For a long time people have been trying to differentiate the ways in which people may feel for others with a limited vocabulary. I remember when bisexual went from being understood by the general public as an orientation where an individual switched off from liking one gender to another gender and as an orientation where your attractions were equal towards both genders to an orientation that branched out to include other genders (as well as the creation of the term pansexual), and the realization that not every bisexual person felt the same way about each gender (perhaps showing more physical attraction towards one or another). We learned that our emotions and our attractions are on a spectrum – or fluid – just like gender. It is within this realization that people decided there needed to be more terms to properly describe or explain these differences within individuals.
It was also in part society’s understanding that sex and love are not the same thing. Once we broke away from the traditional view that sex had to be conducted within love, and that love wasn’t true without sex, we were able to expand our view on human connections. Expand our understanding of different types of love, and different forms and purposes of sex. Both love and sex hold an important role in relationships, but they do NOT have to co-exist to guarantee that the relationship is a happy or healthy one. Sex is good and healthy for you all on its own, as is love. A relationship without sex can be just as beneficial and rewarding as one with sex, sometimes even more so. The same is true in reverse. It all depends on the individuals involved, and what they want and need.
One’s sexuality includes all aspects of your sexual being. And we ARE sexual beings. Sex is part of who we are. It’s how we are created, and how we create. It’s who we are. Sex hormones play a big role in the way we look physically, and the way we feel emotionally. In no small part, this also means it contributes drastically to the way in which we are sexually (or physically) drawn to other humans. When we talk about someone’s sexual orientation we typically combine both our sexual and romantic endeavours, or desires, and conclude that only those who we feel both sexual and romantic attraction for determine what our sexual orientation is. Often times this leads to people saying they are homosexual (even if they occasionally sleep with people of the opposite sex), or vice versa with heterosexual. Viewing our sexual orientation in this way is backtracking as it’s condensing a lot of complexity into one inaccurate label. Though labels can mean slightly different things to different people, it is a fact that our sexual attractions do not always match our romantic ones.
A good example of this is when people form monogamish relationships, or claim monogamy even when they conduct sexual activity outside of their relationship. It’s possible to have romantic feelings for just one person, but also have the desire to engage sexually with others (whether all at once or individually). In the same regard, it is possible to love one gender romantically but to feel sexual attraction towards all genders, or no genders. It’s also possible to be romantically attracted to only one gender and sexually attracted to only one gender, but where those genders are not the same. Each individual is different, and it’s not up to us to police people’s sexualities. It IS, however, our place to help provide new language for those who feel they are at a loss for adequate ways to express who they are to themselves, or to others (recognizing that the ultimate decision on which labels to use is up to the individual and not to you).
Your romantic feelings, and the way they are conveyed, in contrast to your sexuality, include all ways in which you are (or want to be) romantically involved with others (with or without sex). In this instance it is our desires for relationship building, and/or our hopes for companionship and other close connection-types that drives our romanticity. Hormones also play a part, just as they do with our sexualities. Hormones like oxytocin contribute to both our sexuality and romanticity. Oxytocin is said to be directly responsible for ‘pair bonding’ – the bonding between mothers and infants, as well as between adult partners. It plays a crucial role in the sexual response cycle. And during sex the mere act of touching or caressing can cause a spike in the oxytocin levels in the body. This article – “What Happens In Your Brain On A Chemical Level When You Fall In Love, According To Science” – is pretty direct in the way it explains the role of oxytocin, and other hormones and chemicals (like adrenaline, testosterone, estrogen, dopamine, serotonin, and vasopressin) when it comes to falling in love. Read the article, here.
One’s ability to feel romantically drawn towards an individual may grow in unison with their sexual desire for that person, but the two things are not concretely linked, and each attraction can exist on its own (or at a different level than the other). This is one reason friends, who have no sexual attraction towards each other, may choose to be partners and get married or have children together. Your want to grow romantically with someone is a whole and valid want/feeling/attraction outside of your sexuality. This is especially true for those of us who are asexual (in particular, those who feel very low to no sexual arousal), as it helps establish the fact that it is possible to have a happy and healthy, as well as meaningful and deep, romantic relationship with another individual without any sexual activity whatsoever.
Orientation vs. Preference
Here is where things get slightly more complicated. It, honestly, is very simple…but often these two terms are confused. An individual’s orientation is who they are. It’s their natural state of existing. Preferences can be the same or different than your orientation. In the context of sexuality and romanticity, this could be something as simple as an extension of an orientation (like being sexually attracted to only men, but having a preference for hairy men); OR your preferences could be in direct opposition with your orientation (like a lesbian who prefers having sex with a penis, and thus chooses trans or male partners, or uses dildos during sex). Neither of these situations makes the person less of what their orientation states they are. Someone who prefers hairy men is still attracted to men. And a woman who likes to have sex with a penis is no less sexually or romantically attracted to women. Our preferences may be different than our orientations, but they do not invalidate them. And that’s important to note! [Preferences can sometimes also be considered kinks.]
With so much variety it can be hard not to get lost in a list of labels. So here’s a way to simplify it for you… Your sexual orientation is who you’re naturally sexually attracted to. Your romantic orientation is who you’re naturally romantically attracted to. And anything other than your natural orientation is a preference. Here are lists of sexual and romantic orientation labels for your own reference:
- Asexual (Demisexual, Graysexual, etc.)
- Bisexual (Bi)
- Panseuxal (Pan)
- Homosexual (Gay Men & Lesbians/Gay Women)
NOTE: Any prefix that is used for a sexual orientation can also be used for a romantic orientation, and vice versa. There is a connecting line between sexuality and romanticity, as the same things that cause sexual attraction can cause romantic attraction. The variety is the same, the context is simply different.