Sexual attraction and romantic attraction are the foundations of a relationship.

Here's The Subtle Difference Between Sexual And Romantic Attraction

Plus, how to turn one into the other.

by Cosmo Luce
Originally Published: 

These days, it can be kind of difficult to tell the difference between sexual and romantic attraction. The hormones released during sex can be intensely bonding on a primal level. When you have a romantic attraction to someone, you also (usually) find them physically attractive. Sometimes, a sexual attraction can legitimately become a romantic attraction. Other times, a purely emotional relationship becomes more sexual the closer you get to someone.

With sexual attraction and romantic attraction often so closely intertwined, how do you know the difference between them? Is there even a difference in the first place? Sexual attraction is generally all about sex, as it is attraction based on sexual desire,” sex therapist Shamyra Howard, LCSW, tells Elite Daily. “Romantic attraction is more about the desire to connect deeper than sex.”

A more subtle difference between a sexual attraction and a romantic one is time. Typically, a sexual attraction is felt right away and dissipates just as quickly as it came. Depending upon your own boundaries, you might not have to know a person well to know that you want to have sex with them. Dating apps like Tinder, in which you basically decide who to match with based off of their appearance, are built around sexual attraction. You don't even have to meet up with someone to be interested in having sex with them.

Can Sexual Attraction Turn Into Romantic Attraction?

Nattakorn Maneerat / EyeEm/EyeEm/Getty Images

There's always a chance that a sexual attraction can build into something more, but also speaking typically, a sexual attraction usually only lasts a few months at most. You might appreciate the person you are spending time with, and you might care about their well being, but still might not be that interested in getting to know them. You can vibe with someone physically and not have any connection to them on an interpersonal level. The laws of attraction get weird like that.

It's easy for us to think that sexual attraction is something more, particularly when those aforementioned hormones and pheromones get involved. Infatuation evolved so that after sex, humans could stay connected to one another for about the same time it takes to raise a child (two years). There’s a deep biological element to the emotional release after sex. But if you didn't have much interest in your hookup before you slept together, and you immediately feel an emotional connection the morning after, then it's safe to say your romantic attraction is operating on a bit of an illusion. Give it a few days and see if you still feel the same.

If you continue to feel an emotional bond with the person you’re sleeping with, this might be a sign of blossoming romantic attraction. “While sexual attraction is more fleeting, sexual and romantic attraction can co-exist, especially in people who are in a relationship or those who are interested in partnering,” Howard says.

How To Tell If You Have Romantic Feelings

If, after a few hours or days apart, your hookup feels distant, then it could mean you were really only sexually attracted to them. But if you can’t get them out of your head and find yourself daydreaming about spending time with them, you might be starting to grow a deeper bond. “If you are having sexual feelings towards a partner and are genuinely interested in creating a bond built on shared beliefs, values, and experiences, then you're likely experiencing both sexual attraction and romantic attraction,” Howard says..

A romantic attraction can take more time to evolve than a sexual attraction. It's more about who the person is than what they look like (although, being romantically attracted to someone will also allow you to see them in their best light). Unlike a sexual attraction, it often feels unexpected. You might become romantically attracted to that friend you have had forever, or you might experience an unexpectedly deep emotional connection to that Tinder match you met up with as an afterthought and had an amazing conversation with.

A romantic attraction doesn't have the same fiery, all-or-nothing, now-or-never passion as a purely sexual attraction. It’s a slow burn. With a romantic attraction, you want to give your feelings room to grow and deepen over time. You’re willing to wait as long as it takes for the relationship to grow into something more. You might experience the sense that if you are meant to be with the person, you will be with them. Time might seem irrelevant to the quality or longevity of your feelings.

Turning A Sexual Connection Into A Romance

Jovan Doncic/E+/Getty Images

As you continue to work through your feelings, you may start questioning whether it’s time to tell the other person how you feel. Eventually, you might choose to stoke that ember into a full-blown, fiery, passionate flame. But unlike a sexual attraction, you're more prone to take your time.

When you are ready to bring this up, don’t beat around the bush. “Be honest and if you can, be brutally honest,” relationship expert April Masini previously told Elite Daily. “Talk about what you want — but also talk about what you don’t want. For instance, don’t dance around the topic of monogamy. Ask your partner how they feel about that, and if they’re on the same page that you are.” It is possible to turn a casual sex arrangement into a long-term love, but it takes clear communication about that change in your relationship.

Be vulnerable about how you feel, and be open to their response — whatever it may be. If you decide to move forward, give yourselves clear guidance moving forward. “If you can both agree to try this new status for three months and then decide at that time if it’s still working or not, you’re not going to be second guessing each other as much,” Masini added. “Agree that if it’s not working for one or both of you, you’ll let the other one know before going off with someone else.”

If your sexual attraction has grown into a romantic attraction for someone, it’s definitely worth shooting your shot. No matter their reaction, be proud of yourself for going out on a limb and for listening to your heart and your gut.


Shamyra Howard, LCSW, sex therapist

April Masini, relationship expert

This article was originally published on