing that the term keeps being attacked by people who keep calling it “homophobic,” that’s because that itself is its original purpose. Pre-criticism uses of the term “split attraction model” do not exist. When you embrace that term instead of the more complex original language it was meant to seize control over, you are giving ground to these ideas and letting them dictate the terms of the conversation.
If not that, then what?
For an explanation of what other terminology you can use instead, I recommend Sennkestra’s post on differentiating attraction/orientations. Note that if what you’re talking about is specifically romantic orientation, you can also just say “romantic orientation.” If your impulse is to simply continue to use “SAM” as if it can be neutral, please consider the complications that make that inadvisable.