Dr Judith Orloff's Blog

How to Tell the Difference Between Lust and Love

Judith Orloff - Monday, August 08, 2011

Adapted from Dr. Judith Orloff's Guide to Intuitive Healing: 5 Steps to Physical, Emotional, and Sexual Wellness

As a psychiatrist, I’ve seen how intense sexual attraction is notorious for obliterating common sense and intuition in the most sensible people. Why? Lust is an altered state of consciousness programmed by the primal urge to procreate. Studies suggest that the brain in this phase is much like a brain on drugs. MRI scans illustrate that the same area lights up when an addict gets a fix of cocaine as when a person is experiencing the intense lust of physical attraction. Also in the early stage of a relationship, when the sex hormones are raging, lust is fueled by idealization and projection--you see what you hope someone will be or need them to be--rather than seeing the real person, flaws and all.

In my book “Guide to Intuitive Healing” I discuss the difference between lust and love as well as techniques to enhance sexual wellness. Pure lust is based solely on physical attraction and fantasy--it often dissipates when the “real person” surfaces. It’s the stage of wearing rose colored glasses when he or she “can do no wrong.” Being in love doesn’t exclude lust. In fact, lust can lead to love. However, real love, not based on idealization or projection, requires time to get to know each other. Here are some signs to watch for to differentiate pure lust from love.

  • You’re totally focused on a person’s looks and body.
  • You’re interested in having sex, but not in having conversations.
  • You’d rather keep the relationship on a fantasy level, not discuss real feelings.
  • You want to leave soon after sex rather than cuddling or breakfast the next morning.
  • You are lovers, but not friends.
  • You want to spend quality time together other than sex.
  • You get lost in conversations and forget about the hours passing.
  • You want to honestly listen to each other’s feelings, make each other happy.
  • He or she motivates you to be a better person.
  • You want to get to meet his or her family and friends.
  • Another challenge of sexual attraction is learning to stay centered and listen to your gut in the early stages of being with someone. This isn’t easy in the midst of hormones surging, but it’s essential to make healthy relationship decisions. Here are some tips to help you keep your presence of mind when you’re attracted to someone. This needn’t pull the plug on passion, but it’ll make you more aware so you don’t go looking for trouble.


    Watch for:

  • A little voice in your gut says “danger” or “beware.”
  • You have a sense of malaise, discomfort, or feeling drained after you’re together.
  • Your attraction feels destructive or dark.
  • You’re uncomfortable with how this person is treating you, but you’re afraid that if you mention it, you’ll push him or her away.
  • Over the years, I’ve spoken at women’s prisons and domestic violence centers. My talk, "How Listening to Your Gut Can Prevent Domestic Violence," focuses on showing women how to identify and act on their inner voice. The gut senses a potential for kindness and violence. Many women who'd been in abusive relationships admitted, "My gut initially told me something was wrong--but I ignored it." The pattern was consistent. They'd say, "I'd meet a man. At first he'd be charming, sexy, sweep me off my feet. The electricity between us was amazing. I'd write off the voice in my gut that said 'you better watch out' as fear of getting involved. When later the abuse began, I was already hooked." Some gut instincts though, are anything but subtle. On a first date, one woman landed in the hospital with an IV, retching from "psychosomatic" abdominal pain. But did that stop her from seeing the guy? No. From these women we gain a real-world lesson: no matter how irresistibly attractive someone appears, close attention to your gut will enable you to see beneath exteriors.

    It’s so much nicer to be involved with someone your gut likes. Then you’re not always guarding against a basic suspicion or incompatibility. You must also give yourself permission to listen to your gut when it says, “This person is healthy for you. You are going to make each other happy.” To be happy, take a risk, but also pay attention to the warning signs I presented. This allows you to wisely go for the fulfilling relationships you deserve.



    Judith Orloff, MD is author of The Empath's Survival Guide: Life Strategies for Sensitive People, upon which her articles are based. Dr. Orloff is a psychiatrist, an empath, and is on the UCLA Psychiatric Clinical Faculty. She synthesizes the pearls of traditional medicine with cutting edge knowledge of intuition, energy, and spirituality. Dr. Orloff also specializes in treating empaths and highly sensitive people in her private practice. Dr. Orloff’s work has been featured on The Today Show, CNN, the Oprah Magazine and USA Today. She is a New York Times best-selling author of Emotional Freedom, The Power of Surrender, Second Sight, Positive Energy, and Guide to Intuitive Healing. Connect with Judith on  Facebook and  Twitter. To learn more about empaths and her free empath support newsletter as well as Dr. Orloff's books and workshop schedule, visit her website.

