Ask An Expert: What's the Difference Between Making Love and Having Sex

We often hear the terms making love and having sex used interchangebly, but it is important to know that there is a difference between the two. While both are related to sex (duh!), there is a different level of emotional connection and intimacy associated with each. Even thinking about these phrases are used hints at their differences. When you have sex you have sex with someone. When you make love, you make love to someone. Making love is often much more about your partner and your connection to them than having sex is.

Here is an expert’s opinion on the similarities and differences between having sex and making love, and the role that both can play in a relationship.

What does it mean to have sex?

Having sex is about a physical connection to another person. It is possible to have sex with someone without having an emotional attachment to them, becaue having sex is about a biological need. Think about it. As a species, humans have to have sex in order to reproduce, so we are biologically hardwired to want to have sex. From a biology standpoint, there does not need to be anything aside from the physical desire for another person in order to have sex. And while it is hard for a lot of people to detach their emotions from sex, it is entirely possible to do so. This is not to say that all sex is devoid of an emotional connection, it is possible to have meaningful sex with someone even if you are not making love. Another distinction between having sex and making love is your role as an individual. Having sex is often about fulfilling your indivifual needs (like we said, biological hardwiring) and much less about the pleasure of your partner or meeting their needs. While having sex with another person can be about their needs (and SHOULD be), that is not a prerequisite.

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What does it mean to make love?

Unlike having sex with another person, making love is about more than just a physical connection. Making love is about an emotionally intimate connection to another person. You cannot make love to a stranger (where as you can have sex with a stranger) because you are not emotionally in-tune with that stranger. When you are completely in tune with another person because of your emotional connection to them, having sex can turn into making love because you are more attuned to their needs and your sexual experience is about coming together physically and emotionally. Making love is more intimate than just having sex and may be a more drawn out process, with intimate foreplay, touching and eye contact. Making love involves a kind of tenderness (even if your love making is on the rough side!) that is missing from regular sex. When you are making love to someone, you consider their needs in addition to your own, which is what makes the sex so much more meaningful and intimate. It requires listening to a partner, knowing (or asking if you need to) what they like and making it happen for them.

How important is having a connection when it comes to each?

Everyone has a unique relationship to sex that dictates how comfortable they are having sex with strangers, people they are newly dating, waiting until marriage, etc. etc. These relationships with sex are dictacted by the type of connection people need to have with a person before having sex. To have sex with another person, all you need in a physical connection to them. In order to make love to another person, you need to have a physical and emotional connection. People always ask if you need to be in love with someone in order to make love to someone, and the answer is, not necessarily. While you might assume that you have to love someone to make love to them, it is not necessarily the case. It is possible to have a strong emotional and physical connection to another person without being in love with them. This comes back to the idea of each individual’s unique relationship to sex, love and emotional connections. If you are in love with someone, it is easy and common to make love to them. But for some people, it is totally possible to make love to someone without being in love with them.

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Is there a different level of intimacy between the two?

Having sex with someone is about a physical connection and intimacy with another person. Nothing is more physically intimate that having sex with a person, so there is definitely intimacy associated with having sex. But having sex does not require an emotional intimacy in the same way that making love does. Making love requires partners to be completely in-tune with one another which requires openness, honesty and trust that comes with an intimate emotional relationship. So in short, yes. Making love requires a different level of intimacy than having sex, because partner must be emotionally intimate in addition to being physically intimate.

Are both beneficial in a relationship?

Even if you are in a committed relationship with another person, you probably won’t make love every single time that you have sex. As we mentioned above, making love is often a drawn out process that can require an intimate setting, special occasion or just more time than typical sex. While many think that making love is better than regular sex because of the emotional connection, there is a place for ‘having sex’ in every relationship. Whether it’s a quicky, needing to have your biological needs met, or pursuing sex in a polyamourous way (with the consent of you partner) having sex is beneficial in your relationship! Making love is also beneficial to your relationship because it can help foster more emotional intimacy and it can bring couples closer together. In the beginning of a relationship, having sex with a partner is often just that, having sex. So when you experience making love for the first time, it can often act as a milestone in your relationship, demonstrating a new level of connection and emotional intimacy.

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