Romantic Orientation is a term, or group of terms, that refers to the gender(s) one feels romantic attraction to and/or how one feels romantic attraction. Typically, romantic orientation labels are derived using a prefix combined with the suffix "-romantic." For example, aromantic, biromantic, heteroromantic, and demiromantic are all examples of romantic orientations. Other labels that do not use the "-romantic" suffix, such as gay, lesbian, trixic, etc, can also be used to describe one's romantic orientation.
The sexual counterpart is sexual orientation. For most perioriented people sexual orientation is the only label used, as one's romantic orientation can be assumed to be the same unless specified otherwise. Though, for ace-spec, aro-spec, or otherwise varioriented people it is often useful to identify with separate sexual and romantic orientations.
Romantic orientation as an identity concept remains very popular in the aromantic and asexual communities, but its prevalence has sometimes veered into being treated as compulsory. For this reason, some members of the aromantic community have had to push back on this expectation with labels such as aro neu, quoiromantic, and quoisexual.
Early predecessors to the concept of romantic orientation date back over a hundred years. For example, in 1879, Karl Heinrich Ulrichs classified bisexuality into two types: conjunctive and disjunctive bisexuality. The first is described as one who has both "tender" and "passionate" feelings for both men and women. The second is one who has "tender" feelings for the same gender, but "passionate" feelings for the opposite gender.
Later, in 1979, the psychologist Dorothy Tennov published Love and Limerence: The Experience of Being in Love, which described "limerence" (or being "in love") as something distinct from sexuality.
Sometime in the 1980s, the term "affectional orientation" started becoming more common, though the exact origins are unknown. For example, the term was used by J.W. Wells in 1989. Prior to that, it was used in 1959 by the American Bar Association. In its contemporary form, the concept of romantic orientation was popularized by the online asexual community in the early 2000s. For example, it became common for asexuals to identify as gay, bi, or straight to express a partnership preference, and the term "aromantic" entered circulation in asexual spaces around the year 2005.
- Hubert Kennedy, Karl Heinrich Ulrichs: First Theorist of Homosexuality
- Danny Yee, Book Review of Love and Limerence: The Experience of Being in Love
- Wells, J. W. (1989). Teaching about gay lesbian sexual and affectional orientation using explicit films to reduce homophobia. Journal of Humanistic Education and Development, 28, 18-31.
- American Bar Association, Section of Individual Rights and Responsibilities Newsletter, Volumes 1-5, 1959.
- History of the term "Aromantic"