Love vs Lust: Do You Know The Difference?

You’ve likely heard the phrase “humans are wired for connection.” We’re born into this world as helpless infants.

We successfully survived up until this point thanks to a connection with our parents, our peers, and other people in our lives.

Even on days when we just want to shut the world out, we often depend on other people for at least a moment during our day.

While platonic and familial connections are lovely, we’re also wired for an intimate relationship with sexual partners.

Not only does sex lead to procreation, but it also provides amazing pleasure.

While we typically think that sexual encounters are reserved for someone we build a deep, intimate connection with, sometimes, our thoughts and feelings confuse us.

When we feel a strong connection with someone, we call it “love.”

But do those feelings always equal love? And if they don’t, what are we feeling? And what do we do with those strong, innate feelings and desires?

Can lust be confused for love?

So let’s start with the basics: Lust is typically defined as an extreme sexual desire for someone. Love, on the other hand, is referred to as an intense feeling of deep affection. Clear as mud, right?

More than likely, you’ve found yourself in a situation where intense sexual attraction clouds your judgment at least once in your life. Well, this is all because of the hormones our brain releases when we connect with someone. 

In fact, studies show that falling in love can impair us in the same way as drugs. However, our brains often cannot distinguish the difference between reality and idealization during the early stages of a relationship.

Psychiatrist Judith Orloff says that the early stages of any relationship involve raging sex hormones that cause us to “see what you hope someone will be or need them to be rather than seeing the real person, flaws and all.”

Because those feelings make us happy, though, we commonly assume that it’s pure infatuation instead of lust.

Furthermore, relationship advisor Angela Andikyan told Bustle in an interview, "The sexual attraction and energy may be so intense that the romance may feel like love.

However, the distinction is that love has a deeper connection and commitment. There cannot be love without an emotional relationship."

According to Andikyan, many people experience the emotional elements of an intimate relationship like bliss, drama, and chaos, even when a fully-established relationship isn’t there.

Because of this, people believe that they are experiencing love when, in all reality, they are merely dealing with our body’s primal urges to connect with someone and procreate.

How can you differentiate between lust and love?

It’s easy to see why we confuse love and lust if our brains react similarly both when we experience sexual attraction and when we experience that deep admiration.

Luckily, though, researchers have invested a lot of time and energy into discovering lines of distinction between lust and love.

Biological anthropologist Helen Fisher studied this puzzle from a biological standpoint.

Her research team determined that we experience 3 unique forms of love, each of which causes our bodies to release different hormones:

1. During  lust, which is largely fueled by sexual urges, our body releases testosterone and estrogen

2. When we experience attraction, a connection beyond sex, our body releases dopamine and norepinephrine.

3. When we experience compassionate love, which is the most secure and lasting, our body releases oxytocin and vasopressin.

While it’s hard to say which hormones your body releases in any given moment, Orloff also gives some obvious ways to differentiate between lust and love.

When It's Lust

While many factors come into play, I like to think of lust in the context of those “thirsty girls” you see hanging on some guy at the bar.

According to Orloff, here are five clear signs that you’re experiencing lust:

  • You're totally focused on a person's looks and body.
  • You're interested in having sex, but not in having conversations.
  • You'd rather keep the relationship on a fantasy level, not discuss real feelings.
  • You want to leave soon after sex rather than cuddling or breakfast the next morning.
  • You are lovers, but not friends.

When It's Love

While mainstream media often makes love look exactly the same as lust, that's not really the case at all. In fact, most experts say that love is a completely separate feeling than sexual desire.

In her information on love and lust, Orloff shares these five signs of love:

  • You want to spend quality time together, other than just having sex.
  • You get lost in conversations and forget about the hours passing.
  • You want to honestly listen to each other's feelings, make each other happy.
  • He or she motivates you to be a better person.
  • You want to meet his or her family and friends.

For a better understanding of how you can differentiate between lust and love, The Love Doctor Dr. Terri Orbuch provided an analysis of this at a TEDx talk at Michigan’s Oakland University:

Is lust good in a relationship or does it ruin things?

