Should You Have Sex or Make Love?

Several fellow Christian authors and bloggers have written about how couples should “make love” not “have sex.” These are colleagues I respect and admire, and I agree entirely with the principle underlying their point.

However, I’ve wondered if it really matters in common conversation. I’ve certainly talked about having sex in my own marriage, as one phrase among many options we have to describe our meaningful sexual intimacy. It would feel odd for me to label it as making love every time. In fact, my husband has been known to initiate in such unromantic ways as “Are we going to copulate today?” (His defense is “hey, it worked.”) Yet I still understand how meaningful sex is to him.

With this in mind, I posted to my closed Facebook group, outlining the issue and asking: What do you think about using “having sex”? Is it really important to you that you, your spouse, or others call it “making love?”

Here what I learned.

People have varied perspectives and preferences.

I cannot advise readers to use one phrase over another, because your spouse might see it differently. Among the answers I got were:

  • making love applies to the whole of sexual activities in the marriage bed while having sex is intercourse
  • making love feels cheesy and uncomfortable while having sex sounds more natural
  • having sex feels more shallow than making love
  • making love is long, slow, and passionate while having sex is fast-paced and pleasure-driven

And plenty said you can call it whatever you like, it’s always making love because that’s how their marriage bed feels.

The specific language matters a great deal to some—and not necessarily in one way or the other—and not as much to others. Whatever you call sexual intimacy in your marriage, however, it should sound respectful and attractive to your spouse. So ask what they like. You might find out it matters more than you thought or less than you thought.

Culture and generation are factors in word choice.

I remember talking to my sons once about what body parts are called these days…and being astounded by the common use of a word that has no negative connotation in their generation but certainly does in mine. Who’s right on this one? Well, we have to consider culture and context in word choices. In my culture, that label would be a no-go; in theirs, it’s not a big deal.

As it turns out, this appears to be true with making love and having sex—with several younger couples saying making love sounded weird, like a euphemism for people who can’t bring themselves to say the actual words. Now that’s not true of everyone their age, but it’s an interesting perspective.

Some phrases for sex might appeal to people from one region or in one generation or with one background while other phrases appeal to those from different regions, generations, and backgrounds. As an example, references to being “ridden” as part of sex don’t bother me a bit, maybe because I’m a Texan who’s ridden horses, enjoyed rodeos, and seen the affection a rider and the ridden can have. Yet for someone else, that phrase could feel understandably disrespectful. Culture and context matter.

Spouses want sex to be pleasurable and meaningful.

Whatever you call it, spouses want sex to be both pleasurable and meaningful. The point colleagues have made about making love > having sex gets at this very point. While I don’t see the importance of the phrasing the way they do, I agree entirely that sex should be more than a physical act. It should involve our whole selves—body, mind, heart, and soul.

The responses I got from the group members demonstrate this desire. Husbands and wives both want experiences that are physically exciting and satisfying, while recognizing the underlying commitment and intimacy to what they do in their marriage bed. As one husband aptly put it: “Yes, we have sex, intercourse, coitus, I ‘know my wife’, we ‘do it, have a quickie… and whatever else you call it, but in all of those things (and many others) we are making love to each other.”

Husbands and wives both want experiences that are physically exciting and satisfying, while recognizing the underlying commitment and intimacy to what they do in their marriage bed. @hotholyhumorous Click To Tweet

What will I call it in my resources?

I call it everything under the sun. I’m a writer, a crafter of words, a lover of language. I like using all the options available to me, as long as they are accurate and respectful. Since I don’t personally find anything problematic about having sex or making love, I’ll use both of those. But also sexual intimacy, physical intimacy, and any number of nicknames for The Deed. You can check out a few interesting euphemisms for sex here: What Euphemisms for Sex Do You Use?

But please know that I honor your desire for sex to be both pleasurable and meaningful. That is God’s design for sex in marriage—that both spouses feel good, feel connected, feel honored in this intimate experience.

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20 thoughts on “Should You Have Sex or Make Love?

  1. Steve

    If two people love each other and are married, then they shouldn’t get too worried about the ‘making love’ term because they already know how much it means to them and how much they mean to each other.

    If we fixate too much on ‘making love’ as the only correct way to look at it, then that can give a Christian couple the idea that it always has to be slow, gentle, tender, etc. If ‘making love’ becomes a legalistic thing then that can give married people the idea that it is not OK to have a rough and raucous bedroom throwdown if that is what they both want. Just one opinion though.

