Sex vs Lovemaking – Why Are We So Confused?

Did you get lucky this week? Or should I say, did you score? Did you hook up? Or are you more comfortable if I ask if you made love?

Whatever you call it, great sex is great sex, right? Not exactly? Then do our distinctions in terminology serve us – or complicate matters?

When it comes to sex and love, these days – everyone seems confused. I can’t help but wonder if the problem is an issue of language, at least in part, and an implicitly assigned value system we ascribe to the words we use.

Are we living our lives according to a hierarchy of intimate encounters that we judge in their aftermath?

Rules, no matter what

When we’re young, any sexual contact is a “score” – and may also be a credential, an obstacle to overcome, a source of embarrassment, or an accomplishment. Good, bad or indifferent, sex is a constant preoccupation, and not just for the young.

The caveats and exceptions to the rules of engagement? They are many, including socially acceptable age ranges, mutual consent, guidelines about power relationships (like boss-employee or teacher-student). There are cultural and religious boundaries that reserve intimacy for marriage, the taboos against incest, and the impossible-to-unravel stigmas and myths around older man-younger woman, and older woman-younger man.

All that aside, “doing it” is considered a rite of passage. And once beyond that barrier, a vast area of self and other opens, and the real exploration unfolds.

Scorecard or report card?

So returning to the essence of my original question – did you have sex this week, or did you make love?  And why is it that at age 30, “making love” may rate an A on the report card, but “having sex” – even if it was fantastic – only earns a B? What about relations after a long marriage, then divorce at 40 or 50? Will sex of any sort garner high marks from the friends, without further qualification? Do these assessments vary by gender?

It seems we all swim (consciously or not) in a constantly shifting pool of approval (or not), a sort of system of standards tied to demographics, personal history, life stage, or all of the above. Must we really assign judgment to our assorted encounters – or authority to the judgment of others?

Great sex is great sex

Some say yes to the carnal side of life. Period. The sexual aspects of any relationship – one night or a lifetime – are fundamental.

Some don’t ask these questions. Or they pose them later in life, when they sense something is missing.

Others qualify their musings on this topic; perhaps the diversity of sexual encounters before, during and after long-term relationships enable them to do so. Their journeys have taught many shades of sexual expression, something beyond a simplistic mention of compatibility, or a tally of partners, positions and orgasms.

Some experience sex without emotional investment, as friendship, tenderness, and shared comforts needn’t be banished from the bedroom because the word “love” isn’t spoken.

Lovemaking

The distinction between sex and lovemaking is vital to some men and women. They seek lovemaking – and want nothing else or nothing “less” – a fusion of body and spirit, in which they assume or ascribe feelings of love to sexual activities.

When we introduce splendid sex into the mix, do some of us confuse it with love?

Do we then call it lovemaking, grade it with the long-awaited “A,” and hang on too tightly?

Does our morality only permit us to enjoy sexual contact if we use the word love, and thus the term “lovemaking?”

Must we be “in love” to “make love?”

Men, women and sexual energy

I suspect that men and women grow similar in our inclinations as we gain experience, capable of recognizing the differences between sex with emotion and sex without. But then we’re back to individual perception. To history. To personal needs.

Of course we love great sex – but great lovemaking? Is that the brass ring, the the fine bottle of wine worth the wait? The ultimate – for some more than others?

  • What about sex as fun, or joyful exercise?
  • What about the fact that sex is a natural anti-depressant?
  • What about the way it energizes and fills us with a sense of being alive?
  • What about sex as a way to heal from hurt? To give and take comfort?

“Just sex”

“Just sex” is often the phrase reserved for the contrite cheating lover; it is dismissive and impersonal, rationalizing infidelity where fidelity is assumed.

Sex is slotted into a compartment as a physical act, a bodily function, which it may be for many – at least in certain circumstances. Yet we use the expression in order to place boundaries around the act, separating it from what we deem lovemaking.

When we are honest with ourselves, isn’t “just sex” - sex? Enjoyable, mediocre, fabulous, empty, affirming, or whatever else any coupling might entail on a given day?

Sexy legs High HeelsDon’t we understand “just sex” quite well, especially if we’ve ever been married for a long period of time?

Eroticism

Where does eroticism slide into our sticky spectrum of sex to lovemaking?

Does it fit somewhere along the scale we’ve devised – deserving of an A+ or extra credit?

Does it exist in some other dimension altogether, veiled or tucked away beyond closed doors and discussion?

If eroticism involves the forbidden, the “little bit naughty” or something more, might it be as simple as sexy stilettos in bed, or the twists and turns of a supple body and a tantalizing Tantric consciousness?

Is it role play for the participants, unusual locales, experimentation with games and toys? Whatever its pleasures, does it matter, as long at it involves like minds sharing in satisfying consensual activities?

Is eroticism always about the thrill of pushing boundaries – even just a little?

When we move into realms of the erotic, the partner’s sexual magnetism may be heightened, encounters may reverberate and replay in our fantasies; we may increasingly include eroticism in our expectations and needs. We’ve journeyed to a new place in ourselves, and we don’t want to lose sight of this brave new landscape.

Good is good, whatever you call it

When the sex is extraordinary, must we convince ourselves it’s love? And why is love always tied to the A or the A+ in our assessment? Are we back to a socially-sanctioned hierarchy of sexual experience, in which the pinnacle is love?