    Kristen commented on 10-Aug-2011 03:14 PM
    I agree with this. I remember dating someone that I was in lust with and my solar plexus area would NOT stop bothering me. I even knew what it was telling me, and I told my stomach to "stop it" but it would not. Not until I dumped him after he treated
    me like shit for a few months (ie: not a friend and not wanting to spend quality time with me). I learned to follow my intuition closely from that moment on.
    Paul Mycroft commented on 10-Aug-2011 03:35 PM
    This is a great article - thank you.
    peggy kelley commented on 10-Aug-2011 03:41 PM
    I am 50 years old and it has taken me this long to learn to listen to my gut in all relationships. It would be wonderful to meet someone to be in a relationship with but I have fears of not trusting myself still. How do I get over my fears and how do I
    meet healthy men given that I am a single mother- divorced now for 7 years and have rarely dated! HELP! Thank you- Peg
    Carol commented on 10-Aug-2011 03:55 PM
    Being in touch with intuition...coming along. Learning how to effectively *act* on it is something I am really, really working on while going through the slow process of letting go of my Mom. Strangely, the intense and complicated feelings related to anticipatory
    grief have affected how I move through decision making (regarding love intuition). One thing I really appreciate about your writings--the warmth that always comes through. It's a comfort! And Kristen, totally relate to the solar plexus thing when I was in
    my 20s and 30s. Now it hits me in chakra 2 and 4 more, for some reason.
    Dee commented on 10-Aug-2011 04:08 PM
    After celibacy by choice for 12 yrs this guy come along and woos me for 8 months, there were signs I saw, things I knew weren't right but he reasoned away my concerns (actually not to my satisfaction). I wanted to believe but I knew I was in lust and we
    even talked about the difference between lust & love. He gave me a great explanation plus he had a beautiful body (not face-body). Then I understood what I couldn't ignore...he was a narsisisst and I wanted him anyway, he turned out to be cruel. FOLLOW YOUR
    Daniel Mbugua commented on 10-Aug-2011 04:09 PM
    The information above is one that every one in a relationship should know. Never should anyone, either a lady or a man should ignore these signs because ignoring them is just like hiding a time bomb which will ultimately explode with damaging effects.
    Its a very good article I like it.
    Diana commented on 10-Aug-2011 04:24 PM
    I find your work absolutely brilliant!! Thank you for making a difference in so many peoples lives! I am off to buy the book "Guide to Intuitive Healing"!! :) Have a fabulous day....it's Hump day....imagine my disappointment when I discovered what that
    actually meant! ;) ;)
    Gale commented on 10-Aug-2011 04:40 PM
    I have always summed it up for me or young girls who loved to hang around my house, lust is felt in the loins and is superficial, only the shell is seen and felt. Love is felt in the heart and the brain, giving you feelings of support, caring, appreciation,
    humour and more, and those feelings are reciprocated. I have loved 2 men in my life. Both died on me. I may have friends of the male persuasion, but I will never have love again... losing them is too hard.
    Mia commented on 10-Aug-2011 05:13 PM
    I have spent 'way too many years of my life trying to please people that were narcissists and worse. It makes me sad, but it also makes me happy now because I actually get it. Your first book was a big help to me and also my adult children because I'd
    send them quotes in emails. I wish you could see how fast I get rid of dangerous and draining people now. It's almost comical... I am polite but firm, and waste no time trying to please them. Finally, I get it. Thanks so much for your help!
    Humberto Velasquez V. commented on 10-Aug-2011 06:22 PM
    Perfect but when is difficult to contact the other ...How you express the love ?
    Humberto Velasquez V. commented on 10-Aug-2011 06:22 PM
    Perfect but when is difficult to contact the other ...How you express the love ?
    Helen commented on 10-Aug-2011 07:11 PM
    Thank you again Judith. I am 68 and being single for 13 years thought I fell in love again but my gut told me that I was not going to be able to handle this new woman who had emotional and physical problems galore. But I didn't listen and became a pawn
    in a game of lies. After 17 months I finally made the break and healed to forgiveness and compassion with the help of your book, "Emotional Freedsom". You are a wise woman Judith and thank you again.
    prescilla commented on 10-Aug-2011 09:47 PM
    i have a mixed feelings with the man i am attracted with right now. we both love to converse as well as we are attracted to each others looks. but when i am listening to my guts, i felt some fears and the feelings is sexual. so, i am a bit hesitant to
    pursue the relationship. but when i read that lust can lead to love, then i am still hopeful i can overcome that fear and hesistance.
    CB commented on 11-Aug-2011 01:14 AM
    As a poly man, I have more than one area to distinguish real intuition from emotion. I have a tendency to want to trust my wife's choices, but in the past, when I've allowed that desire to trust to override a bad feeling in my gut, I've been wrong to do
    so. We now have the agreement that if either of us has a bad feeling in any of our chakras, we will pay attention and least talk openly about it. We use pendulum dowsing to help us distinguish when an emotional discomfort is coming from inside either of us
