How to Know If You're Feeling Lust in Your Relationship

Lust vs. love

Verywell / Nez Riaz

What Is Lust?

Lust is a feeling of having a strong sexual desire for another person. It is the initial driving force that attracts us to a potential partner and helps keep the passion alive in a long-term relationship.

Lust alters the chemicals in our brains. Hormones like testosterone, pheromones, and androgens all influence how lust may be experienced. This is also a part of our natural biological processes and the human instinct to procreate.

Upon seeing someone we find ourselves attracted to, we may experience lust and desire sexual intercourse with them to continue our species. 

People can experience feelings of lust upon meeting someone new or within a committed partnership. 

This article explores what lust is and what it is not, how it compares to love, signs you may be experiencing lust, how to express it healthily, and the potential pitfalls of lust.

Lust vs. Love: How Are They Different?

You may feel an undeniable connection to somebody and think that it’s love at first sight. It is important to note, though, that there is a clear difference between lust and love.

Ultimately, lust is strictly based on sexual attraction, whereas love is based on emotional desire. Verywell asked Erica F. Zajac, LCSW (they/them/none/he/she), a sex-positive and trauma specialist, to explore this distinction further.

Zajac says, "These two concepts are very different, and many people tend to confuse love with lust." They go on to say that, "Some people may actually confuse the two concepts and believe they are 'in love' when, in fact, they are 'in lust.'"

If you think you are experiencing love at first sight, the chances are likely that what you are feeling is lust and not love. So, how can you tell the difference?

Erica F. Zajac, LCSW

The best indicator is that feelings of love will come from an emotional place. This means that having sex does not need to be the reason you spend time with someone.

— Erica F. Zajac, LCSW

If you're experiencing love, you will want to spend time with this person in a non-physical way, including bonding time, going out to eat, having conversations about long-term goals, or doing other things that are not sexual in nature.

  • Based on sexual attraction

  • Similar to chemistry

  • Physical or surface-level connection

  • Disinterest in getting to know the person you're lusting after

  • More emotional in nature

  • Similar to compatibility

  • Deeper, more intimate connection

  • Interest in establishing a stronger connection than a sexual one

Although love and lust may be different, can the two feelings co-exist? Yes, they can. Zajac says that any time when we start dating someone new, we experience “new relationship energy” (or NRE), which is usually based on sexual desire (or lust).

How long lust lasts can vary, but this phase of a relationship often continues for up to two years. However, over time once a deeper, more emotional connection has been established, love can develop. At this time, lust and love can both be present in a relationship. 

Signs and Examples of Lust in a Relationship

What are some signs that you may be experiencing lust and not love? You may be feeling lust if you relate to any of the following characteristics:

  • If your feelings are only sexual in nature
  • If someone becomes less attractive after you recognize their flaws
  • If you do not have any desire to build a deeper connection with the person you experience lust toward
  • The relationship is short-lived 
  • You want to become intimate with the person who inspired the feelings in you
  • You are extremely attracted to somebody on a physical level 
  • Your heart rate increases 
  • Your palms may perspire
  • You experience butterflies around someone
  • You want to touch the person frequently 
  • You want to leave after having sex with somebody instead of staying to spend time with them

If you are experiencing a stronger connection with somebody and want to foster a deeper bond, then it's possible you're developing feelings of love instead of lust.

Is Lust a Healthy Emotion?

Is lust a healthy emotion? The short answer is yes. It can be. According to Zajac, lust is not exactly “healthy” or “unhealthy” in and of itself. Rather, “how a person expresses lust may be healthy or unhealthy,” she clarifies.

To figure out if you are experiencing lust in a healthy or unhealthy way, she suggests reflecting on the downsides associated with acting upon it rather than focusing on whether the emotion itself is healthy or not. “Are there any negatives associated with it? There can be, but that is based mostly on behavior, not the actual feeling itself.”

How to Express Lust to Your Partner in a Healthy Way

How can folks experience lust without acting upon it but still expressing or honoring it healthily?

First, always ask for consent before initiating any physical or sexual behavior with another person. Openly communicate your desires with partners and potential partners to avoid miscommunications or incompatibility. 

When initiating the conversation about lust with a partner, prioritize honesty and transparency about your feelings. A conversation is critical if you feel lust toward a person outside of your relationship because it will allow you to address underlying reasons or whether your partner would be comfortable with you acting on that attraction.

In an effort to reduce the likelihood of conflict or infidelity, Zajac recommends not just asking your partner if you can engage in a sexual relationship with someone else. Instead, let them know that you're experiencing attraction toward another person.

If they don't respect how you feel, it's up to you to decide how you'd like to continue the conversation and/or the course of the relationship. (Once again, honesty is key here.)

If you want to act on your lustful feelings with your partner or potential partner, it's possible to accomplish that without causing issues. Here are some ways in which you can express lust in a healthy way to your partner or potential partner:

  • Giving your partner sexy comments that are not disrespectful (e.g., "you are so hot" or "I can't wait to see you."
  • Using facial expressions or your eyes to signal to your partner that you desire them
  • Sending a dirty letter, email, or text saying what you want to do to them (with their consent)
  • Sending sensual but not explicit photos (with their consent)
  • Talking dirty in their ear or via text (note: this is only appropriate if consent has already been established in a relationship)

How Not to Express Lust to Your Partner

Although lust is a natural emotion most people eventually experience, it's important to be careful of how you act on it.

If lust is not expressed healthily or respectfully, instances of discomfort, abuse, or other issues may arise. Follow these tips to stay mindful of how and when not to express lust toward someone:

  • Toward anybody other than your partner when you are in a committed, non-monogamous relationship
  • If you lack the verbal consent of all involved
  • When consent and/or a person’s boundaries are violated
  • When you are not making decisions based on logic
  • When you are not sober and are in an intoxicated state from consuming alcohol, drugs, and/or substances
  • When trust may be breached among partners
  • If it may cause someone to feel uncomfortable
  • When a person is not respectful toward you (e.g., treats you like an object)
  • If the immediate gratification of acting on lust outweighs the long-term benefits
  • If you are acting out of desperation, addiction, compulsion, or obsession

What Happens After You Act on Feelings of Lust?

Depending on the situation, there can be small to severe consequences after acting on lust. If you act on lust in an “unhealthy” way, you may experience one or more of the following emotions or situations:

“It is important to pause, take a step back, and try to look at how you are feeling objectively (which is very hard but necessary),” says Zajac. To avoid unwanted and undesirable results, you will want to go slower in your sexual and romantic relationships.

Journaling and self-reflection can also help you understand your emotions and whether or not you are actively experiencing lust or something else. 

When Lust Has Positive Effects

Lust is a common, natural biological reaction that can offer many benefits. "When acted on with respect, lust can be fun, deepen a connection in a relationship, and even help repair issues within a relationship," adds Zajac. Whether you're single or in a committed partnership, healthily acting on lust can transform your relationship, depending on how you navigate it.

If you still find yourself wanting to act on your feelings of lust when the opportunity may end up being destructive or might cause harm, consider seeking the help of a relationship therapist or psychologist. This person may assist you in understanding where these feelings are coming from and what you can do to express it in a healthy way moving forward.

By Morgan Mandriota
Morgan Mandriota is a freelance writer, the founder of Highly Untamed, and an expert writer at Verywell Mind.