Writing With the Split Attraction Model

Writing With the Split Attraction Model

Welcome back to Queering the Narrative!

A little while ago, I wrote a series on writing asexual characters, in which I made references to the various different ways that humans can experience attraction. However, in those articles, I didn’t dive too deeply into what those different ways are. So this week, I want to go into more detail on the “split attraction model, and give some guidance on how to use it in your writing!

What is the “Split Attraction Model?”

The Split Attraction Model is a way of conceptualizing various different types of attraction. Created by and most popular in asexual-spectrum (a-spec) communities, the Split Attraction Model helps folx parse out and differentiate between what types of attraction they do and do not experience, and provides a framework for discussing that with allosexual folx.

Though the ideas of split attraction were developed by the a-spec community, the term was briefly hijacked in the mid-2010s by ace-exclusionists, who mistakenly believed that the model was to be applied to all orientations. This confusion led to some people, especially young sapphic folx, separating out their authentic attraction to women and an attraction to men prompted by compulsive heterosexuality. Such individuals (including some of my own friends growing up) self-identified as such things as “bisexual heteroromantic” — feeling sexual attraction to those of the same sex, but not feeling they could ever be in a relationship with them

While this is indeed a legitimate usage of the split attraction model for some, for others it was another iteration of compulsive heterosexuality, which can be particularly harmful to young people wrestling with their orientations. However, this confusion doesn’t mean that the split attraction model itself is bad, only that it must be understood as flexible, fluid, and opt-in.

We should make space for young people to explore each facet of their attraction independently, while also acknowledging the societal pressures that may be guiding them toward certain conclusions. We also must acknowledge that the split attraction model can be extremely powerful for many a-spec folx — like those that experience romantic but not sexual attraction, or those who consider aesthetic or platonic attraction the most important aspects of their orientation. That alone means we cannot rule it out entirely!

The Different Types of Attraction.

The core of the split attraction model is that attraction can be broken down into multiple types and subtypes.

Physical Attraction

Physical attraction broadly refers to the desire for a physical bond with an individual, and/or attraction to physical aspects of an individual. Broadly speaking, there are three main types of physical attraction.

image of a pride flag used for physical attraction. Two overlapping diamonds in front of a series of horizontal stripes. The stripes from top to bottom are pink, tan, peach, orange, red, white, red, orange, peach, tan, pink.
A pride flag created for physical attraction

Sexual Attraction is the term many people are most familiar with, referring to a desire to have sexual contact with another individual. This may involve intercourse, as well as other forms of sexual contact, and is often associated with giving and/or receiving pleasure. Sexual attraction can be related to nearly any physical characteristic, including appearance, clothing, voice, movements, or body language. Sexual attraction can also be inspired by other forms of attraction, both emotional and physical.

Aesthetic Attraction is an attraction to an individual’s appearance. This attraction is distinct from sexual attraction in that it does not inherently lead to desire for sexual contact with the object of aesthetic attraction. Instead, aesthetic attraction describes a desire to observe another individual, the same way one might observe a painting or a sunset. In allosexual folx, this is often paired with sexual attraction, but doesn’t have to be!

Sensual Attraction is attraction based on the senses, most often touch. Generally, this refers to a desire for non-sexual intimacy with another — such as cuddling, massage, or playing with someone’s hair. This intimacy or comfort might also be derived from the way someone smells or the sound of their voice. Basically, sensual attraction is most easily understood to be a desire for casual intimacy that need not evolve into something sexual — snuggling while sleeping, cuddling on the couch to watch a movie, or getting a shoulder rub after a hard day at work.

Emotional Attraction

Emotional attraction describes attraction to non-physical aspects of another individual, usually rooted in an emotional response to their presence that does not necessarily involve a desire for physical contact.

Image of a pride flag used for emotional attraction, featuring a circular section set within a field of grayish-blue. Inside the circle are wide stripes, from top to bottom, colored light pink, dark pink, purple, and dark purple, with narrow white stripes in between each. Overtop the stripes is a rainbow-colored three leaf clover.
A pride flag used for emotional attraction

Romantic Attraction is the most commonly understood form of emotional attraction. This is a desire to form a romantic relationship with someone — a somewhat hard to define term, which usually involves both emotional and physical closeness, sharing of burdens, cohabitation, and mutual support. Romantic relationships can, but do not need to, involve sexual intimacy. Usually, it’s up to a particular grouping of people whether or not they would define their relationship as romantic.

Platonic Attraction is a desire to form a friendship with another individual. These connections can be deep, meaningful, and lifelong, but are usually considered distinct from romantic attraction. If you’ve ever had a “friend crush” on someone — a strong desire to hang out and get to know one another better, even if your unaligned schedules make that difficult — then you can get an idea for this sort of attraction!

Queerplatonic Attraction is a term used to describe relationships that blur the line between romantic and platonic relationships. Queerplatonic tends to describe long, committed relationships between two people which operate outside the societal criteria for a romance or a friendship, adopting aspects of each.  An example of this would be two lifelong friends deciding to buy a home and raise a child together. While the two might not experience romantic or sexual attraction to one another, their decision to make such lifelong decisions outside the model of marriage or romantic relationship might define their attraction to one another as “queerplatonic.” This is something of a catch-all term for the models of attraction and relationships which fall outside societal expectations.

Tertiary Attraction

Beyond physical and emotional attraction are a variety of tertiary attractions, also called erriattractions.  Sometimes defined as anything outside of sexual or romantic attraction, this is an extremely long list that I don’t have space to go into here — so I highly recommend reading more here!

Conclusion

Attraction is complicated and multi-faceted. Writing with the split attraction model in mind can be a powerful way to better understand your ace characters, and get a deeper understanding for just how complicated human attraction can be! 

That’s it for this week! I’ll be back next week but until then stay safe, stay healthy, and keep writing!

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