    or being captured from outside, and if it is from inside of us, from which part of us it originates. This practice has given us both an increasing appreciation for the value of pendulum dowsing, and we increasingly trust it as accurate or at least pointing
    in the right direction.
    Brain Green commented on 11-Aug-2011 01:37 AM
    Love the definitions for discriminating between lust and love. Works for me. hypnohotshot.
    Gil Bar-On commented on 11-Aug-2011 01:39 AM
    Dear Precilla! :-) I think that you're making the Exact mistake that Dr. Judith & all of the commnenters have warned you about! Your gut feeling & intuition is NEVER wrong! Never means Never.. so why not trust it? It trys to Warn you and Protect you, so
    why do you refuse to listen? Have the courage to Act Now.. Be Honest with yourself.. And release Yourself- BE Free! :-) Believe you deserve a much pure & better Love! I believe in you.. :-) Lots of Love, & Thank You dear Judith! Gil :-)
    Jim Hallowes commented on 11-Aug-2011 02:52 AM
    Hi Judith, I am intrigued with this whole concept of Love vs. Lust... I find many, many "wounded women" especially because of their childhood abuse that leaves them with more dopamine receptors and the "Long for Lust, not Love" based on this... they yearn
    and long for "passion" (which of course "burns out") and not love which doesn't have enough excitement for them... I remember a presenter last year up in San Mateo at a TA conference and he said "If you hear bells and whistles and there are fireworks going
    off... he suggests running! It seems from my work coaching hundreds of Highly Sensitive People over the years... it seems the more "passion" or lust at the beginning of a relationship the less chance there is of it will holding up, continuing and them staying
    together. Sad, but true. HSP's think (or more correctly "feel" they are so intuitive that they just know they've met their "soul mate" and they often move too fast! As I say about HSPs in relationships on my HighlySensitivePeople.com website, quoting the old
    Frank Sinatra's song, "Slow and easy does it every time!" Thank you for bringing up and discussing this subject!! All the best, Jim Hallowes
    Dorian Gray commented on 11-Aug-2011 04:30 AM
    I now understand the difference between lust and love. I can definitely tell how I feel for someone I am with. Thank you so much for opening my eyes and mind on this topic. More power to you, Doc!
    Renata Kolbus commented on 11-Aug-2011 10:08 AM
    Perfect timing for this blog - is what my gut is saying - a feeling and a trigger to examine or audit where ones relationship is currently at. The teacher always shows even though on an intuitive level a relationship may be past this phase and into the
    guts of developing a real foundation of strong lasting love. No matter the tempature of ones relationship, in the moment, the base root of any healthy relationship is open and honest communication. Not all relationships are perfect and we must remember that
    each individual comes in with unhealthy history or patternization. Each individual seeking to be in a loving relationship must first understand themselves and how yes - past relationships - did affect and how they effect you now. Being aware is key for HSP's
    and open expression to your partner is an absolute necessity. We as HSP's must create an atmosphere in the relationship to determine wether or not the person we are with has the capacity and faculties to respectfully understand our nature and live with our
    moments. In return, we must respect our partner enough to turn off and let things be. It is our responsibility at any given moment to show up and know when to speak and when to hold. I say "hold" not withhold cause withholding can be a form of abuse or lying
    to another. We must remember to always give your partner time to come to their own conclusions and allow for the evolution and development of a trusting foundation. Learning to communicate in a way that allows the other to express their emotions and feelings
    equally. Bulldozing and believing that we are right all the time does not work regardless of what our gut is saying. Laughter and making light of our feelings even though expressing, takes the heavy off of our communication style. Thus we are not nailing the
    other to the board so to speak. While intuition can send us in many directions -I strongly inject here, that again, it is up to us to BREATH and allow the true answer to come - not just top of mind. I am fortunate to have found a partner who is willing to
    work in relationship with me this way and together we work from our hearts and minds as a means of truly understanding eachother on a much deeper level. Believe me when I say... It is worth the time and energy because once that connection and understanding
    is made on a very basic level, many expansive opportunities for expression and sharing of genuine emotions and creativity begins to emerge. To me it has enhanced my perceptions of relationships in the world and how to interact in any given situation. The strengths
    and weaknesses show and I have learned I don't always have to be on. In saying that - when you hit a point in your life that you know what you want and need in a partner and put it out there - it does come to you. God and Mother Nature do design the right
    person for you. The lesson here for any HSP's is do your work first - know yourself and determine what you need to feel safe and heard - than be prepared to walk your talk and show up and follow through, no matter the level of where your relationship is at.
    Lust to love or love to lust or the interplay that exists between the 2 modalities. It's all exciting and expansive when you are in the right frame of mind to receive genuine connection. The rest just naturally follows as a relationship evolves into what it
