Sex without love and love without sex

Image by the brilliant Stuart F Taylor

This week’s Quote Quest is a quote from Hunter S Thompson, and I’m choosing to join in with it because I have never heard the quote before, and when I saw it I immediately hated it with a passion as hot as the sun. Here’s the quote: “Sex without love is as hollow and ridiculous as love without sex.” I know the fabulous Little Switch Bitch, who runs the Quote Quest meme, picks quotes to spark interesting debate and discussion, so I’m gonna crack my knuckles and get stuck in.

The idea that sex and love must inevitably come hand in hand isn’t just frustrating and tedious, it’s also quite harmful. Some people need sex. That’s not to say they have a right to sex with another person but it’s reasonable to say that for many of us, sexual pleasure is a need. In the same way, some of us need romantic love. But not everyone’s gonna need both those things – hello aromantic and asexual people! Hunter S Thompson was born in 1937 and lived during a time when people were less aware of the sheer variety of human experience when it comes to sexual desire, so let’s make a quick pact here, yeah? If you agree that these old-fashioned attitudes harmed aro and ace people, I’ll take that as read and analyse Thompson’s quote based on the assumption that he’s referring only to people who need/enjoy sex and love. Deal? OK cool.

So let’s assume he meant that in earnest, and let’s assume he means that sex without love or vice versa is ‘hollow and ridiculous’ for people who enjoy both these things.

I’m one of those people: I like both. I want both. In my dream life, I am both romantically attached and also greedily humping like a dog with a spunk-stained blanket. Ideally these things would be done with the same person, but my mind’s open to being changed on that as I try to work out how much of my perceptions are coloured by societal nudges towards monogamy. Watch this space. So I like love and I like sex, and ideally somewhere in my life I’d like to be able to dive headfirst into a balanced combination of the two.

However. The idea that they must come hand-in-hand is still absolute toss. There are plenty of people who have experienced – and enjoyed! – love without sex, and sex without love, in ways that are far from hollow. Their experiences are valid, just as asexual and aromatic people’s experiences are valid too. Variety of human experience, remember?

Love and sex in my life

In my life, love has definitely made sex better on a number of occasions. In the two Big Relationships I’ve had, the sex became better as the years went on. We started off pretty well in both of them, I won’t lie, but that was just a foundation of decent shagging and mutual horn onto which we build layers upon layers of new tricks, fantasies, adventures and depravity. The fact that I loved these guys might have made the sex better, but is this correlation or causation? Did I have better sex because I loved them, or did I love them because we had good sex?

What’s more, if I hadn’t loved them, would our sex have been ‘hollow and ridiculous’? I’m not so sure. One of the reasons we had such brilliant sex was that we had communicated well, learned a lot about each other, and built up a really in-depth, knowledgeable intimacy. Not just about each other’s kinks and quirks, but down to the right lines at the correct moments. If I could have given this information to someone else, someone I didn’t love, but they had fulfilled all of those criteria? Maybe we’d have amazing sex too. In fact, I’ve definitely had amazing sex with people who I haven’t known that well – who I wouldn’t say I loved. This tent fuck, with a dude I barely knew, is to this day one of the hottest shags I’ve ever had. It certainly wasn’t ‘hollow’ – if anything it was quite filling. Ahem.

There are things other than romantic love which can play a role in enhancing the sex you have with someone: friendship, for one. Trust. Vulnerability. Care. Excitement. Let’s face it, some hot shags – particularly impulsive, casual ones – would be absolutely stripped of their joy if you introduced love into the equation. Some shags are not delightful despite there being no love, but precisely because love hasn’t even entered the building. While Hunter S Thompson might see a stranger-fuck as ‘hollow and ridiculous’, a horny perv might label it ‘exactly what I want right now, thanks very much.’

Hollow and ridiculous

While we’re on the subject of ‘hollow and ridiculous’, let’s attack this belief from a different angle: as someone who has had most of my sex within long-term, love-based relationships, I can tell you that we had hollow and ridiculous sex… ALL THE FUCKING TIME.

Ever been hungover and just sort of ground up against your partner in a bored manner, until they get sleepily horny as well and fuck you just to get their rocks off? Or had a wank while your partner watched, a little too tired to join in but nevertheless enjoying the generally hot atmosphere of watching you beat one out? If those aren’t hollow enough for you, how about the sex you have when you’re stuck in a rut, being low-level annoyed with each other or smarting from a recent argument, where you have the sex to see if that can kick-start you into friendliness again… only to discover that it didn’t, and now you have to add ‘awkward shag’ to the list of elephants in the room you’re choosing not to mention right now?

And on ridiculous… WELL. Ever had a shag during which one of you has made a silly joke, or a weird face, and you’ve both just collapsed into laughter? Or one of you has fallen off the bed, or squirted too much lube, or made squelching sounds, or got cramp or a headache or a the hiccups or a fit of the giggles? Sex is inherently ridiculous, so the idea that love somehow takes away that element of it makes me very sad indeed.

I get that Thompson didn’t mean ‘ridiculous’ in this context. He meant it more like ‘pointless’ or ‘a waste’. But why are we elevating sex above any other activity, to the point where we must take it extremely seriously or it doesn’t count? Why must sex sit on this pedestal where it must be Significant and Meaningful and Intense and All The Other Words Written With Capitals in order to be worthwhile?

