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Are romantic orientation and sexual orientation different? Comparisons using explicit and implicit measurements


Recent research has characterized romantic love as overlapping with but distinct from sexual desire. We explore whether romantic orientation—the preferred gender(s) of romantic partners—also relates to but differs from sexual orientation—the preferred gender(s) of sexual partners. We developed explicit and implicit measures of romantic orientation to examine their associations with explicit and implicit sexual orientation. Further, because sociocultural values have been suggested to influence people’s choice for romantic partners but less so on sexual orientation, we also explored the associations of romantic and sexual orientation with two theoretically related sociocultural values: negative attitudes towards lesbian, gay, and bisexual individuals, and traditional Asian values on family continuity. We recruited an online sample of ethnic Chinese heterosexual, bisexual, and gay/lesbian adults and found that after accounting for the statistical overlap between the two explicit constructs, the unique component of each explicit measure related exclusively to its corresponding implicit measure, but not to the other implicit measure. Moreover, implicit romantic orientation linked more strongly to sociocultural values than did implicit sexual orientation. These findings urge for distinguishing romantic orientation from sexual orientation and implicit from explicit processes to fully understand people’s romantic and sexual experiences.

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The datasets generated during and/or analyzed during the current study are available from the corresponding authors on reasonable request.


  1. This study did not measure expectations for future sexual involvement.


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We thank Icy Yeung for helping with survey translation.


This study was supported by a Seed Fund awarded to Wang Ivy Wong at the University of Hong Kong and a funding support from the American Institute of Bisexuality (AIB) awarded to Gu Li. The funding sources have no role in the design, execution, or report of this study.

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Authors and Affiliations



G.L. and W.W.L.S. contributed equally to this study. G.L. and W.I.W. conceived the study; G.L. and W.I.W. designed the study; W.W.L.S. collected the data as part of a Master’s thesis under the supervision of W.I.W.; G.L. and W.W.L.S. analyzed the data with inputs from W.I.W.; G.L. and W.W.L.S. drafted the manuscript. All authors provided critical revisions and approved the final submitted version of the manuscript.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Wang Ivy Wong.

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Ethical Approval

Ethical approval was obtained from the Ethics Committee in the Department of Psychology at the University of Hong Kong.

Informed Consent

Electronic informed consent was obtained from all participants prior to their participation in the study.

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The authors declare that there are no competing interests.

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Gu Li and Will W. L. Sham contributed equally to this study.

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Li, G., Sham, W.W.L. & Wong, W.I. Are romantic orientation and sexual orientation different? Comparisons using explicit and implicit measurements. Curr Psychol 42, 24288–24301 (2023).

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