Can you separate love and sex?

Photo by:  Amanda Charchian

Photo by: Amanda Charchian

LOVE. The biggest, most impactful, confusing, exciting and terrifying four letter word out there.

We all get wrapped up in it - and sometimes we don’t even realise it. Implicitly, I think we all know that there is more than one type of love out there. We often get swept up in the narrative of everlasting, romantic love, in unconditional love from our parents, and crucially in the murky depths of platonic love.

Love your friends, just don’t have sex with them…

The word ‘platonic’ comes from the Greek philosopher Plato (although he never used or coined the term himself), whose dialogue Symposium, presents the duality of love (conceptualised as Greek god Eros) as Vulgar and Divine. Plato poses that Vulgar Eros as mere material attraction towards a beautiful body for physical pleasure and reproduction. Divine Eros transcends this gradually to love for Supreme Beauty. It is Divine Eros which was later developed into the term ‘platonic love’. 

In the ‘ladder of love’, Plato speaks of climbing the rungs to go from base desire (i.e. sex, material attraction) to high-minded contemplation (love of beauty itself). 

💓 Love of a beautiful body
💓 Love for all beautiful bodies
💓 Love for the beauty of laws
💓 Love for the beauty of knowledge
💓 Love of Beauty itself.

Both Plato and Socrates believe that everyone should be striving towards Divine Love - the nonsexual, enlightened kinda love. Hence ‘platonic’. 

In modern times, the term ‘platonic’ has come to mean that you don’t have sex with your mates, or something like that. Platonic relationships are strictly nonsexual, so we’re not talking friends with benefits. There is an argument to be settled about whether you can be platonic friends with someone you have slept with or have had a relationship with - perhaps Plato would say yes, because if you have surpassed that base desire and moved into a more divine love, then you have elevated your love. But it’s still a bit of a grey area, tbh.

So how to approach the platonic relationship?

In my experience, although a relationship between myself and someone of the sex I am attracted to (primarily but not limited to men) can end up as totally, 100% platonic - I do believe that instinctively and intuitively, when we first meet someone of the sex we’re attracted to, there is an immediate assessment of whether you find each other attractive. This can take 5 seconds - a quick (and admittedly shallow) body scan, or 5 minutes (the way they talk, their opening line), or longer (perhaps you’re trying to work out how they feel about you). 

I don’t have many male friends. I went to an all-girls school from 3-18 years old, and my brother is 8 years older than me, so spending time with boys growing up was not available to me. I was also brought up on American teen dramas which I think fucked up my understanding of what love, sex and intimacy really meant. But I digress: although the male friends I have now are so dear to me, and provide me with a different and welcome perspective to my majority female pack, I know that initially, I was assessing my attraction to them, and assume they did the same. 

Seven Types Of Love

  • Eros is a sexual or passionate love, or a modern perspective of romantic love.

  • Philia is the type of love that is directed towards friendship or goodwill, often is met with mutual benefits that also can be formed by companionship, dependability, and trust.

  • Storge is the type of love that is found between parents and children, and this is often a unilateral love.

  • Agape is the universal love, that can consist of the love for strangers, nature, or god.

  • Ludus is a playful and uncommitted love, this is focused for fun and sometimes as a conquest with no strings attached.

  • Pragma is the type of love that is founded on duty and reason, and one's longer-term interests.

  • Philautia is self-love and this can be healthy or unhealthy; unhealthy if one places oneself above the gods (to the point of hubris), and healthy if it is used to build self esteem and confidence.

Looking at these seven different types, I think I identified anything romantic as Eros - sexual or passionate love. Philia is how I would describe how I feel about my female friends, Storge is unconditional love from my family, Agape is a more spiritual love; Ludus is the love I feel for my male friends, Pragma is the love I have for creating a life (career etc) and Philautia is the love I have for myself. 

Sex only comes into that first one - Eros - for me. HBU?

Putting it into context…

I think what I am realising, is that love isn’t binary. It doesn’t boil down to: it is or it isn’t. It’s so much more complicated than that. You can have the most passionate love for a partner, but if you don’t want to build a life together, and you don’t have trust, or feel at peace with them, what does it mean?

Sex isn’t love. Sex can be great and it’s so important - especially to understand what you want and need, and to explore your imagination - but sex doesn’t age like love does. So yes: I do believe you can have love without sex, and I also believe you can have sex without love. I’m kinda with you Plato.