Other things that are better with love

Sex can be better with love, sure. But so can a whole bunch of different activities – moving house, building Lego, watching Game of Thrones. Cooking Quorn burgers and going to the pub and throwing birthday parties and playing Connect 4. Love makes all these things better. In fact, I can think of very few everyday activities that wouldn’t be enhanced by having someone I love beside me while I do them. Even horrible things, to be honest. Illnesses feel less horrible if there’s someone to bring you grapes, and funerals are easier if someone you love is there to hold your hand. That’s not to say that without love these things are ‘hollow and ridiculous’, it’s just to highlight how trite it is to say, effectively, that love has the capacity to make sex better. Well… yeah, of course it does. But that doesn’t mean that sex without love is nothing. And it also doesn’t preclude loving sex from being shite sometimes.

I think it’s important to normalise the idea that sex can be had for a variety of reasons: it doesn’t always come riding on the back of a wave of romantic love. It’s important because… well… it’s true. If you’re reading this and you’ve had more than a little bit of sex in your lifetime, I’m pretty sure you can name at least one occasion where the sex you had was not especially loving. Sex is great, sure, but it’s also mundane. And sometimes sad. Sometimes it really is hollow and ridiculous. But it isn’t necessarily a lack of love that makes it so, it’s just that – variety of human experience, remember? – there are myriad different ways of doing it, reasons for doing it, and people to do it with. All these things contribute to the context in which you’re fucking, or falling in love, and if we hold up a yardstick that says the two must come hand-in-hand, no one person’s experience can ever measure up and so every single person will end up feeling like a failure.

Sometimes I wonder if the blog posts I write are actually valuable and wise or instead just good arrangements of words which sound compelling when I write them really nicely. I think the Hunter S Thompson quote is exactly that – an arrangement of words that sounded good at the time, but which doesn’t really mean anything useful when you pick them apart. If we break down the quote and add the relevant caveats, we end up with this:

[For people who want both love and sex], sex without love is [sometimes] hollow and ridiculous, and love without sex is [sometimes] hollow and ridiculous too. [But also love and sex are both sometimes hollow and ridiculous on their own merit].

This is why I love Quote Quest – it makes me think about stuff I wouldn’t otherwise have considered: what Thompson is actually trying to say is that love and sex are sometimes intertwined, and when they’re melded in the right way, one can make the other richer and more intense. Which is true. But as soon as we try to expand that into something Meaningful and Quoteworthy and Universal, we come unstuck.

Because human experience is infinitely varied, sex and love are both extremely complex, and summing the whole of that up in a way that resonates with everyone is a singularly impossible task.


Thanks to Little Switch Bitch for providing the quotes that are excellent food for thought! Check out LSB’s excellent sexy blog here and click the image below to see other people’s takes on this quote. 



  • Louis Kazagger says:

    I prefer Arab Strap’s take on the subject, from their song “Glue”:

    “Sex without love is a good ride worth trying
    But love without sex is second only to dying”

  • fuzzy says:

    I adore Hunter S. Thompson when he is talking about drugs or politics. But this quote grates on my ass as well, thank you! I prefer Robert Heinlein if I’m gonna be looking for trite but useful quotes on Love, including the one about if nothing else, sex should be friendly.

    Another great post by GOTN, ho-hum…so what else is new. More books for my shelf, please. (and I take your books with me to coffee shops and when people say “what are you reading” it’s so much fun and results in great conversations.

  • Thank you for wording this so perfectly, and I totally agree with you. I don’t have your way with words but I’m so pleased you wrote for this week too. Especially in a week when I found fucking someone other than my husband has done wonders for me, my mental health and also my sex life with my husband too.
    I think sex and love are fabulous together but they can be fabulous apart too.
    Missy x

  • Joy says:

    I was going to have a bash at this one but you’ve said everything I wanted to say, only more articulately and with many fewer uses of the phrase ‘oh nob off you absolute dullard’.

  • Martin says:

    This is a fantastic take on the phrase that makes blood boil from those of us more openminded.

    When I was first married love and sex went hand in hand, and when it’s good it’s very good. Sometimes you can reach a point where the love can remain but the sex disappear, it happened and it was a total headfuck. We got through it but something was missing, the sex was good but we wanted to explore so we became swingers for a few year. Swinging taught us that you can enjoy sex (a lot of it) without the emotional attachment of love. Things change over time, people change over time and we’re now separated. Love without sex is possible but for mental happiness give me the endorphin rush of unbridled, heat of the moment sex without love

  • Quinn Rhodes says:

    I want to give this blog post a round of applause, and maybe a hand-job. (Which is me trying to say that I love it a lot, if that isn’t clear.) I’m so here for for casual, horny sex WITH friendship and trust and vulnerability right now – I’m not in a place for romantic love, but do want some hot, impulsive fucks. The idea that this kind of sex is somehow ‘hollow’ is utterly absurd, as you’ve brilliantly articulated here.

  • girlieboy says:

    Thanks for this entertaining piece. It is really quite true what you say. There is no need for both to go together, or for you to get them both from the same person. I know I don’t, and I love them both. Getting from the same person in my life always seemed challenging, so now I have settled into something else.

  • Edwardyvette says:

    A! I’m ace! This is a very interesting blog post, lovely to read such well rounded, wonderfully written thoughts on sex and love and such.

  • Bob Hoskins says:

    There are times, however, and this is one of them, when even being right feels wrong. What do you say, for instance, about a generation that has been taught that rain is poison and sex is death? If making love might be fatal and if a cool spring breeze on any summer afternoon can turn a crystal blue lake into a puddle of black poison right in front of your eyes, there is not much left except TV and relentless masturbation. It’s a strange world. Some people get rich and others eat shit and die.

  • Storm says:

    I’m at the point in my life where I am content to make my Quorn burgers alone. lol. Bring on the sex though! No love required.

  • Phillip says:

    Inspiration. I think you may have squeezed the best out of Hunter S Thompson.

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