Are Romantic and Sexual Orientation the Same?

Sometimes, sexual and romantic attraction aren't linked. This can cause you to feel an emotional connection to someone, but not sexual attraction. Find out more here.
Are Romantic and Sexual Orientation the Same?
Valeria Sabater

Written and verified by the psychologist Valeria Sabater.

Last update: 11 June, 2024

Romantic and sexual orientation often coincide and you feel an intense and deep sexual-affective connection with someone. On the other hand, you might experience an overwhelming fascination and emotional attachment to somebody but feel no physical desire or attraction to them at all. This can happen with people of any gender.

Nothing is as chaotic, unique, and dazzling as the world of love and affection. So, knowing how to differentiate between the spheres of the romantic and the sexual is both reassuring and enlightening. Indeed, you may find it surprising that you can create romantic bonds with someone without the variable of sexuality.

Let’s find out how each of these dimensions differs.

We’ve all been sexually attracted to people with whom we weren’t emotionally connected. The opposite is also common.

Sexual orientation: who you are and who you’re sexually attracted to

In the narrative of human relationships, we tend to assume that those who attract us romantically also do so sexually. However, it’s not like that. What’s more, many of us are physically attracted to those with whom we have no emotional connections. Indeed, it’s frequently considered that a relationship can consist of sex and nothing more.

When this happens, it’s often because the individual’s romantic and sexual orientation aren’t in sync. Research published in the journal, Current Psychology, states that it’s essential to distinguish romantic orientation from sexual orientation, since they present different mechanisms and give way to alternative bonding behaviors and styles.

Let’s continue exploring sexual orientation.

The definition of sexual orientation and its categories

Sexual orientation defines who you’re physically and sexually attracted to. In this dimension, romantic attraction may or may not appear. But, as you can well imagine, the fullest and most satisfying relationships are achieved when both spheres are in tune.

The way in which you relate to others when it comes to affective sex shapes a series of categories. They’re as follows:

  • Bisexuality. An attraction to both sexes.
  • Asexuality. Sexual attraction is excluded. (It doesn’t exist).
  • Heterosexuality. Attraction to people of different sex.
  • Homosexuality. Attraction to people of the same sex.
  • Pansexuality. Attraction to any gender identity.

Sexual orientation and gender identity aren’t the same

An article published in The Journal of Neuroendocrinology explains that sexual identity and sexual orientation are different components. Sometimes, they’re correlated and adjusted to the individual’s genital sex, but we must emphasize that this isn’t always the case.

Therefore, while sexual orientation refers to who you’re sexually attracted to, gender identity defines who you are.

Sexual orientation is about who you’re sexually attracted to. Gender identity is who you are.

Romantic orientation: the non-sexual emotional bond

Throughout history, we’ve conceived romantic love as an expression of passion and sexuality. The classic works of anthropologist, Helen Fisher, such as Why We Love (2004) and a study published in Frontiers in Psychology propose an evolutionary vision associated with human reproduction.

However, the main difference between romantic orientation and sexual orientation is that sexuality, desire, or physical attraction aren’t always present in the former. As explained in an analysis published in Current Directions in Psychological Science, they’re different subjective experiences with different neurobiological substrates.

Romantic orientation

Romantic orientation defines the emotional, intellectual, and romantic connection that you might feel for someone. Sexual desire may or may not appear. It’s usually manifested in a type of bond that, in many cases, causes a contradiction. For instance, feeling emotional attraction to someone who isn’t in sync with your gender identity.

If you’re heterosexual, you can still feel significant closeness and intimacy with someone of your sex. This type of orientation is typical in asexual people. The categories of romantic orientation are as follows:

  • Homoromantic. Romantic attraction to people of the same gender.
  • Biromantic. Romantic attraction toward people of the same and different gender.
  • Heteroromantics. Romantic attraction to people of a different gender binary.
  • Panromantic. Romantic attraction to people of all genders.
  • Demiromantic. People who need to take their time to experience genuine romantic attractions and develop closer bonds.

The impact of romantic orientation

One of the differences between romantic orientation and sexual orientation is that the second usually brings fewer problems than the first. It’s also easier to understand. For instance, you may have a really strong romantic connection with someone but you don’t want to have sex with them. But, this might be disturbing for them.

In fact, it’s more frequent to have sexual encounters with people you don’t love. Moreover, a romantic relationship is more complicated without the variable of sex. It’s strange and contradictory and might even lead you to wonder if there’s something wrong with you (there isn’t). Remember, it’s possible to love someone without there being a sexual attraction.

Relationships based exclusively on romantic affectivity always start with good communication and agreements. It’s the only way you can avoid discrepancies and suffering.

Being biromantic, heteroromantic, or homoromantic requires clarifying who you’re attracted to on an affective level and what your interests are. It’s always advisable to inform someone if you’re not interested in them sexually to avoid any future problems.

The main differences between romantic orientation and sexual orientation

Recognizing your gender identity and sexual orientation is important. The fact that society is advancing in this regard is both beneficial and hopeful. But, there’s another step to overcome. It’s the recognition that romantic and sexual orientation don’t always go hand in hand. In fact, love is conjugated in many ways but, as long as there’s respect, it’s okay.

In short, the two distinctions are defined as follows:

  • Sexual orientation defines who you feel sexual attraction and desire for. You may or may not feel romantic interest.
  • Romantic orientation defines your affective and emotional connection to other people, without the existence of sexual desire. In romantic orientation, emotional and intellectual attraction is possible toward those who are not of the same sexual orientation as you.

Finally, if you’re experiencing any doubts or concerns in this regard, you can always consult certain organizations and groups. There are also psychologists specialized in gender identity and affective relationships, who can alleviate your fears and problems. After all, loving offers fulfillment in your life so you need to be able to love without fear.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.