Making Love vs. Having Sex: An Inside Look at Romantic Sex for Heterosexual Couples

This article was scientifically fact-checked by Human Sexuality expert Dr. Laurie Mintz.

As humans we automatically assign meaning to nearly everything… especially those who are prone to over analyzing. And for the most part, this is a fair way to live, as the way in which things are said, done, and shown can have different intentions.

Take a hug, for example. It’s a universal symbol of comfort, affection, and sometimes love. But a hug can also be done in such a way that it means something different. The same goes for sex. 

Sex (for heterosexual individuals), often defined as intercourse, with its basic function of procreation, is anything but for billions of people worldwide. And while the instructions are the same, you know… a P in the V, the way in which it’s done can make or break the entire experience. 

Sex, in any capacity, is about the motion in the ocean, the timing, the mood, levels of sexual arousal, hormones, chemistry, attraction, so on and so forth. A powerful concoction of the above and more then give us the feeling that we’re either making love or having sex (and dare I even say it, simply ‘fucking’). 

And despite the fact that one is no more superior than the other, many times, the distinction between them are misunderstood. 

“Sex alleviates tension, love causes it,” according to director, writer, and actor, Woody Allen.

Making love vs having sex

What Does it Mean to Have Sex? 

Having sex, regardless of how amazing, wonderful, and firework-inducing it is, does not always equal making love. You can have sex with anyone you want to—and it doesn’t have to be someone you love. According to philosopher Alan Goldman, having sex is a means to an end. It is the ability to fulfill one’s desire for another’s body.

He goes on to say that having sex is merely a mechanical act, that is—a way in which to stimulate and satisfy one’s own sexual and physical needs. This, according to Goldman, is a self-gratifying and self-regarded activity.

To add to Golman’s theory, the words of Immanuel Kant:

“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.” 

Kind of a bleak way to describe sex, right?

What Does it Mean to Make Love?

In short, making love doesn’t mean you forget totally about self-satisfaction, but it does mean that you approach the activity as one of creating connection and unity.

And according to Greek philosopher, Aristotle, the act of making love is “composed of a single soul inhabiting two bodies.” It is the inclusion of two people, creating a kind of ‘oneness’ of mutual respect and authentication.

This kind of love making can reflect tenderness, adoration, and is a way in which having sex and making love can be distinguished. (Of course, kinky sex which is not tender can also be a form of making love, with a trusted other). 

But even with the notion of ‘becoming one’, many well-esteemed philosophers argue that making love does not take away from each individual, respectively. Each person is unique yet lost in each other.

Does One Need to Be in Love to Make Love?

There is no right or wrong answer to this question. Love means something different to everyone, and thus the experience of making love may be utterly different from one couple to the next. 

But, in my personal opinion, it helps to be in love… but it is not always necessary. 

In fact, making love may just help build a stronger foundation and pave the way for being in love. The intimate, thoughtful, and selfless act of love making can create a powerful slew of emotions and feelings that can have a huge effect on one’s mind, body, and soul.

Emotional Benefits of Romantic Sex

Emotional Benefits

Making love is a way in which to channel deep sexual energy that bonds two people together. It’s far more than the physical act, and is about creating a space that includes your partner for absolute fulfillment. 

By doing this, an emotional connection is continuously being built, causing happiness for both individually and as a couple. 

Making love opens up the ability to experience a much higher and healthier self-esteem, and a better emotional, sexual, and personal identity. 

6 Ways to Have More Romantic Sex

1. Communication

Talking about sex with a partner can be daunting for some, as it can be a vulnerable experience. But according to Brene Brown, a research professor at the University of Houston and bestselling author, vulnerability is an excellent emotion to embrace. 

It’s taking an emotional risk that can bring about love, belonging, trust, joy, and creativity. Communication is a powerful tool that can deepen intimacy and emotional connections, and is a way to build on what both partners like, resulting in more meaningful love making.

