You found the one. They comprise of everything you ever dreamed of and more—kind, exciting, perfect chemistry, attractive and oh, the sex seems… well, uh, fun? If you heard yourself talk about your significant other this way, it’s time to discuss if your partner treats you right. Making love and having sex differs in a subtle, yet strong difference: making love includes having sex, but having sex rejects the art of emotional deepening that making love embraces. While navigating the world of sex, love and intimacy, honing in on these differences teaches partners deep truths about their significant others.
Here’s five signs that discuss how to recognize making love (or a lack thereof) in your relationship:
1. The Sex Scam
Making love and having sex sometimes correspond to the difference between “us” and “me.” If the sex seems to revolve around your partner and they dismiss your need for satisfaction, your partner likely doesn’t dig an emotional connection. As you dive into intimacy, love and sex in college, value your peace and weed out the selfish partners.
“It’s easy to fully invest yourself in your partner’s wants and needs while forgetting about yourself,” Ohio State sophomore Kaira Mack said. “I had a negative relationship experience where my partner wasn’t being attentive or kind to me. Through the support of friends, I realized I deserved more. I met someone who invested in our relationship and happiness as much as I did! You know your partner is more interested in your body than your relationship when they invest more into your sexual relationship than your romantic one. Your partner should be attentive to what you want and need in and outside the bedroom.”
If your SO forces the sex to surround their desires and convenience, that misguides the reality of “making love.” It turns sex to a scam that prioritizes their needs over yours.
Intertwining love with sex means that both partners receive and give. The next time your partner rushes the act, neglects your needs or unappreciates your work, call them out. Communicate your concerns to your partner and don’t hesitate. It seems scary—what if they get mad? What if I’m wrong? (hint: you’re not). Get deep with it. Get to the root of why your partner still seems to love the sex and you seem to be receiving only half of the sex. At the end of the day, if they still blatantly refuse to acknowledge your sexual needs after open, honest and comfortable dialogue, it may be time to find a new partner who gives you that respect.
2. A Mutually Assured Attachment
Making love goes beyond sex. It merges the physical with the emotional, connecting bodies and minds. It leads to a deeper link than your typical college hookup. Does that mean one should classify casual flings as mistakes? Not exactly. No right way exists to how you approach sex. Your intentions—whether bonding or hooking up—matter most.
“It’s up to the individual, if they’re engaging in behavior that feels good, that they’re excited about, [with] enthusiastic consent, there’s nothing wrong with it,” Sex Therapy Expert and Licensed Clinical Social Worker Corinne Lewis said. “For some people, with their partners, when the context is congruent with having sex, when they feel close to their partners or when they’re feeling safe—both emotionally and physically—that can have an absolute impact.”
Not all sex requires emotional attachment, especially if the motivation leans solely on the physical—something we see widely in hookup culture.
“Sex can be meaningful,” Penn State sophomore Imani Butler said. “Sex can also just be strictly stress relief. It all depends on the person and their intentions. From my own experiences, I realized that with most relationships, sexual or not, an individual goes through trial and error. You have to find out what you don’t like, what doesn’t work to figure out and what does. Experiencing something for yourself will best solidify your opinion or outlook on things—good or bad.”
Communication becomes vital here. If you want to make love as an expression of romance and strengthen attachment to your college lover, make this intention known! Your partner may only want physical pleasure this time, a perfectly acceptable request. If both partners never realize their separate motives, with one having sex and the other making love, the young college student may feel disoriented about the whole situation.
If you doubt your partner matches your level of intention or commitment, check out some signs that can indicate a sole interest in sexual encounters.
“They don’t text or communicate asking how your day is going, only connect to make plans for a sexual meetup or don’t spend much time having dates where you explore activities together,” AASECT Certified Sex Therapist, Director of Center for Love and Sex and Founder of Sex Esteem Sari Cooper said. “While you may have drinks or a meal, it’s not extended in length and doesn’t happen each time you see one another. They don’t introduce you to their friends or include you in events they spend with their friends. If you’re part of the same friend group, they may show less interest in you when you’re all together at a party or club. They may tell you about a family gathering but don’t invite you to join them. They can’t be relied on if you are sick and you don’t hear from them on a regular basis.”
