The real difference between romantic and sexual attraction

Most people assume that there are two zones when it comes to relationships: the friend zone and the romantic zone. Either you enjoy someone's company, but wrinkle your nose at the thought of a goodnight kiss, or you've already planned out in your mind the names of your future children. Well, we're about to blow your minds, because there are actually three relationship zones, not two. There's the friend zone, the romantic zone, and the sexual zone. All three of these zones can overlap... but sometimes, they don't. 

"You can experience sexual attraction to someone but not have a romantic interest in them — a casual hook-up is a good example," Jor-El Caraballo, co-creator of holistic wellness center Viva Wellness and LGBTQ therapist, told Bustle. "And vice versa, you may have a strong affection for someone but not necessarily desire a sexual relationship with that person." To make things even more confusing, your sexual orientation can differ from your romantic orientation, Caraballo added. So you might only want to marry a man, but sexually, you're mainly turned on by women. "People can have a variety of orientations," he said. "Sexuality is one orientation. Romantic orientation is another."

How to tell whether you're physically or romantically attracted to someone

So what's the difference between sexual and romantic attraction? Sexual, or physical, attraction, is based on physical things... their looks, their smell, maybe even the tone of their voice (via Elite Daily). Romantic, or emotional, attraction, meanwhile, is based on personal traits and character. "This emotional attraction really reflects this sometimes-instant ability to relate on a different level and connect, to feel understood and cared about," licensed psychotherapist Rachel Perlstein told Healthline. "Emotional attraction is important because it's reflective of deep connection and often happens when someone feels truly seen and heard by someone."  

Indeed, some people prefer a romantic attraction over a sexual one because they prefer a comfortable partnership to the intensity that can come from sheer lust. "We often feel safest with people who don't do much for us on a physical... level because it just feels more comfortable — but the downside can be boredom, frustration, and a lack of passion," noted licensed clinical social worker Ken Page in Psychology Today.

If you're really lucky, a strong sexual attraction will come from an emotional connection. Then, you'll have the best of both worlds. "Our minds like balance," mental health counselor Lily Ewing explained to Healthline. "So if we're feeling the butterflies about someone who is funny, smart, and kind, we soon will start to appreciate more and more about their physical appearance. When both are in place, the sexual attraction sparks begin to fly."