Sex Equals Love

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.

"It's like a disease. I slept with Robin one time and I caught feelings. I caught feelings bad!"

Barney StinsonHow I Met Your Mother

Back before the sexual revolution, men and women could have sex if they were married or... well, that was pretty much the only way.

Okay, okay. Truthfully, premarital and extramarital sex have been occurring pretty much since marriage was invented. But it was looked upon with scorn, and often treated as though it didn't exist.

Still, sex was seen as a sacred and special thing, so people still refused to have a physical relationship unless love (or at least the need to produce an heir) was involved, and doing it within a marriage was still the rule. Then, the unthinkable (or maybe just long-dreaded) happened: Some flag-burning liberals acted as if it were OK to have sex Just for Fun! No Strings Attached!

This cultural shift in the morality of sexuality was a reaction to the technological invention of the birth control pill, which gave women substantially more control over pregnancy than men armed with condoms were previously offering them. Secure from the possibility of being saddled with a kid born out of wedlock for the rest of their lives (which culturally back then was considered way worse than it is today) from the events of one brief coupling, women could afford to be freer with sex. Which meant a lot of love for everyone! In media, this is presented as every man's greatest dream, going before even getting rid of that pesky Fantastic Four.

However, TV executives were fearful of what Media Watchdogs and Moral Guardians would say about that, and thus a trope was born, described herein:

  • If a man and a woman have a sexual relationship that is not based on love, one of them will fall in love with the other.
  • First addendum: If the man is a conservative, it will be he. If he is a liberal, it will be either the woman or his partner.
  • Second addendum: The partner who is in love will demand fidelity from the other partner.

Curiously, on the flip side, some people view premarital or even casual sex itself as a blameless and pure act, with no negative consequences or moral stigma attached. This is considered either a symptom of the liberation of the human race from unnecessary complications and hang-ups, a depressing consequence of the modern tendency to view everything physical as without consequence and everything non-physical as without value, or a little bit of both.

Oddly enough, even open-minded fandoms fall prey to this. An earmark of the more obsessive shippers is no such thing as casual relationships/ dating/sex.

  • If a man and a woman have sex, theirs will be considered by shippers the One True Pairing.
  • Most couples who start a relationship based only on sex will end up in a romantic relationship.

Still more often, there is a tendency among fandom to look upon any sex in a given series or film as cheap Fan Service, preferring to keep their relationships relegated to Subtext and seemingly disregarding the fact that people in love have been known, from time to time, to have sex. This is particularly prevalent among yuri fandom.

See also: Meet Cute, Reality Is Unrealistic, Am I Just a Toy to You?, Cannot Spit It Out, Hooker with a Heart of Gold, OTP, Shipping, Sex Face Turn. Do not confuse with Rape Is Love. The inverse of this trope is Good People Have Good Sex.

No real life examples, please; this is a trope about how characters are depicted in media.

Examples of Sex Equals Love include:

Anime and Manga

  • To a degree we could apply this to Guts and Casca from Berserk. After helping each other, they begin treat each other nicer and have a few nice conversations where they're not biting each other's head off. Guts and Casca are separated for a year and then when he returns, not 24 hours later they have sex. Course they're not all lovey dovey about it and spout off 'true love' - it is somewhat believeable that can consummate. They're not in their relationship for a very long time so they could have broken it off.
  • In Junjou Romantica, this was Hiroki's thought when he slept with his best friend, hoping that it would convey his feelings. It backfired badly on him.
  • In Wild Rose, Kiri and Mikhail don't like each other at first but begin a sexual relationship very quickly because they have a supernatural bond that pulls them together. Eventually they do fall in love.
  • Virgin Love is about a one-night stand that ends up becoming a series of them which end up becoming an actual relationship.
  • It's mentioned somewhere in the Strawberry Panic novels that Yaya would seduce girls and that 'emotions of love would grow afterwords.' She wonders why this didn't work on Hikari.
  • A Justified Trope in the manga version of Fire Emblem: Seisen no Keifu, with Rackesis and Fin: they had gone through horrifyingly hard times that left them emotionally drained, and also they were going to be separated, as Fin was about to return to Lester with Cuan and Ethlin, thus they didn't know if they'd ever see each other again. Even more so: that's the night where Rackesis's eldest son Delmud is conceived.

Comic Books

  • Superhero Jack Hawksmoor, from superhero team The Authority, had such a contract with colleague Angie, but has erratically expressed the desire for a romantic relationship—and so, for that matter, has she.
  • Lieutenant Steven Hudson has an one-night stand with biologist Kim Keller when visiting one of the Worlds of Aldebaran (Les Mondes D Aldebaran). He would later forbid her from having a similar relationship with a colonist, claiming it would compromise her partiality regarding the object of study (a Cosmic Horror).