Great sex may be soulful, imaginative, lighthearted, tender, unexpected, intense in sensation, and overflowing with emotion. It may also serve as a bridge to a deep place of self that longs for solace or celebration; we’ve experienced a loss or a win, and the connective tissue of shared emotion deepens the experience, even if only briefly. After all, our vulnerable selves are inside each other, joined, and we are quite literally not alone.

Is being in love and making love the pinnacle we strive for?Why do we feel compelled to package, label, and channel sexual experiences into compartments? Do we manufacture love where it doesn’t exist in order to feel comfortable with splendid sex?

And if our hearts and lives are tenderly intertwined, whatever the assessment of our physical encounters,  are we not making love?

In this fusion, will there always be confusion?

 

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Comments

  1. Wonderful thoughts. If it is good, then it is good. Sex and Love are an interesting play. Some think that mind-blowing sex is love, others believe that only love can lead to mind-blowing sex. Through your thoughts here, I begin to see that one does not necessarily have to be expected of the other. I have certainly had horrible sex and mind-blowing sex. I have also had horrible love and mind blowing love. Thinking back, I don’t see any correlation between the two.

  2. I love the images you use in your posts. They say almost as much as the words you craft.

    I recall a younger me thinking that there was a sharp, distinct line between sex and lovemaking. I do not know that the line still exists. I guess the question in my mind is what is the difference between sex and fucking (hope you are not a PG rated comment area).

    My mind, as old as it is, goes back to Erica Jong’s “Fear of Flying” and the zipless fuck – anonymous sex with someone you will never see again. There is an abandon in knowing that this is a one time thing with someone who will not constantly remind you of the act. Oh, the thoughts you have now generated in my mind.!

    • BigLittleWolf says:

      It’s funny, I was specifically thinking about sex vs. lovemaking, because that’s where some of my friends seem to get most lost. Generally, fucking (particularly in the Fear of Flying context) doesn’t get confused with relationship. It may be an act that is verboten for some; for others, an occasional source of excitement with no strings attached, but I haven’t seen emotions contorted or manufactured out of it. More problematic I would say – when in marriage, it’s fucking for one partner, and the other expects lovemaking. But all that opens up more great subjects to discuss…

  3. It reminds me of that episode in Sex and the City where Cynthia Nixon is determined to fuck like a man, no strings…

    And yes, I’ve had sex lately…as you recall, my husband eloquently told me Christmas Eve day that he was dreaming of a “Laid Christmas.” That dork!

  4. Hmmm. I think you know my answer to the main question here :-)

    On the topic of sex vs lovemaking. I don’t think there’s a difference. Really good sex is, in effect, love making also. Really good sex requires a degree of intimacy and knowledge about your partner that the act of sex helps stimulate. Love is a product of intimate knowledge and trust, and the way to express that is sex. So sex really is just sex unless it’s really good sex in which case it’s lovemaking. I’m not sure if that made any sense. Maybe? My point is that everyone wants great sex. You can’t have great sex with a stranger because there’s no knowledge and trust.

  5. This is a great post and it brings up a lot of questions for me… questions I’ve been wrestling with myself. But first, I think the confusion, at least in my experience comes from that place of not understanding the other person (where they are coming from, where their commitment level lies if that is important to you or what their motives toward me are). When I overthink things I get into trouble here. I suspect, though I am not certain, that when it comes to sex the quality of the relationship makes a huge difference in the quality of the sexual experience. Yes, you can have good “sex” without the relationship and good “sex” can be spoiled by bad relationship but it seems that eventually most people want the really emotional sex where both people are loving and caring and connected somehow other than physically for that moment to each other.

    Even in a good marriage, sex isn’t always the same thing each time for both partners. That’s life, it isn’t a deal breaker. Even in relationships where the couple is co-habitating I suspect (though I can’t say from my own experience) the same thing happens. One person is just horny and the other wants or has an emotional connection… it can happen… does happen.

    I think the confusion occurs when the act of sex is taken out of the context of meaningful relationship and the two parties have differing expectations, hopes, needs, whatever and they don’t have or won’t have the vehicle of the relationship through which to resolve those differences.

    Just my take.

    My big questions around this topic have more to do with what the role of sex is in a relationship and what does it mean for a man or a woman and how those two perspectives are the same and how they are different.

    I am working on a post to this effect as we speak, I will probably link to yours here!
    Thanks for bringing up the topic.

  6. You can have great sex without there being love. You can make love without there being great sex. For the most part, sex is better when some spiritual/emotional connection exists and comes out. But you don’t have to be dating or in a relationship for that to happen. It’s easier, but not necessary.

    As for did I score this week? No one’s business but my own!!! :-)

  7. Lately for me it is zipless fucking. Haven’t thought much about “love making” in a long time. Not until this post anyway and I like it that way.

    Shared emotions and deep experiences don’t fit into my lifestyle at the moment. I agree with Keith, you can’t have great sex with a stranger but, it came as a big surprise to me that you can have great sex without mucking up a relationship with “love.”

  8. Thank you for the topic! As for my take, I am married to a woman that has no sexual activity in her head. I need love, and I need sex. They are one in the same for me. Always has and always will be the same. It makes no sense to me to have sex with anyone that you do not love. After being in the family that I was raised in where there was no love, I grew a strong affinity to love and sex being the same. I am not afraid of women and wish that my wife felt the same as I, but that is not the case and never will be! This will be an end to our marriage, its only a matter of time. God help me!!!

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  1. [...] important to you is that this man has experience. He has had his share of bad sex and his share of mind blowing sex and at this age, will have understanding as to what was the cause of each. More importantly, he [...]

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