2. Sex and Achieving Orgasm is Not The End Goal

More often than not, individuals and couples believe that having sex and achieving an orgasm is the ‘main event’ or ‘the prize’ after engaging in sexual activity. And that’s where so many people get it wrong. 

To enjoy better love making, it’ll prove extremely beneficial to redefine the meaning of sex. It’s not about men worrying about their size, or a woman stressing about whether she will orgasm or not, and it’s not about simply engaging in penetrative sex. 

In actuality, this kind of mentality can bring about sexual dysfunction for individuals and couples.

To build on your sexual energy, and to enjoy more fulfilling love making, focus on slowing down and enjoying the entire experience without an ‘end goal’ in mind. Each minute that passes while two people are entangled in romantic embrace is a minute where trust and intimacy is being built. 

3. Intimate Intercourse Positions

Engage in intercourse positions that allow for maximum intimacy. This could be the age-old favourite, missionary style, whereby you can look into each other’s eyes and or lock hands. Or it could be a comfortable spooning position that allows for full-body contact. 

Choose a position that not only makes you both feel comfortable, safe, and confident, but that also encourages intimacy using various body parts. 

4. Location and Ambience

Love making is powerful, mindful, and meaningful, so the location, ambience, and mood can make or break the experience. And because it takes two to tango, creating a space that’s passionate, warm, and welcoming is important when it comes to love making.

A quickie in your best friend’s bathroom generally won’t cut it, and neither will trying to get it on when someone could interrupt you at any given moment. Choose a romantic space with no interruptions. 

Use candles, dim lighting, sexy lingerie, or soft music if that’s what gets both partners feeling sensual. You could add massage oils or a bubble bath with champagne into the mix to get those passionate feelings going. 

Whatever you fancy, go with the flow and allow the experience to unfold naturally.

5. Kissing

Kissing is often referred to as more intimate than sex because it is built on feelings. Locking lips is actually a very intimate, intimidating, and vulnerable act, being so close to someone’s face with nothing to ‘hide behind’. 

To kiss means taking in someone’s scent, their taste, their breath, their body. And depending on the type of kiss, a slew of emotions can surface. A slow, sweet and passionate kiss can be full of raw emotion with the ability to whisk you away to a completely different place. 

6. Post-Love Making Cuddles

The act of love making itself is a beautiful and meaningful experience, and this is made even more special with post-love making cuddles and embracing, and even talking about the experience. 

Having said all of that, there is no ‘right’ way to have sex. Making love is not superior to having sex, and vica versa. Some prefer sex and some prefer making love. Both can be extremely healthy and beneficial depending on your personal circumstances. 

Do what feels right for you, and you’ll be rewarded with great sexual pleasure.

This article was scientifically fact-checked by Human Sexuality expert Dr. Laurie Mintz.

*In this article, for ease of reader understanding, we are using the words sex and intercourse as synonymous, as is done in popular culture in general. Similarly, we use the word “foreplay” the way it is used in popular culture (i.e., the sexual acts such as oral sex that come before intercourse). However, as aptly pointed out by our sex expert Laurie Mintz, we would also like to acknowledge that such language exalts men’s most reliable rout to orgasm and linguistically erases women’s most reliable route to orgasm—clitoral stimulation, either alone or coupled with penetration. Indeed, only between 4% and 18% of women reliably orgasm from penetration alone. We look forward to the day when such language is not commonly used in culture.


Facts checked by:

Dr. Laurie Mintz

Dr. Laurie Mintz, Ph.D.Laurie Mintz, Ph.D., is a professor at the University of Florida, teaching Human Sexuality to hundreds of students a year. She has published over 50 research articles and is a Fellow of the American Psychological Association. Dr. Mintz also has maintained a private practice for over 30 years, working with individuals and couples on general and sexual issues. She is also an author and speaker, spreading scientifically-accurate, sex-positive information to enhance sexual pleasure.

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