Use your voice to assert and clarify what you feel works best for you. Engage your partner in your desired outcome and go into making love or having sex on the same page.
3. Sugar and Spices
As spicy as the sex may get, making love also means sprinkling some sugar in between. What differentiates basic, casual sex from the more sensual act occurs when your partner adds sweetness to the mix. Often, the particular link between two romantic individuals stems from verbal or non-verbal care. Before-care may incorporate an emotional talk that leads to the sex or an expectation conversation. During, you can add a dash of love by checking in on your partner or a fan-favorite option, gaze into each other’s eyes to create a sense of closeness.
When we don’t receive aftercare, it feels as though your partner tossed you aside. Ouch. A partner may also withdraw without aftercare, even if they share love for their partner as a form of sheltering themselves. This once again reminds us why communication becomes key to understanding our partner’s actions and explaining our own needs.
The space after sex, whether with your partner or alone, requires a serious moment of personal reflection, even after a one-time fling. As college students, we find new understandings of ourselves every day. Acknowledging new interests or distastes can help teach us our love language for our current or future partners. It also teaches us about our own vulnerabilities, fears or anxieties around our sexuality. Finding what works for you can aid to ensure your own emotional safety.
4. Break Down Your Walls
If your partner allows themselves to be vulnerable in the bedroom, you just got handed a plate of trust. With vulnerability comes safety and assurance. Most of that trust rests in the level of emotional comfort each partner feels in each other’s presence.
“Trust is such an important part [of] being able to let go and be uninhibited. If there’s a lack of trust in the relationship, then it’s less likely that people are really going to allow themselves to engage in sex in a way that feels vulnerable,” Lewis said.
If your partner trusts you with their deepest fantasies or expresses interest in experimenting, they entered the arena of making love with you. This delicate tie between couples can break easily if one partner feels as though the other takes advantage of their openness. Crafting an open-minded, receptive and approachable atmosphere follows along with establishing and keeping consensual boundaries with your partner.
Upon entering college, it’s important for students to understand their vulnerabilities. Letting another person know these vulnerabilities represents a positive sign of love, but recognize that if a partner breaks this trust, it treads back slowly. One way to maintain this trust includes creating this non-judgmental environment when exploring sexual interests. It may not sound appealing to you, but as a partner, making love includes being in their corner—plus, you’d want the same response.
5. Think Outside the Box
Sometimes we forget that intimacy can exist just as romantically outside those bedroom doors. We usually associate making love with having sex, with some added flares of romance, care and sensuality. However, these flares can grow outside of sex, in short and sweet everyday acts of love. Those romantic moments outside the sex might also open doors of communication on the sex.
“I encourage partners to complement their partner’s efforts, whether it’s for showing up at an important event or for making coffee,” Cooper said. “This appreciation extends to a partner’s pleasuring. It encourages closeness to let a partner know what they enjoy about their sex life and it becomes a good foundation to begin conversations on ways to add new emotional and sexual experiences.”
While dorming at school, couples spend a lot more time doing homework together, eating (sometimes cooking) together or even walking around campus to pick some flowers. These moments of intimacy can drive the trust needed to open conversations on needs and desires. Depending on your individual love language, these experiences can even exceed the sex in terms of romance. Embrace them, the world might just enter a pandemic and you might end up leaving those intimate moments behind.
If your college sweetheart seems to annoyingly leave that romance at the bedroom door, they may not understand your intimate needs or love language yet.
Remember: Communicate, communicate, communicate.
Instead of running up and down article after article, advice post after advice post, sit down and talk it out. Sometimes your partner may be just as confused as you. Maybe they even feel the same way. No matter what case scenario, you deserve to be heard. You deserve an ear for your sexual expectations. No one can read your mind, but you can spell out what you need, one human to another.