The origin of species remains a central question, and recent research focuses on the role of ecological differences in promoting speciation. Ecological differences create opportunities for divergent selection (i.e. ‘ecological’ speciation), a Darwinian hypothesis that hardly requires justification. In contrast, ‘mutation-order’ speciation proposes that, instead of adapting to different environments, populations find different ways to adapt to similar environments, implying that speciation does not require ecological differences. This distinction is critical as it provides an alternative hypothesis to the prevailing view that ecological differences drive speciation. Speciation by sexual selection lies at the centre of debates about the importance of ecological differences in promoting speciation; here, we present verbal and mathematical models of mutation-order divergence by sexual selection. We develop three general cases and provide a two-locus population genetic model for each. Results indicate that alternative secondary sexual traits can fix in populations that initially experience similar natural and sexual selection and that divergent traits and preferences can remain stable in the face of low gene flow. This stable divergence can facilitate subsequent divergence that completes or reinforces speciation. We argue that a mutation-order process could explain widespread diversity in secondary sexual traits among closely related, allopatric species.