Are You in Love or Lust? Here’s Your Answer

06 Jun 2023
12 min read
Lust vs Love - Do You Know the Difference?

Lust vs love, or something that has gotten a bad rap over the years vs something that is touted as the goal that everyone should seek in a relationship.

Of course, we all want to love and be loved – at least the vast majority of us do. But is “being in lust” bad or immoral? Can you be in love and feel lust at the same time? What is the difference between love and lust? And how do you know if it’s lust or love? You’re about to find out the answers to all these questions here.

Love vs. Lust – Getting to the Definitions

When it comes to just hoping in bed with someone you’re attracted to right away vs. feeling an emotional connection based on shared values and common interests, the difference between love and lust is crystal clear. But what if you’re in a new relationship and not sure how you’re feeling? Like you both want to get to know them better to see if you will feel deeply connected and have a strong sexual attraction to them right now. So what do you have here?

To try to get to the answer on this question of lust versus love, let’s take a look at some of the characteristics of each.

What is Lust?

Put simply, lust is sexual desire. It is purely sexual attraction to someone. Is it an intense emotion? Absolutely. Is it love? Absolutely not.

Here are the signs of lust:

  • You are attracted to someone’s physical appearance – basically, a great body
  • You have thoughts about having sex with someone and you desire that sex with them
  • You want to act on your sexual attraction
  • You’re not really thinking about a deeper connection, at least not now
  • You experience physical arousal and intense sexual desire when around this person
  • You actually have sex with a person for the pure joy of the sex

Does this sound like what you have felt or are feeling about another person right now? If so, you’re “in lust.”

And there is nothing wrong with this. Today, sex without loving relationships is totally acceptable as long as both agree on this type of connection. Sometimes, it can be a “friends with benefits” kind of thing, where both get sexual satisfaction with no strings attached. It’s just sex. And if it works for them, great.

Related reading: What Are the Signs Your Friends with Benefits Is Falling for You
The Art and Skill of Making Love
How to Be a Better Lover – Inside and Out

What is Love?

There are many people and many definitions of love. However, there are some common traits all people in love share. If you’re lost, take a quiz from the “love doctor,” relationship expert and anthropologist Helen Fisher that helps to determine if the relationship you have is love on a deeper level or just lust.

Here are some signs of love:

  • You want to know about the person’s life and to share yours
  • You want to have dates and experiences that are not all about sex
  • You are constantly thinking about what you can do for them and how you can support their goals
  • You talk about values to feel connected
  • You talk about a future together
  • You have a strong desire and an intense longing just to be with them
  • Sex is great and “icing on the cake,” where the cake is the loving relationship you two have.

Related reading: Are You In Love or Just Clingy? 8 Love vs Attachment Differences
3 Types of Love – Which One Is Yours?
Think You Found the One? Don’t Miss These Stages of Falling in Love!

5 Questions to See the Difference Between Love and Lust

In the early stages of a relationship, when you strongly feel infatuation, it is pretty easy to confuse love and lust. After all, an attraction when a relationship is new is so big that it’s easy to confuse it with love. However, infatuation is short-lived and intense, and a person may feel lust during that time and when  infatuation wears off. It can turn into either love or lust, though.

The other problem that makes this whole lust vs love thing confusing is how this is all portrayed in the media, especially romantic comedies on the big screen. Two people meet; they are attracted to each other; some type of conflict occurs, either internal or external, but, in the end, they are back together and “riding off into the sunset” in bliss. In reality, their relationship is just beginning, so how can it be truly love? Romantic relationships take time. And unlike love, sexual attractions do not.

Related reading: A Guide to Growing an Exclusive Relationship

So let’s unpack some ways you can sort out the confusion and tell the difference between the two emotions.

Lust vs love: is there obsession present?

1. Are You Obsessive in This Relationship?

Are you thinking about this person all the time? Is your thinking disrupting other facets of your life? If the relationship is new, it may be infatuation. But if the thoughts are all about sexual and physical desire, and daydreaming about the great sex you have and will have, this is one of the clear signs of lust.

When it’s real love, you think about that person a lot, but you also function in all other aspects of your life. Why? Because you have enough security in that relationship that allows you to have the right balance – you’re not desperate about how soon you can get in bed again. You call and text; you make dates; and you enjoy your time together.

Related reading: How To Maintain Your Individuality While In a Relationship

2. Why Are You in This Relationship?

You have all kinds of relationships – with your family members, with your best friend, and with your co-workers. And you know why you are in these relationships. Chances are there is a back-and-forth of care, consideration, respect, etc. You are motivated by giving and getting. You accept them and feel accepted by them.

Do some deep digging into your motivations for this relationship. Is the lust stronger than any other feelings you have for this person? Do you ever have thoughts of a long-term relationship with this person? Do you feel uncomfortable if you are forced into serious conversations with them? Is your sexual connection the primary focus of your time together? All of these things are signs of lust, not love.

