What's the Difference Between Love, Lust, & Desire?

WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN LOVE, LUST & DESIRE?

By Dr. Ava Cadell

Love is easily one of the most complicated human experiences. It fully occupies our emotions, bodies and minds, and has many different incarnations. It can be confusing to navigate the world of human desire – from one-night-stands to committed relationships, nervous flirting to ‘comfort zone’ intimacy – and then there’s always the question of whether our partners feel the same way.

To alleviate some of the confusion, I’ve outlined some emotional and physical cues here to help you determine what you’re looking for or where your relationship is now. It’s related to my F.A.C.E.S. stages of relationships, which you can find in depth in my book Neuroloveology. Fascination, Adventure, Comfort, Energy & Success each come with their own unique cocktail of brain chemicals that give you a heady rush or a sense of deep bonding, depending on the stage.

Like Robert Sternberg’s “triangular theory of love,” which identifies Intimacy, Passion & Commitment as the three main components of love, it’s this interweaving of sexuality, emotional bonding and long-term attachment that make up a fully successful romantic relationship. However you label it, the main ingredients remain the same, and they govern our love lives. Read on to find out what’s happening to your emotions and your brain chemicals at each phase of love.

Romance is when –

  • You feel butterflies when you talk or see each other.

  • You want to do things to make each other happy.

  • You want to understand his or her mind and what makes it tick.

  • You want to spend as much time together as possible.

  • Your brain is reacting to pheromones, triggering attraction.

Desire is when –

  • You having a longing for another.

  • You want to experience a romantic and sexual journey together.

  • Your curiosity and erotic imagination for each other is fertile.

  • You can experience erotic connection together and separately.

  • Your body releases androgens (like testosterone) and / or estrogens, causing arousal to blossom.

Lust is when –

  • You have a longing for sex to fulfill your emotions.

  • You feel so horny you just want to get laid by someone.

  • You experience intense erotic fantasies with another.

  • Your ultimate goal is sexual satisfaction and fulfillment.

  • Your Desire ‘cocktail’ continues to arouse, adding in Nitric Oxide, which increases blood flow to the genitals.

Passion is when –

  • You intensely want someone physically and emotionally.

  • You create mystery and have confidence individually and together.

  • You have fun, laugh, and create surprises, novelty and playfulness.

  • You make love creatively and focus on each other’s pleasure.

  • Adrenaline is making you feel “madly in love.”

Intimacy is when –

  • You are comfortable sharing everything without any fear.

  • You show each other appreciation through words and actions.

  • You make a commitment to each other.

  • When your two hearts feel like one!

  • Your brain releases oxytocin, the bonding chemical.

Love is when –

  • You have a strong feeling of affection for another.

  • You want your beloved to express their love with words and actions.

  • Your partner brings out intimate communication, touching, kissing and spiritual connection within you.

  • You have the five ingredients of friendship, respect, trust, communication and passion for your love to last.

  • Your brain releases oxytocin (the bonding chemical) and vasopressin, the long-term commitment hormone.

It’s not rocket science, but it is scientific. Each stage of love delivers new sensations and experiences, and each one sparks a unique set of reactions in you and your partner. It’s all there for you to enjoy to the fullest.

I’m often asked about desire, what role it plays in relationships, and how to know what’s healthy on the spectrum of love, lust and intimacy. One quick exercise I give is to finish the sentences below, and then see for yourself if that fits your emotional and mental wellbeing. There are no wrong answers. I have filled in some possible responses to give you an idea of how to start.

I feel desirous when…

I love my body.

I feel confident.

I use my imagination.

When someone gives me compliments, etc.,

I turn off my desire when…

I don’t feel worthy to receive love or sexual pleasure.

When I feel judged, rejected or abandoned, etc.

Getting to know what you find sexy and what turns you on allows you to more easily find the partner that meets your sexual needs. And the best part is, you can create sentences like this about every stage of your relationship – from lust to intimacy – and create your unique love story and of course, happy ending!