This is not just a problem with children. Sadly in family therapy I have often heard adult children say to their older parents, “You never told me you loved me”. Their parent’s reply usually includes something like ‘the word love is too intimate, or personal, or uncomfortably sort of sexual’ if they can articulate their inner prohibition.
Then there is the situation with certain couples where using the word love can lead to marital mis-communication and disharmony. This can happen when he says, “I love you” and means to convey a message of heartfelt love for her but she interprets it like “He doesn’t really love me, he is just after sex again”. Are you aware that if certain people hear or speak the word ‘love’ to each other enough they may convince themselves that having both unprotected sex and sex that lacks love is okay? That’s where the urban folk saying “to get someone to have sex with you just use the word love a lot” comes from.
Sex and love are two very different things, although they mix well. For some years now it has been popular to use the word love when sex is the real subject matter. Lots of people say “let’s make love” when “let’s have sex” is what is really meant. Many books have been published with the word love in the title when the book is really only about sex. Somewhat sex phobic people find the word love less offensive or more a polite term to use when needing to say something about sex. You may think, “Why not use the word love when talking or writing about sex”? Here are some of the main possible ‘why’s’.
Using the word love when meaning sex brings about a mental detour from clearly and precisely seeing love as a unique, extremely significant, and an entirely different subject than sex. It also has the effect of subtly diminishing our understanding of love’s extraordinary importance. Furthermore, it causes love to be less attended to in its own right, thus, subtly decreasing how much we think, act, and center on love in our lives.
Another issue is that saying the word love when meaning sex is just inaccurate. Inaccuracy causes confused thinking and leads to mistakes, some of which may be serious. Also using the word love for sex is frequently deceptive and manipulative. If when we hear the word love we are conditioned to focus on sexuality we are diverted from thinking of all the other important types, aspects and factors involved with love itself. Certainly sexual love is an important topic but it’s not the only, or the first topic one might think of when hearing the word love.
Did it ever cross your mind that the two groups that seem to use the word love the most are the promoters of religion and the promoters of pornography? Spiritual love and sexual love are strongly related in the theology of many religions but using the word love for sex only seems to blind us from seeing that relationship.
From this therapist’s point of view our world just might come to be a bit more loving and a little less love-starved if whenever we said the word love we meant the real thing and not sexuality, or anything else for that matter. So, let me suggest you consider your own use of these two words and give some thought to how you really want to deal with them in your life and in your relationships.
Always – Grow in love.
Dr. J. Richard Cookerly
Image credits: “Hotel beds at 9am” by Flickr user .guilty.