3. Do You Want to Get to Know This Person More?

It’s common that lust occurs in the beginning stages of a relationship. After all, there is a strong physical connection that you want to satisfy, and, today, sex often happens early in a relationship. But during this stage, the difference between lust and love can already be showing up. Besides the intense sexual attraction, are you interested in getting to know your new squeeze?

Do you want to set up dates and encounters that don’t involve just sex? Are you interested in getting together in more quiet places where you have a climate to just talk? Do you want to know about their work, their outside interests, their goals, and what they value? If you are looking to do these things, they are certain signs that your feelings are going from the lust stage into the attachment stage. You will not be calling at love at this point, but you moving in a romantic way toward a companionate love.

Related reading: 21 Questions for a New Relationship

4. Does This Relationship Have Staying Power?

Over time, a relationship based on lust doesn’t really change. On the physical level, it might be just fine. But it never progresses beyond that.

And so, when someone else comes along that they have a feeling of lust for, it’s easy to dump the current squeeze and move on. So ask yourself, if someone else came into your life today, and you had a feeling of deep lust, how hard would it be to move on to that person, or add that person to your sexual intimacy?

If you can do this, you have no passionate love for your current partner. Deep affection is just not there. You may have a deep physical connection, but it is just that. And it can end quickly without much regret. If you can move on, you already know the difference between lust and love.

Related reading: How to Choose Between Two Guys (or Not)

5. Are You Interested in Working on More Than Just Lust?

“To fall in love with a person, you probably need to know if you enjoy being together, have similar values and interests, and are attracted to one another. To deeply love someone, you need to accept their good and challenging sides and be able to work through challenges together.”

Dr. Paulette Sherman, a licensed psychologist

You have this intense feeling of physical attraction to your current partner. And you may be thinking that something more could happen. But an intimacy that goes from lust to love takes work – lots of hard work. Developing a companionate love takes time, lots of deep communication, and a willingness to work through differences and conflicts with resolutions that reflect compromise.

Here’s an example. Suppose one of the partners has controlling tendencies and the other values their independence and individuality. When they are in love, both use their better judgment and set up mutual boundaries. and they compromise when such issues arise. If they continue to have some tough issues, they consider couples therapy (or at least online therapy) to work through their feelings and emotions.

This is a serious way to tell the difference between lust and love. If you aren’t willing to do the hard work, then you have one of the telltale signs of the difference between real love and lust.

Lust and love - it's complicated

3 Stages of the Development of Romantic Love

If you are still confused about this whole lust vs love thing, it might become clearer if you understand the stages that most people go through as they move from just lust to romantic love. You can then see where your feelings and emotions stop or move forward.

Stage One: Lust

Experiencing lust is usually the first thing that draws people together. They see each other, feel a physical attraction, maybe pretty intense, and are ready to get together. You want to get sexual gratification from this person in the worst way, and maybe they feel the same way. You get together and have an amazing time.

Stage Two: Attraction

The romps have been just great. and you are not finding that your romantic attraction to this person is really strong. They are now on your mind during lots of your waking hours and impacting other facets of your life. Friends are asking you why you’ve “disappeared;” co-workers are wondering why you seem so distracted.

You’re daydreaming about the encounters you’ve had, trying to figure out when you can meet up again. They are obviously consuming almost all of your waking hours. And you want to spend time with them whenever you can. When you’re together, you have lots of eye contact while you engage in more serious talk. Your feel-good hormones are on overdrive, and you’re thinking of a romantic relationship with them.

Stage Three: Attachment

When you reach this stage, you are well beyond the sexual gratification stage. You’re now into the stage where you are looking at something long-term. Specifically, the extreme emotions have subsided, you know your partner much more intimately, you feel secure and comfortable that the relationship is growing, and you have settled into a life that includes dates, activities, socializing with friends, discussions about your life goals, your outlooks on life, and, yes, your future together. The intimacy is far more than physical.

If you have stalled at stage one, there is no long-term prospect. At stage two, the prospects are iffy. But if you are in stage three, you’re headed for the long term.

Feeling Lust or Love? It Can Still Be Complicated

Here are a couple of other things you should keep in mind. One – lust and love can co-exist. People in strong loving relationships can also have an intense desire for each other sexually, and people with unbridled sexual desire, in the beginning, can certainly develop a romantic attachment over time, so the love-lust connection continues long-term. Two – some of the confusion in figuring out whether it’s lust or love is that both emotions stimulate the same brain pathways – related to self, goal direction, addiction, happiness, and reward.

In short, feelings and emotions in relationships can be deceiving. You think you have a passionate love for someone, but over time you come to realize that the attraction is just sexual. You have nothing in common, don’t really want to take the time to get to know each other, and just really enjoy the sex.

On the other hand, you may start out thinking that you are only in it for the sexual encounter, but over time, discover that this is a person you want to get to know and that there is more to your feelings than just a physical bond. You’re ready to explore the whole person.

Relationships Author
Geoffrey Williams
After taking a required Intro to Psychology course as an undergrad, I have never looked back. Since my doctoral program, I have specialized in adult relationship therapy. Through my studies and clinicals, I wrote several articles for professional journals and currently in the midst of writing a book.

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