Are You Making Love or Just Having Sex? Read This and Decide

Written by on February 28, 2018 in Conscious Living, Relationships & Sex with 13 Comments

Sexy couple in room-compressed

By Elliot D. Cohen Ph.D. | Psychology Today

It is often said that “making love” is just a euphemism for “having sex.” To be sure, these terms are frequently used interchangeably. Unfortunately, this common use (or misuse) can mask the important distinction between these two activities. Indeed, many people who have “good sex” mistake it for love only to find out that their apparent lover was not the person with whom they cared to spend their life.

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This is not to proclaim the moral, or prudential, superiority of making love. Indeed some would prefer to just have sex. “Sex alleviates tension,” said Woody Allen, “Love causes it.” Still, it is important that one gets what one bargains for.

Of course, making love (as distinct from being in love) necessarily involves having sex.  But having sex, even great sex, is not necessarily making love—just as a nice cool beer is not a glass of wine. Truly, some may prefer the taste of the one to the other, and a beer may be the drink of choice on a given occasion (say, at a Knicks game); but it would indeed be unfortunate if one ordered a glass of Merlot in an intimate setting and was served a Budd.

So are you making love or just having sex? Are you getting what you really want? And if not, how can you get it?


The first of these three questions can be answered only if one knows the difference between having sex versus making love. But this, in turn, requires pinning down the meanings of each.

According to philosopher Alan Goldman, sexual desire is desire for contact with another person’s body and for the pleasure which such contact produces; sexual activity is activity which tends to fulfill such desire of the agent.

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Goldman claims that sexual activity is not necessarily a means to any further end. For example, procreation is not the essential purpose of having sex; so you are not doing anything wrong (that is, misusing your body) if you are having sex without trying to get pregnant. Indeed, according to Goldman, there is no essential purpose to sex beyond fulfilling your desire for contact with another person’s body.

I think we can take Goldman’s account of sexual activity as a working definition for developing and contrasting the idea of love-making. Inasmuch as sex is a desire for physical contact with someone else’s body, it is a mechanical activity. Rubbing, touching, caressing, kissing, sucking, biting, and, of course, intercourse, as fulfillments of a desire for physical contact, are all sexual activities in this sense. Here, a key word is “mechanical” because these activities are essentially ways of mechanically stimulating or arousing oneself. Per se, they are self-regarding. They seek self-gratification—fulfillment of a purely self-interested desire. As philosopher Immanuel Kant stated, “Sexual love makes of the loved person an Object of appetite; as soon as that appetite has been stilled, the person is cast aside as one casts away a lemon which has been sucked dry.” Here the idea that “sexual love” is self-regarding is clearly articulated by Kant. However, for Kant, it is in the transformation from self-regarding to other-regarding sexual activity that sex partners begin to see each other as persons rather than as mere objects or things.  Thus he says, “under the one condition, that as the one person is acquired by the other as a thing, that same person also equally acquires the other reciprocally, and thus regains and reestablishes the rational personality.”

Such reciprocal sexual activity is, for Kant, possible only in the context of monogamousmarriage where each sex partner gives the other a contractual right to the other’s body. In this case, mutual desires for physical contact with one another’s bodies are gratified by each sex partner. But while this mutual sexual agreement (whether inside or outside the context of marriage) may be a precursor to love-making, the latter takes more than mutual consent to let each other satisfy a sexual desire. This is because such mutuality is still mechanical and focused on one’s own state of arousal as distinct from that of the other and therefore fails to capture the intimate character of love-making. So Kant’s idea of “sexual love,” even in its mutual sense, is not truly that of love-making.

So what else besides mutuality is involved in love-making?

As distinct from mere sex, love-making dissolves the chasm between “you” and “me.”  The resolution, however, is not “us” because “we” can still be divided. Instead, in love-making there is the mutual consciousness of unbounded unity without partition. “Love,” says psychologist Eric Fromm, is “in the experience of solidarity with our fellow creatures.” It is, explains Aristotle, “composed of a single soul inhabiting two bodies.” In making love, your loins are mine, and mine yours.  The titillations of mine are yours also, and conversely. My past, present, and future; my hopes, dreams, and expectation; and yours, coalesce as one–not two–persons. There is resignation of separateness to inclusion of the other.  It is an ecstatic resonance that defies any breach in Oneness.

It takes two to Tango, and so too does it take (at least) two to make love. Unreciprocated love-making is unsuccessful love-making. The flames of love-making are quick to die when one gives oneself, body and soul, only to be turned away. Where the other seeks only a body, wanting only sex, love-making is squandered even if it is not (at least at first) apparent to the one attempting to make love. It is a counterfeit if based on pretense because there is duality, not unity, and there is manipulation and objectification, not authentic, mutual respect.

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As philosopher Martin Buber would express it, the intimacy of love-making is at the level of “I-Thou” as distinct from “I-It.” Thus, you cease to be an object or thing and instead become “Thou.”  I am bound up with you as Thou and you with me. Of course, as Buber reminds us, the unity of the “I-Thou” is not permanent and I must at some point begin to see you as an “It.”  For example, in touching each other’s body, each does what he or she knows is most erotically felt by the other. Here there is a sort of delicate, momentary analysis and deliberate targeting of a body part. But instantaneously each becomes Thou again with co-mingling of not just body but soul. In making love, there is thus a virtually seamless reciprocity between I-It and I-Thou.

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13 Reader Comments

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  1. 10207757849697967@facebook.com' Vanessa Brown says:

    I definitely feel the difference. Before I got married I talked to said potential husband… About the differences between sex, making love and fucking…. And I definitely have done all with him and it should be that way. For all potential life mates.

  2. 1698147547127404@facebook.com' Marlene Acabado De Leon says:

    Yeah ! Sex is not all about
    Lust , having sex with love to the one you loved the most is a beautiful and greatest feeling that Money can’t buy because you do it with Love and Happiness ❤ GOD bless ! ?

  3. 134333593647746@facebook.com' Willow Inventionary says:

    Yes absolutely

  4. 349451691806390@facebook.com' Consciousness Junkie says:

    Absolutely love anything that helps to expand our awareness. Thanks

  5. 236023943399911@facebook.com' Martin Erickson says:

    Marketing Love …its like in the garden .On the canvas with coulor. Beside the River .shareing the Bounty of this Day.feeling the feel.cudleing the warmth …Sex well hummm.Pounding the Puddung.Drainning the well…so much more….humm Love and sex very much the same But Different.

  6. 10207488386141693@facebook.com' Ivy Jo Morris says:

    Neither one

  7. 237897883229211@facebook.com' Ita Elizabeth Jones says:

    Yes there is a difference

  8. 807813676020677@facebook.com' Wanda Linday says:

    Making love to your partner after your youth is gone and your knees hurt…most of your sexy has gone south….NOTHING BETTER ?❤❤❤

  9. 10154209221304108@facebook.com' Colleen Prinssen says:

    angry masturbation

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