There’s a certain connotation when we talk about two people making love as opposed to having sex. But is there any real difference? We asked a sex coach to explain.
What does “making love” mean?
Making love is another way of saying having sex, though there is usually an implication that making love involves a type of sex that’s more intimate, romantic, or even spiritual. When two people make love, the physical acts are seen as an expression of love between them, explains sex and dating coach Myisha Battle, M.S..
“When people say ‘making love,’ they tend to mean emotionally connected sex, or sex with someone with whom they are in love,” she explains. “It’s linked to spiritual seekers, hippies, Tantra practitioners, or anyone else who seeks transcendence through sex.”
The term likely arose in relation to the idea of traditional courtship, Battle notes, but it has since evolved from its original meaning to have the meaning it has now. Today, the term “making love” is more commonly used among more religious, spiritual, or traditional communities, or it can be a way of talking about sex without saying the word “sex,” which some people find to be too crass.
Meanwhile, others have consciously moved away from using the term “making love” because of the way it can create a moral hierarchy around sexuality, implying that sex is most valuable when romantic love is involved—which is not the case for everybody.
“Some argue it’s an outdated term because there is more cultural acceptance for sex outside of the context of a loving partnership,” Battle adds. “There is also a growing understanding that all different kinds of sex can connect two people emotionally.”
Making love vs. having sex.
“Some people believe there is a qualitative difference between ‘making love’ and ‘having sex,’ where lovemaking is more deep, even spiritual,” Battle explains. “By contrast, having sex is more utilitarian or less emotionally connected.”
The difference between making love and having sex is subjective, as they can look and feel exactly the same and involve exactly the same sexual acts, behaviors, and connection. The biggest difference is in the intention behind the sex: Making love is about using sex to express feelings of romantic love.
Signs someone is making love to you:
- The sex is initiated after an emotionally connective experience or conversation.
- There is intense eye contact throughout the sex.
- There is a lot of kissing before, during, and after sex.
- They hold you close during and after sex.
- They’re gentle and affectionate with how they touch you.
- There’s a lot of touch beyond just genitals—they put their hand on your cheek, they intertwine their fingers with yours, they kiss your shoulders and thighs, etc.
- There’s no rush; instead, they take their time with each act, making sure each one is special.
- They take their time making you feel good.
- They’re less concerned with receiving from you; they’re more focused on giving pleasure or in mutual pleasure.
- The sex is more “romantic” and “emotional” than “sexy” or “dirty.”
- They’re saying romantic things during sex.
- They say they love you during sex.
- They cuddle with you afterward rather than withdrawing or falling asleep.
Importantly, any and all of these things can be present during sex between non-romantic partners, too. Many people emotionally connect with their sexual partners and enjoy being affectionate with their sexual partners, even if they’re not in love. Even casual sex can be very passionate, romantic, and filled with mutual care. The only real way to know if someone is using sex as an expression of love is if they tell you that’s how they feel about it.
How to make love passionately:
1. Connect with your partner prior to sex.
Making love starts way before you get to the bedroom. There needs to be an emotional connection already building between you that you can then lean into during sex. Part of this is about knowing exactly how you feel about this person—when you’re confident about your feelings for someone, it’s a lot easier to express those feelings through intimacy.
2. Learn about their intimate needs.
“Spending time prior to sex connecting with your partner, learning more about them and their wants and needs, can allow for more deeply connected sex,” Battle explains. “Talking about sex when you’re not having it can actually increase the quality of the sex you have tremendously!” Ask them exactly what makes them feel loved and connected in bed, and then do those things when you get there.
3. Learn what they find romantic.
“Romance is relative, so communicating what you like is also important,” Battle says. What does romance mean to your partner—and to you? Is it about a lot of kissing and cuddling? Is it about whispering sweet nothings to each other during the act? Is it about a sensual, romantic environment with candles and roses? Talk about it together, and then make it happen!
4. Take your time in bed.
Slow down! When it comes to making love, there’s no rush and no finish lines you need to rush toward. Spend more time savoring each moment. Draw out each touch so it lasts even longer and feels even deeper.
5. Touch different parts of your partner’s body.
Genitals aren’t everything! Getting away from exclusive focus on the “sexy bits” can particularly make sex better for women, according to sex therapist Cyndi Darnell, MHSci, MNT. “Explore different erogenous zones on her body including neck, shoulders, scalp, ears, belly, inner thighs, inner arms, back, buttocks, and feet,” she recommends. “Try experimenting with speed or pressure.”
Eye gazing is a tantric sex practice where you and your partner sit up straight on your bed or couch and just gaze into each other’s eyes for a full several minutes without talking.
“In the powerful gaze of your partner, there is nowhere to hide, and you practice fully revealing yourself to the other with all that you feel and all that you are. You see them fully while at the same time letting yourself be seen,” writes tantric sex educator Leslie Grace, R.N. “Let the love that is in your heart shine out through your eyes. Gazing at your beloved, see the divine spark in their eyes, marveling at the pure life force that is animating them. Feel the sacredness of this simple moment together.”