A queer couple in bed about to make love.

Here's The Difference Between Making Love And Having Sex

Intimacy is about more than just the physical act itself.

by Anjali Sareen Nowakowski
Originally Published: 
Fabio Formaggio / EyeEm/EyeEm/Getty Images

It's not a big secret: There is a difference between making love and having sex. That said, if you haven't experienced it for yourself, you may not be entirely sure what exactly those differences are. Sex can mean different things to different people, and there's no one universal definition. But many people agree that while both terms describe getting physically intimate, when two people make love, their experience might feel more romantic or emotional than a casual hookup would.

"Making love is an art, formed by two people with deep feelings and emotions for one another," Ana Weber, relationship expert and author of Passion Spirit Purpose, told Thrillist. "It's a giving behavior with commitment and care."

Love making isn’t exclusively for people in committed relationships, but the emotion and romance associated with it can make you feel more deeply connected to your partner. And although getting it on with a casual fling or quickie car sex with your partner can be just as exciting, long, passionate loving sex with someone who truly knows you can be an incredible experience.

Don't get me wrong — casual sex and exploring your sexuality through consensual encounters can be immensely empowering. As long as you and your partner(s) are actively discussing intent and boundaries, there’s no one right way to get it on. But there is a difference between making love vs having sex. Below, three sex experts break it down.

Making Love Is All About Connection


With less intimate sex, your primary motivation may be to simply have an orgasm. By all means, go on and get yours! Learning what you like in bed is so important. But when your partner already knows what you like, you’re comfortable together, and you’re making love, the primary motivation can often be to enjoy the emotional connection you share with your partner. Making love can mean taking delight in exploring your partner's body, mind, and heart.

According to Gigi Engle, a certified sex coach, sexologist, and author of All The F*cking Mistakes: A Guide To Sex, Love, and Life, you’ll know you’re making love when “you're super into the things this person does to your body: the way they kiss, their smell, their sexual technique. You have chemistry, and things are hot. It means there is a spark. Everything sort of works."

Even if you and your partner are basically strangers, the act of hooking up can actually make you feel emotionally close to each other. That's because sex (and other intimate activities, like hugging or holding hands) releases a hormone called oxytocin, which has been found to strengthen social bonds between people. So, even if your intent is casual, your body might get a more significant message.

These Two Types Of Sex Might Sound Different

During less intimate sex, you might choose to engage in some dirty talk. Even if you aren't a fan of sexy lingo, communication during sex can often be about who’s about to have an orgasm, when, and how hard. When you're making love, this can change. It's not that dirty talk isn't possible when making love, but you may choose to incorporate more loving, emotional wording. Making love can give couples the ability to be very open and comfortable with each other.

On the flip side, when you're having sex with someone you fully trust and feel safe with, you might have more confidence when it comes to letting loose with dirty talk.

"The choice of words can make the difference between an amazing sexual experience and dirty talk that sounds like a bad porno script," licensed psychologist Jennifer B. Rhodes previously told Elite Daily. “It’s the ultimate test of someone’s true seduction skills."

The More You Trust Your Partner, The More You Might Experiment

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Sex with a partner you feel comfortable with can lend itself to not just vulnerability, but also, a lack of inhibitions. You might feel more comfortable trying new things, exploring new fantasies, expressing your kinks, and role-playing. You know your partner loves you and wouldn’t judge you for wanting to try something new. “That's why it's important to be able to regularly check-in and communicate honestly with your sexual partner,” said Jamie LeClaire, a relationship and wellness coach.

Making Love & Having Sex Create Different Types Of Intimacy

So what is making love? When you’re making love, being in the moment with your partner is key to making them feel how much you care. Otherwise, one or both of you could feel lonely or isolated, even though your bodies couldn’t physically be closer. Undivided, selfless attention is much more common in sexual relationships with intimate partners, as opposed to casual, non-committed partners who may be more concerned with their own good time.

“We deserve to be in sexual relationships in which we feel confident and secure, and satisfied," LeClaire said. "Sex is a form of intimacy, so it's important to feel that intimacy is reciprocal. It should at least feel like contentment or excitement with your sex life. It shouldn't feel like your partner is expecting something from you that you don't feel able to give."

Making love and having sex can both be truly satisfying experiences. As long as you and your partner(s) are discussing consent, intent, and boundaries throughout every phrase of your hookup, there’s no wrong way to get it on. Whether you’re making love or having sex, your sexual autonomy and pleasure are your own.

Additional reporting by Iman Hariri-Kia.


Ana Weber, relationship expert and author

Gigi Engle, certified sex coach, sexologist, and author

Jennifer B. Rhodes, psychologist

Jamie LeClaire, relationship and wellness coach

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