Sexual intimacy by any other name — (getting laid, knocking boots, doing the deed) — would still be foundational to the human experience.
After all, without sex, none of us would exist.
But not all sex is created equal.
Sometimes, people have sex; other times, they make love.
So what’s the difference? In a word: emotions.
Let’s look at 11 distinct behaviors that separate making love vs. sex.
The Difference Between Sex and Making Love: 11 Essential Distinctions
What is the difference between making love vs. sex?
Generally speaking, it’s the difference between complex emotional and purely physical connections.
Or, to put it another way: making love is soulful; having sex is biological.
Is it possible to make love with someone who doesn’t love you back?
Not really. Lovemaking involves the communion of two people.
And while you may love someone with whom you’re having sex, you may not necessarily be making love.
So how do you tell them apart?
11 Signs You Are Making Love and Not Just Having Sex
1. Your Feelings Are Involved
Loving sex involves feelings. While enjoying each other, currents of emotion may wash over and through you — before, during, and after.
At times, you’ll feel like you cannot get close enough. Heck, you may even cry tears of happiness and joy. Lovemaking connects your minds, souls, and bodies.
Conversely, casual sex is just about the physical act of intercourse. It may feel great, but it’s not an impassioned bonding experience.
Some people don’t enjoy sex without emotions; for them, casual sex holds no appeal. Other folks don’t need spiritual stimulation and make sex a central part of their social life.
Making Love: You’re giddy with feelings for your sexual partner.
Having Sex: You don’t know your partner that well or have more of a friendly link than a romantic one.
2. Your Relationship Is Exclusive
Did the intercourse in question happen with a committed partner, a friend with benefits, or a one-night stand?
Aside from the few, rare people who experience love-at-first-sight, lovemaking usually never happens with a casual hook-up, nor does it characterize a friends-with-benefits situationship.
Physical congress becomes much more meaningful when you’re both exclusive and committed to building a solid relationship.
Making Love: You’re in an exclusive relationship.
Having Sex: You’re casually dating or having a one-night stand.
3. It’s Not a One-Off Thing
If you sleep with someone once and never hear from them again, the experience was definitely not lovemaking. That doesn’t make it wrong or bad; it’s just not the same.
It takes time to form the emotional connection needed to engage in lovemaking instead of just having sex. For some, it can take months or even years.
Making Love: You frequently enjoy sexual closeness together and go out on dates. (It’s not a booty call situation.)
Having Sex: It’s either a one-night-stand, booty call situation, or the beginning of a relationship when you haven’t yet fallen in love.
4. You Cuddle Afterward
What happens after intercourse? Does your partner jump up, throw on their clothes, and head out the door? Or do they snuggle and cuddle in bed? Do they spend the night?
People who make love — or are heading in that direction — tend to stick around.
However, don’t take it as a bad sign if your partner occasionally doesn’t sleep over. Sometimes, people have early appointments or an overwhelming desire to be in their own space. It’s not the end of the world.
Making Love: You hold each other tight afterward or cuddle.
Having Sex: One of you gets up and splits pretty soon after the act.
5. You Talk Meaningfully Afterward
Is there pillow talk afterward? If so, what do you chat about?
If topics about your shared future or feelings for each other are on tap, there’s a good chance you both feel strongly about one another. Bonds outside of intercourse make intimacy more meaningful and emotionally satisfying.
Making Love: You enjoy tender or future-oriented pillow talk.
Having Sex: You may have some small talk afterward.
6. There’s More Kissing and Tenderness Before, During, and Afterward
When making love, there’s a lot more kissing and tenderness — a lot more staring into each other’s eyes. Sex for the sake of sex is more mechanical.
Again, that doesn’t mean it can’t feel good or be a good time; it’s just not an act that draws you closer together emotionally, like making love.
Making Love: There’s more kissing, rubbing, and staring involved.
Having Sex: You may kiss a bit, but the focus is on intercourse.
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7. You Let Down Your Guard More
Sex can make you feel super self-conscious if you sleep with someone you don’t know well. But when you make love with a bonded partner, guards crumble.
You’re not as worried about your body or what they think of your body. Since there’s a genuine connection, the focus is on pleasuring each other, not judging.
Making Love: You’re open and not embarrassed in any way while having intercourse.
Having Sex: You’re more guarded and maybe even self-conscious.
8. Emotions Are More Involved
When the sex is about more than just physical release, it’s usually lovemaking.
Sure, couples in the process of falling in love may have experiences that land somewhere between sex and making love, but if there’s absolutely no emotion, it’s just sex.
People are usually more vulnerable when making love, which can forge even deeper bonds.
Making Love: You’re more vulnerable with your lover.
Having Sex: You don’t let your guard down entirely.
9. It’s a Slower Experience
Sex for physical pleasure tends to end much quicker than a lovemaking session.
When both parties are emotionally involved in the experience, they want to please the other person and enjoy taking things slower. The goal is to connect on several levels.
If you want to try for an even more intense experience, read up on tantric sex. According to some accounts, expert practitioners indulge in lovemaking sessions that last hours.
Making Love: The experience will likely last longer than three minutes.
Having Sex: You may very well be done in three minutes.
10. Romance Is on Tap
Do you set the stage before having sex? Do you enjoy a glass of something special together, light candles, and wear lingerie? If so, you’re probably making love. When it’s just sex, people don’t put as much effort into romance.
We’re not suggesting making a big to-do every time you’re intimate — nobody has time for that — but if it’s part of your repertoire with your committed partner, the relationship is likely on a love level.
Making Love: Romance may be part of the equation.
Having Sex: Romance is nowhere in sight.
11. “I Love Yous” Are Exchanged
Do you and your partner exchange “I love yous” during intercourse? If so, you’re likely making love.
But be careful. Sometimes, sex can feel so great people blurt out “I love you” when they really don’t mean it.
Making Love: “I love yous” are exchanged.
Having Sex: Nobody says, “I love you.”
Do People In Love Always Make Love?
In a word: no. People who are in love do not always make love. Even faithful, married people still have quickies with their partners to fulfill physical needs.
And on the opposite end of the spectrum, polyamorous couples may “just have sex” with various partners but only make love to their main squeeze.
As long as you’re safe and all parties consent, sex can be enjoyable without emotions. After all, it’s a biological instinct that releases feel-good chemicals in our bodies.
And when you’re in a serious relationship, the experience of making love can elevate you to new emotional heights and interpersonal connections.