While we often associate a negative connotation with the word lust, the desire behind it isn’t always a bad thing. In fact, lust can provide an intense connection and add some spice in the bedroom.

Those lustful feelings can also benefit our partner. After all, when we crave someone in such an intense way, they will feel more empowered and more attractive.

And, as we all know, confident partners make better lovers, right? With that being said, lust can pose some severe complications in almost any relationship.

For starters, lust is based on extreme self-indulgence. When we fall into lust, we crave our partner. We imagine wild fantasies and fight for any opportunity to connect with the other person physically.

Ultimately, lust can prevent us from ever building a deeper connection with our partner, and when the intense physical attraction wears off, the relationship often fizzles.

According to psychologist Sonja Lyubomirsky, “Men and women are less aroused after they have repeatedly viewed the same erotic pictures or engaged in similar sexual fantasies.”

Because of this, The Hope Line claims that “lust turns people into liars, deceivers, and manipulators.” While that may sound a bit extreme, the sentiment is valid. 

Can lust develop into love over time?

According to psychology professor Jim Pfaus, sex can indeed lead to love. According to Pfaus’ study of libido and love, when you feel pleasure or tenderness during sex, it not only triggers your brain’s pleasure center but can also connect with the parts of your brain that help these emotions develop a deeper, everyday feeling.

Regarding his findings, Jim Pfaus adds: "Even love at first sight, can it happen? Of course, it can happen.


And when it does happen, do you want to play Scrabble with each other? When it happens, you normally want to consummate it."


With that being said, diving straight into bed with a sexy man you met on the dance floor may not be the best way to create that lasting love.

 

As relationship expert Bonnie Eaker Weil says, “Lust has to do with hormones and requires no work. But there is no safety net with lust.

Love takes time to develop, so go slowly. Don’t give into your lust if you can avoid it—that is, if you want more than a booty call.” 

What's the main difference between lust and attraction?

As I previously mentioned, anthropologist Helen Fisher discovered we all experience 3 very unique forms of infatuation. While that definitely helps us differentiate between love and lust, the lines between lust and attraction may not seem so clear.

It’s important to remember that sexual attraction is 100% natural. After all, nearly all of us notice a person we find attractive when they enter the room.

However, just because we notice someone or even feel a connection to them after engaging in conversation, that doesn’t automatically equal lustful feelings.

Some experts say that lust is essentially the conscious choice to give pursuit towards desirable objects, instead of merely allowing them to pass by.

In other words, lust lures us to succumb to our natural impulses. When you feel lustful, you excessively crave the other person or your own sexual gratification.

In other words, when we feel attracted to someone else, it’s more about the feeling of connection and our feelings towards them.

When we feel lustful, it’s more about our own feelings and satisfying our own urges without considering the other person at all.

Final Thoughts

Our brains sometimes confuse us. This confusion often makes it hard for us to distinguish between true love and mere lust.

However, once you know the distinguishing characteristics between love and lust, you can more easily differentiate between the two when you meet someone new.

While we are indeed wired for connection and more than deserving of a deep, unbreakable connection with someone, it’s important to check in with yourself when you start feeling “love drunk” over someone.

When you start craving someone's touch, question the motives behind your feelings and urges:

  • Do you care about this person, or are you just looking for someone to quench your thirst?
  • Do you see flaws in this person and accept them, or are you too love drunk to separate fact from fantasy?
  • Are you looking for a forever person or just a hookup?

Once you search inside of yourself and answer those questions honestly, you'll have a better understanding if you're feeling love and lust. With that information, you'll be able to decide how to move forward or when to let go.

Breakup Shop Team

The Breakup Shop team is a group of dating and relationship experts who share their in-depth knowledge with our community of 20,000 people strong! We are people just like you, with a desire to share our personal experiences and advice regarding breakups, heartbreak, dating, and relationships. Welcome to the community!