    Reply
  2. Ms Kitty

    Great article! My husband, because he’s a cheezy goofball, says “We always make love. I’m going to make you love it!”

    Reply
  3. Ranger

    The most important thing if your married and want “it” to just communicate to your partner no matter what word works for you both…let them know how you feel the need and what you would like to do…fast or slow.

    Reply
  4. Greg

    A fascinating article, J., as it’s something I’ve pondered. Frankly, I don’t like either term. I’ve recently adopted the word “communion” to describe it, drawing from the definition of, “the sharing or exchanging of intimate thoughts and feelings, especially when the exchange is on a mental or spiritual level.” That’s what sexual intimacy with my wife is to me. However, I don’t say to her, “Shall we commune?” because that sounds dopey.

    My bride has settled on the term “quickie”—”Would you like a quickie?”—and it has no bearing on how long our communion lasts.

    Reply
  5. Anonymous

    For me, the term “make love” was used before marriage. To me, this was hot and heavy kissing and no sexual intercourse. The term “have sex” refers to sexual intercourse (preferably in marriage only).

    At my current stage of life (nearly 40 years of marriage), if I use words for my desire to have sex, I other phrases, such as “how would like to get to know each better tonight” with wink.

    Reply
  6. mepharisee

    The biggest impact “making love” has on me was that I first heard it in soap operas. It was the way TV could talk about sex/intercourse.

    In reality, “making love” was only used when people wanted to be more appropriate, like when children might hear. Other than that, it was rarely used as I recall.

    My personal perspective is that “making love” is more generic than anything. I can appreciate its use. I’d rather see the whole of my marriage as making love. Love is very general to me. Sex, is the detail within the love I have for my wife. Making love is something I do, like I’m constructing something. Sex is what I use, as a tool, to do that with. In this respect I also have dinner, or go on a date, & I would call that a part of making love. That’s just me though. I get it’s use. Fun thinking about it. Thank you.

    Reply
  7. Nethwen

    Maybe we make love so that we want to have sex or do we have sex in order to make love? Or all of the above for different people at different times?

    Reply
  8. Mark

    When we are intimate with our spouse, it is rawest form of physical and emotional surrender. There might be various definitions to what is raw or less raw, but it is still raw.

    Is making love raw? My answer is yes. Is having sex raw? My answer is yes.

    Is the word “sex” more explicit than “making love”, I would say yes.

    How would one define penetrative love making with our spouse? Could one say that part of the definition is sex?

    I usually say making love when I’m intimate with my wife. There are times when my prim and proper wife wants to be treated like a little sex kitten.

    Is that wrong?

    Reply
  9. Tony

    I’m more concerned with having it than with what to call it.

    If naming were to make a difference, I’ll call it whatever results in the highest rate of quality events.

    Reply
  10. E

    At the end of the day, actions speak louder than words. You can call it ‘making love’, but if the act is full of selfishness and only for physical release, then it’s not making love. You can call it having sex, and if it is an act of mutual pleasure, deeply intimate, emotional and spiritually binding, then it is good. I mean, I guess you could even call it __ if the act itself was as described above.

    As always, love your work, J

    Reply
  11. Bobthemusicguy

    Funny how language changes. Pre-20th century, “making love” meant to seriously court a woman. In Doyle’s “Hound of the Baskervilles” Sir Henry is described as getting to know a woman more intimately, but since he doesn’t actually propose marriage yet, the author says he didn’t actually make love to her.

    I think this comes from the disjunction of sex from marriage in our society. The world, and many Christians, see physical sex as a purely animalistic activity. Surely that’s not God’s design. Also, many people, by the word “sex,” mean only penetration and intercourse. I believe it means a lot more than that. And some, trying to excuse their sin, rationalize that since they didn’t have actual intercourse, maybe only oral or manual stimulation, somehow they didn’t cheat on their spouse.

    Reply
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  14. Natalie

    To answer the question posed in the title — YES. Christians should make love and have sex. Sometimes it is a true soulful connection of mind, body, and spirit. Sometimes it is only about getting that itch scratched (and he harder he scratches the better). Most times, it is somewhere in between the two extremes. But the answer is an unequivocal YES, you should do both.

    Reply

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