The random stuff that I find myself thinking about and then researching, I get it from my daddy. Back when he was still alive, it was nothing for him to send me fun facts, usually during the most obscure hours of the morning, on exotic animals, random independent artists and historical info. So, if you're wondering what compelled me to sit up one day and wonder where the phrase "make love" comes from, you can thank him—and the fact that I write about sex and relationships for a living. Oh, and also the fact that it's the kind of phrase that irks me to no end.
To tell you the truth, I've always been that way about the term. I'm not sure if it's due to how casually sex is treated by so many people, or the insane amount of expectation that is placed on the act—but to automatically assume that sex is the act of "making love", that seems a little…ill-defined. At least, to me. But before diving deeper into why I feel that way, let's look at where in the heck the phrase came from in the first place, shall we?
When Did Folks Start Saying “Make Love” Anyway?
So, after doing a bit of research, there are a couple of things that I found to be interesting about the history of "make love". First, one article that I read stated that, as far back as the 1600s, the dictionary defined the phrase in a way that had absolutely nothing to do with sex (or sexual activity) at all. According to it, make love used to be defined as something very sweet and extremely innocent. What it meant was "to pay amorous attention; to court, woo". Hmm. Interesting.
There is another article that I read that basically co-signs on the fact that make love used to have nothing to do with the actual act of sex. Back in the 1800s, when a man was trying to woo a woman into courtship (because back then, you didn't date unless courtship was the goal. Check out "This Is Why You're So Frustrated With Dating" for a breakdown on what courting actually means), the steps that he would take were called "love making". If a man showed significant interest, if he gave the object of his affection gifts, if he took her out—all of these things were referred to as making love.
And how did it "evolve" into sex? Apparently, by the turn of the 20th century, the Oxford Dictionary redefined making love as—"to engage in sexual intercourse, esp. considered as an act of love; frequently used with to, with".
So, make love used to refer to a man using gestures to court a woman. Then it transitioned into being sexual intercourse with someone that you love.
Both sound pretty good, right? To a large extent, I'd agree; especially when it comes to the courtship point because I like the thought of a man being intentional about wooing a woman as he is trying to "make love happen" with her. So, why do I feel like we should stop using the phrase "make love" as much as we do? Ironically, it's because of what the definitions of "make" and "love" mean.
Make. Love. Revisited: What does Making Love Really Mean?
Is it truly possible that the act of sex—especially sexual intercourse—can make love happen? Well, if you read articles on our site like, "Experts Believe Passion (Not Love) Makes Sex Better. You Agree?", the answer would be "no". Believe you me, I know a lot of people (myself included) who have had some truly mind-blowing sex with people they didn't love; sometimes with people they barely even like (see "Don't Mistake A Great Sex Partner For A Great Life Partner"). Although it can be a hard life lesson, we need to make sure that we don't mistake strong attraction and carnal compatibility with true love. So already, you can probably see why the phrase doesn't impress me. Let's move on, though.
Next, let's look at the definitions of "make" and "love". To make something is "to bring into existence by shaping or changing material, combining parts, etc." and "to produce; cause to exist or happen; bring about". Love? Personally, I don't think that dictionary definitions do the word nearly enough justice, but to be fair, here is one—"an intense emotion of affection, warmth, fondness, and regard towards a person or thing". Like I said, that's not nearly good enough. How about we go with a Bob Marley quote on love? It's a lengthy one, but it's pretty fitting.
"Only once in your life, I truly believe, you find someone who can completely turn your world around. You tell them things that you've never shared with another soul and they absorb everything you say and actually want to hear more. You share hopes for the future, dreams that will never come true, goals that were never achieved and the many disappointments life has thrown at you. When something wonderful happens, you can't wait to tell them about it, knowing they will share in your excitement. They are not embarrassed to cry with you when you are hurting or laugh with you when you make a fool of yourself.