"Don't pretend that last night didn't mean anything to you.... We tried to fuck and instead, we wound up making love."


  • In something of an inversion (Love Equals Sex?), the titular Daughter of the Drow finds herself alternately saving a hunky barbarian's life and being saved by him. The protagonist develops budding feelings of friendship and love for him, but having grown up a Drow, she has no idea what they are or how to deal with them, so she falls back on a much simpler emotion that she knows and understands very well.
  • The novel Youth in Sexual Ecstasy deconstructs and subverts this in its main message.

Live-Action TV

  • Done perplexingly in the Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode Track of the Moon Beast. The main character and his lover interest spend one night together and everyone in the movie treats them as if they're in a long term relationship.
  • In Gilmore Girls, Rory had a friends-with-benefits/casual dating arrangement with Logan who was a known womanizer. When she decided she couldn't handle it and tried to break it off, he, of course, offered a commitment.
  • Seinfeld: Jerry started a sexual-only relationship with his friend Elaine Benes, based on a ill-defined set of laws. At the end of the episode, the relationship had evolved to a romantic one, described by them as "this, that and the other". The writers admit they wouldn't have done this if they'd known the show would last so long, so after the following season nothing about it was ever mentioned again...
  • J.D started a similar relationship as "sex buddies" with ex-girlfriend Elliot Reid, from Scrubs, a season after they broke up. When he realised he was still in love with her and decided to tell her, she broke up with him before he could, ironically because she knew that they would fall in love again and didn't want that to happen (Genre Savvy, that one).
  • Chandler Bing started a relationship with one of his Friends, Monica Geller. They originally planned to keep it casual, but this compromise fell apart after just four episodes. The characters eventually ended up getting married.
    • To be fair, he admitted he loved her in situations having nothing to do with sex.
  • In Torchwood, Owen began having uncompromised sex with his colleague Gwen Cooper. This sexual relationship subverted the Sex Equals Love idea when it broke down due to Owen falling in love with someone else.
    • Played straight with Jack and Ianto. Their relationship does turn into mutual love, but Ianto's more openly attached.
  • Lawyer Brad Chase, from Boston Legal, had an agreement centering around sex with his colleague Denise, described as "Friend With Benefits". They are now engaged, at his request.
  • Doctors Chase and Cameron, fellows of doctor Gregory House, started having casual sex at Cameron's suggestion. Cameron later broke the relationship off when Chase developed feelings for her, but they did end up together at the end of the season (3) and married at the end of season 5.
    • And divorced halfway through season 6.
  • In an episode of Farscape, Chiana tries to convince Crichton to try this strategy on Aeryn: "You gotta go fast with the body, slow with the soul." He doesn't go for it.
    • Rather sadly, D'Argo believes in this trope and Chiana...doesn't.
      • Of course, D'Argo is a member of a Proud Warrior Race, and with those races, either sex is a marriage proposal, or it never means anything ever, with no gray area in between.
  • Subverted into Love Equals Sex between Elizabeth and Lawrence of period drama Upstairs, Downstairs. They're married, but he's an aloof poet and refuses to touch her. It doesn't help matters that when she attempts to get an annulment on grounds of impotence, she's pregnant with someone else's kid.
  • Subverted in Sex and the City when Carrie tries to go on actual dates with her "fuck buddy," convinced that their great sex has to mean a great emotional connection as well. It doesn't.
  • Barney fell in love with Robin after having slept with her in a season three episode of How I Met Your Mother.
    • This is Barney we're talking about. After all of the women he's slept with statistically one of them had to be the one.
      • Barney didn't actually realize that he was in love with her until he had a near-death experience, though.
    • Also played with in a later episode: After Ted and Robin decide to be Friends with Benefits, Lily warns them that it's a bad idea, and that their arrangement will wind up with someone getting hurt. However, the person it winds up hurting is Barney, who's secretly in love with Robin. When Ted figures this out, he immediately breaks it off with Robin and allows her to think it's because he's worried about this trope (since Ted is notorious for being a romantic sap), to preserve Barney's secret.
  • After deflowering Blair in the back of his limo, Chuck found himself unable to sleep and with a sickening fluttering feeling in his stomach. Blair correctly diagnosed them as butterflies and demanded they be murdered. Instead he began pursuing her and eventually she fell in love with him too.
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Anya claims to want to have sex with Xander only as a way to get over him. Sure enough once they do have sex, she wants to make the next step so they start dating in the very next episode and end up having a long-term relationship.
    • Averted with everyone Faith has sex with. At one point in Season 3, she takes Xander's virginity. Nothing else comes of it. In Season 7, she and a guy do hook up. They break up in-between seasons and he's Put on a Bus. Also averted with Buffy's fling with Parker, though that was him being a dick and her taking it really badly.
    • Averted in Season 6. Spike hopes that his sexual relationship with Buffy will eventually lead to his love for her being returned. Buffy repeatedly insists—sometimes quite violently—that there's nothing between them except sex, and for Spike to even call her "love" or "my girl" is a guaranteed Berserk Button. After Buffy dumps him Spike tries to rape her in the belief that she did feel love during their rough sex and Buffy is simply in denial.

