Affectional orientation

Affectional orientation

Affectional orientation (or romantic orientation) is used both alternatively and side-by-side with sexual orientation. [Crethar, H. C. & Vargas, L. A. (2007). "Multicultural intricacies in professional counseling." In J. Gregoire & C. Jungers (Eds.), The counselor’s companion: What every beginning counselor needs to know. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum. ISBN 0805856846. p.61.] It is based on the perspective that sexual attraction is but a single component of a larger dynamic. To holders of this view, one's orientation is defined by whom one is predisposed to fall in love with, whether or not one desires that person sexually. Lately, the predominant use of the term "sexual orientation" is considered to reduce a whole category of desires and emotions, as well as power and connection, to sex.

The term affectional orientation is also used by those who consider themselves asexual and only experience mental, emotional, physical (i.e. sensual, tactile), and/or aesthetic attraction(s). The terms used for different affectional orientations are often the same as those for sexual orientations; though "homoromantic," "biromantic," "heteroromantic," and "aromantic" have gained some popularity. Asexuals sometimes incorporate colloquial terms to describe both the romantic and sexual components of their orientation (e.g. gay-asexual, bi-asexual, and straight-asexual).

There are also those who hold the view that one's orientation is defined by whom one has affection for and that their sexual attraction (or "drive", perhaps more appropriately) is dependent upon affection for another human being's personal qualities, regardless of their sex, gender or even outward appearance altogether. This use of the term does not require falling in love but is still based on a personal affection. One might now consider the phrase "conditional sexual attraction" to describe the experience of those who are otherwise asexual, as opposed to "primary sexual attraction" used to describe people who are "sexual".


Some object to the need for a broader term than sexual orientation as they interpret "sexual" to refer to the sex/gender one desires in a partner, irrespective of desire for any sexual acts with that partner. In other words, they interpret the question of sexual orientation as "towards which of the sexes (hence "sexual") does a person generally lean (hence "orientation") in a partner?" not "which of the sexes does a person prefer to engage sexually?". A counter criticism is that even when used in this broader sense, the term sexual orientation excludes those for whom a person's sex/gender is irrelevant to their attractiveness. The critics would strike back and say that these people simply don't have a sexual orientation but that it does not render the term useless to describe those who do.

Yet another opinion is that human sexuality and identity are so complex that an exhaustive and accurate list of categorizations and labels is impractical if not impossible. Those with this opinion would cite the following example:

"X is a biological male who feels to be a woman trapped inside a man's body. Despite identifying as female in most social aspects, X does enjoy cross-dressing as a male. X has undergone several SRS procedures but the transition is as of yet incomplete. X prefers sexual activities exclusively with biological females who self-identify as males, but has no romantic aspirations with them. X seeks a romantic, sexless, long-term open relationship with another biological male who identifies as female and has undergone full SRS. What is the proper label for X?"



*Wells, J. W. (1989). "Teaching about Gay and Lesbian Sexual and Affectional Orientation Using Explicit Films to Reduce Homophobia". "Journal of Humanistic Education and Development", 28(1),18-34.

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