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Love and lust: Distinguishing the difference

Updated on August 7, 2012
Conventional image of love
Conventional image of love

The relationship between love and lust can be difficult to pinpoint precisely.

On one hand, it can be seen as something that has absolutely nothing to do with love.

On the other hand, lust and its associated passion are part of a loving, romantic relationship.

Indeed, many writers on the subject subscribe to the notion of multiple love types.

Relationship expert Helen Fisher notes that three types of love exist: lust, romantic love and long-term attachment. Note that lust appears as a type of love in this classification.

Psychologist Robert Sternberg also had classifications of love outlined in his "Triangular theory of love." This theory uses the concept of the shape of love – a concept that is determined by three factors: intimacy, commitment and passion.

Of these three elements, passion describes physical attraction and desire. Even in Professor Sternberg’s theory, love is multi-dimensional and incorporates passion, which is usually associated with lust.

According to an article in The Economist, love "uses the neural mechanisms that are activated during the process of addiction." By definition, lust is an overwhelming or strong sexual desire. However, lust may not be as unsophisticated as some persons portray it to be.

Studies have shown that even casual sex releases chemicals like "serotonin, oxytocin, vasopressin and endogenous opioids." On this basis, a temporary feeling of bonding or closeness can occur immediately after a one-night stand.

The difference between love and lust can be understood by evaluating the relationship between the two phenomena. Lust – as defined by passion and desire – facilitates bonding and is an element of love.

Sex and passion have a significant role to play in intimate relationships – that’s what distinguishes Eros from other types of love (Philia and Agape). However, because love is so broad and multi-dimensional, it is a far greater phenomenon than lust.

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Professor Sternberg noted that love without intimacy is “blind love.”

When sex misses trust, commitment, intimacy and attachment, it feels superficial.

Lust does not typically involve mutual discovery and gradual understanding of your partner.

Romantic love usually begins with an emphasis on passion; followed by intimacy and then commitment. Helen Fisher describes romantic love as being fairly unstable.

Any relationship that has a high emphasis on passion (lust) would be an infatuation, a one-night stand. A monogamous sexual relationship would be blind love (passion and some degree of commitment without intimacy).

What makes the distinction between love and lust so difficult is that many relationships skip building a foundation and indulge in passion too soon. The hormones and biochemical reactions in the brain may incorrectly indicate that we're in love; this can explain why many persons stay in new relationships that don’t seem right for them. Tons of sexual chemistry can work for a while, but you’ll be like the Emperor in his new clothes if you believe that it will last in the long run.

I recall reading an article where the writer claimed that lust is when you feel like ripping clothes off but love is removing clothes with gentle sighs of emotion. What utter rubbish!

Apparently that writer yearned for sighs of emotions. Imagine that – you can’t have strong sexual urges when you’re in love?

It’s funny that removing clothes with “sighs of emotions” cannot be lust. Some strong urges can be controlled; maybe that’s where the sighs would come from.

According to Professor Sternberg’s theory, true love is in equilibrium even; it involves physical, emotional and spiritual bonding. However, lustful physical intimacy can feel like love because of the release of the feel-good chemicals and hormones. Love can make people feel “high” as well, but it usually entails more than sheer euphoria.


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  • yssubramanyam profile image

    yssubramanyam 5 years ago from india, nellore. andhrapradesh

    Love do not seek change in partner. it accepts as it is. Lust is selfish. i like the narration.

  • SpiffyD profile image

    SpiffyD 6 years ago from The Caribbean

    Thanks stush. Some persons believe that love and bonding is a complete mystery. I think they are complex phenomena but they remain well within our understanding.

  • profile image

    break up books 6 years ago

    Great hub! I love the way you have brought scientific research into your article to back up your points. Very informative to us all.