Spike: I know you felt it. When I was inside you. You'll feel it again, Buffy. I'm gonna make you feel it!

  • Angel. Wesley and Lilah have very disturbing sex-only encounters for a while, eventually placing a bet on who would be first to call it a "relationship." Wesley loses. It's shown that sex ends up causing emotional attachments and complications for both of them, with each of them trying to "save" the other: Wesley had hoped to save her from evil and Lilah had hoped to corrupt him to evil. This does not end well.
    • Averted with the pretty much pointless sex scene between Eve and Angel in Season 5. It's also implied that Spike and Angelus did it once, and it was pretty traumatic for Spike.
  • In the recent Degrassi the Next Generation movie, Degrassi Takes Manhattan, Spinner and Emma decide they are meant to be together after a couple days of friendship, an Accidental Marriage, and one night of sex. The really crazy thing? Both of them were too drunk to actually remember said sex.
    • Well to be fair, they did actually spend a few more days having sex before deciding to stay married for good.
  • In the first episode of The L Word a character is commenting on the fact that almost all lesbians in a given community have done each other eventually. This leads her to conclude that we are all connected by "love."


  • Psychostick song Orgasm Equals Love parodies this trope.

Video Games

  • Largely averted in Dragon Age. The Player Character can engage in, ahem, relations with a number of NPCs without love entering into it. Somewhat played straight in that two of the game's main love interests — Zevran and Morrigan — will have casual sex with you, but will eventually fall in love with you if you continue the relationship. (You CAN end the relationship after one encounter, however.) The other two love interests, Alistair and Leliana, will only invite you to bed once they've developed feelings for your character.
    • It can be said that three of the four love interests will demand fidelity from the PC. (Zevran is cool with you jumping into bed with whoever you like, so long as the other characters aren't getting too attached.)
    • Morrigan doesn't want you sleeping with others long before she even understands the concept of love. Why? Because Morrigan doesn't like to share her things.
  • Played straight in Dragon Age 2 with Isabela. Her relationship with Hawke started out as an amusing diversion, yet three years later she's ready to admit that she's falling for Hawke.
  • Averted in Canvas 2 twice in Hagino's route. First, they start to have sex at the end of a date before really loving the other, then stopping. Later, there's an optional sex encounter with the woman Hiroki used to hate and still doesn't really like.
  • Played with in several ways in Mass Effect 2. About half of the romance paths end in a sex scene, but three of them are aliens, and their bizarre biology means they have to be really careful, and a lot of time is spent psyching themselves up. Tali is initially really nervous but later says that it was Worth It, while Garrus and female Shepard start out with the plan of having a Friends with Benefits relationship, but as things progress, it's obvious that Garrus really does have romantic feelings for Shepard -- before they have sex. So they're more of an aversion than anything else. Completely averted with Jack: fairly early on, you can have casual sex with her, but once you do, she won't talk to you again. Turning down the sex leads her to slowly come out of her shell, and the ending of her romance implies kissing, but no sex.

Web Comics

  • Punch an Pie subverts this one step forward: two characters in the midst of some weirdly flavored Unresolved Sexual Tension finally have sex (and presumably continue to do so)... but they're still not sure if they're even in a relationship yet.
  • Recent Girls with Slingshots arc had Thea discovering Angel was sleeping with another woman. When Thea calls Angel out on this, Angel states that Thea was never her girlfriend. Thea is hurt by this because she assumed that the pair of them having sex in the back room of the bar all the time meant they were a couple, honestly baffled when Hazel asked.

Hazel: Did she know she was your girlfriend?
Thea: You act like she doesn't know what a girlfriend is.

  • The trope is lampshaded in this Wapsi Square strip, when Tina explains that sex in a relationship does not necessarily mean emotional closeness.