Never do they hurt your feelings or make you feel like you are not good enough, but rather they build you up and show you the things about yourself that make you special and even beautiful. There is never any pressure, jealousy or competition, but only a quiet calmness when they are around. You can be yourself and not worry about what they will think of you because they love you for who you are. The things that seem insignificant to most people such as a note, song or walk become invaluable treasures kept safe in your heart to cherish forever. Memories of your childhood come back and are so clear and vivid it's like being young again. Colors seem brighter and more brilliant.
Laughter seems part of daily life where before it was infrequent or didn't exist at all. A phone call or two during the day helps to get you through a long day's work and always brings a smile to your face. In their presence, there's no need for continuous conversation, but you find you're quite content in just having them nearby. Things that never interested you before become fascinating because you know they are important to this person who is so special to you. You think of this person on every occasion and in everything you do.
Simple things bring them to mind like a pale blue sky, gentle wind or even a storm cloud on the horizon. You open your heart, knowing that there's a chance it may be broken one day and in opening your heart, you experience a love and joy that you never dreamed possible. You find that being vulnerable is the only way to allow your heart to feel true pleasure that's so real it scares you. You find strength in knowing you have a true friend and possibly a soul mate who will remain loyal to the end. Life seems completely different, exciting and worthwhile. Your only hope and security are in knowing that they are a part of your life."
Love is multifaceted. We all know this. And while I'm not sure if life only gives us one person who we can say these things about, I do feel like this is a wonderful, beautiful and cherished definition of love. Know what else? I don't think that the act of sex alone can make this happen—can bring this into existence…can produce this…or can bring this about.
That's why I'm really big on saying that sex doesn't "make love" so much as it celebrates love. The reason why I think it is so important to look at it from this perspective is, well, words are powerful. So is oxytocin. That hormone is designed to make us bond with the individuals we have sex with; it's a chemical reaction to a physical act. But if we automatically think that just because we get an oxytocin surge or just because we're sexually compatible with someone, that it automatically means that love is being made—goodness, y'all. Do you see the kind of mess that can make? Has made? Is making?
I know people who've had a one-night stand and believed they made love with the person. Lord. If you've seen the old school classic film Fatal Attraction (Michael Douglas, Glenn Close), you know that Ms. Cray-Cray used that phrase after the second night of sleeping with a married man. Things didn't end well for Dan (the cheater) and his family, Alex (the crazy chick) or Dan's daughter's rabbit. I know people who've remained in emotionally draining and totally unhealthy relationships because they believe their partner is making love to them; they don't have much in common anywhere else but, since the sex is good, they feel that love exists somewhere in the dynamic. I also know individuals who know, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that they are settling for less in their relationship or situationship. Still, they keep engaging in coitus, hoping that it will literally make their partner fall in love with them; they feel that since they "make love" to their partner on a consistent basis, they keep telling themselves that being in love is inevitable. Geeze. Not only is that a lot of pressure to put on oneself, it's a lot of pressure to put onto sex as well.
Now do you see why, whenever I hear the phrase used on television, in a song or in casual conversation, more times than not, I'm internally rolling my eyes? Sex brings about love. Yeah…it just doesn't sit well with me.
And what about married folks or people who are in long-term commitments? Do they make love? While I definitely think that the phrase applies to them most, I'd also be willing to step on out there and say that a lot of them would state that love is made outside of the bedroom more than in it. When you forgive your partner, that's making love. When you accept them without trying to change them, that's making love. When you make compromises—and sometimes sacrifices—for the health and well-being of the relationship, that is making love. And then, when you have sex with this individual? That's celebrating all of the love that you've given to that person. That is when you are doing some of the synonyms for celebrate—bless, proclaim, commend, feast, perform, honor, revel, rejoice, revere and let loose.
"Make love" is so saturated into our culture that I know it's still gonna be used—and misused—to death. But hopefully, this at least provided another way to look at the term. Sex is amazin'. But to expect it to make something as BIG as love? I just think that's not giving love all of the credit that it deserves nor is it seeing sex from a truly realistic perspective. Use sex to celebrate love not make it. I think you'll be a lot happier that way if you do. But hey, that's just me.
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