Understanding Love And Sex – A Valentine’s Day Puzzle

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Although it is possible to experience love without sexual or physical intimacy and to experience sex without love, for most people, the two are connected.

Here’s a valentine’s day puzzle – what IS the connection between love and sex, and how do you study these hard to explain emotional and physical states that are such an important part of our human experience?

Although it is possible to experience love without sexual or physical intimacy and to experience sex without love, for most people, the two are connected.

Passionate and Companionate Love

Drs. Elaine Hatfield and Ellen Berscheid introduced the distinction between passionate (or romantic), and companionate love. Passionate love is an emotional love and involves the longing for union;

Companionate love is a form of love that combines friendship and commitment. While many have interpreted the two types of love to follow a natural path, with passionate love leading the way, then morphing into a less intense companionate love, they really are independent, though the importance may vary from couple to couple and change over time.

Studying Love

But how do we know and can we actually study love?   It’s one thing to know how many times people engage in sexual activities, or even who they’re attracted to, and quite another to understand the feelings that couples have towards each other.

Each partner may have different expectations about and capacities for passionate and companionate love – different love ‘styles’.   Some researchers propose that love is a mixture of passion, commitment, and intimacy, and that each relationship can be high or low on each of these concepts.  That works out to 8 different types of loving!

What’s Sex Got To Do With It?

One of the dances that humans go through is satisfying our own needs and desires while responding to the sometimes different needs of a partner.  So what’s sex got to do with it?

Well you can’t really talk about passionate love, without including sexual desire.  Most researchers agree that desire is a fundamental component of this passionate, or romantic, love.

Valentine’s Day can throw off all the expectations and rules and put us in a completely new frame of mind.    Regardless of a person’s more dominant love style, the right gift, glass of wine, poem or words of love can turn a companionate love right back to passionate, even if only for a day.

Jennifer Bass (M.P.H.)

is Director of Communications at The Kinsey Institute and founder of Kinsey Institute Sexuality Information Service for Students, now Kinsey Confidential.
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