    is meant to be as designed by God and Mother Nature. Knowing and discovering how your individual unique puzzle pieces fit together and trusting the knowing of the bigger picture verses getting bogged down in the small petty stuff that sucks the life right
    out of you, is always the challenge in any relationship. Stepping back from fear and forging forward into genuine realness is where love exists. Be willing to Give space for each to evolve into that knowing and communicating and respecting eachothers emotions
    in the moment. Be willing to hear what the other is saying even if you are hearing and interpreting it differently. How one hears, observes or interpretes what is being said is the key in determining the level of connection one has with another. Be willing
    to ask for clarity and by being honest with how you hear or interpret what the other is saying is paramount for clear understanding. Be willing to share what you think and are observing. As HSP's we may tend to jump verses flow with and that can rock another
    out of sorts. That is not the goal. The goal is to create a trusting environment where the other can relax in knowing they are not being judged but just read well. I have found when another is being genuinely honest with me they don't want to hide - they want
    to be seen and heard providing they do know themselves and what they genuinely want. That can be scary for a partner who has never experienced that before but at the same time liberating. Breaking the old patterns and discovering what works for one another
    is the road to developing a healthy loving relationship. When you know You know........
    Pat Rice commented on 11-Aug-2011 01:23 PM
    My body ALWAYS knows: I recall years ago I got what appeared as food poisoning on a first date, though he and I shared the same food! (after a conversation during which I asked "is (the promising things he said and did) from best behavior or is that what
    you actually do normally in a relationship? and he admitted it was not in fact his norm.) With another man, however, I learned the hard way to finally distinguish in my body what the feeling of physical attraction tinged with danger / stay away feels like;
    fortunately I'm still alive and now that I've distinguished that one I wil NEVER proceed with anyone (male or female) when those sensations are present. Finally, I've noticed that when the intensity of my attraction to someone goes up, my presence and careful
    consideration go down, so since the latest (minor) incident I'm practising taking pauses and writing out all that I do NOT know about the person which helps me regain perspective. Fortunately the work I've done with cognitive awareness(Ten Days to Self Esteem
    workbook by David Burns is AWESOME for this) I'm more often than not catching the distorted thoughts that, if unchecked, would carry me further into relationships that are not in my highest and best interest. Only last month I extracted myself after only a
    few weeks with a man who had many of the qualities I value but who was self-critical and therefore critical of others. Because of the depth of conversations, shared interests and physical attraction, it was only through noticing the energy drain after we were
    together and then writing my thoughts and feelings that I became conscious of the subtle ways he critized and questioned me (I had noticed and felt compassion for the more obvious ways he was self-critical.) Thanks to the teachers, mentors and friends I'v
    had over the years who've taught and modeled and encouraged healthier, conscious awareness and choices. Mahalo
    Vicky commented on 11-Aug-2011 04:11 PM
    Well you nailed it. I used to think that when a man sesired you all of the time that was love the went on for 10 years with my husband. Now 24 years later I found out 4 years ago after my gut said HUGE problem that he was sleeping with hookers every day
    after work and then at odd times on weekends. LUST can really make a person sick. Besides spending $1000s of dollars I was exposed to every STD there is. He was caught my a family member and has tuned his life around. Had I gone with my gut feeling this could
    have been avoided or at lease nipped in the bud alot sooner.
    David commented on 12-Aug-2011 02:53 AM
    I've always felt that if you involve yourself physically with someone inappropriately, then you lose your vision to see the situation clearly. I think a good relationship needs the dance of a courtship with all of its color, charm, grace, and effort. Over
    time it brings out those deeper feelings of love.
    Pst. Abraham Sunday commented on 12-Aug-2011 04:23 AM
    Dear Judith Orloff M.D. I am A serving pastor with The Seed of Israel Christian Mission, Abuja, Nigeria. My short comment is that, Judith continue in this might, and you will save many lives and marriages. God Bless you real good. Pst. Abraham S.
    Linda commented on 12-Aug-2011 09:47 AM
    Dear Judith Orloff M.D I absolutely agree with your views in this article , Genuine love always begins with The Mind and Heart and never with The Shell...I know understand why the earlier generations of people used to court each other and get to know each
    other well over a proper period of time before getting involved emotionally and physically...It makes so much scence ..There is a harmony there that must be attained...in order for a relationship to endure ..Thank you so much for sharing your wisdom with all
    who seek it out...>(^-^)< The Lady SkyKatt RavenTail
    Caylene commented on 14-Aug-2011 06:17 PM
    Love Vrs Lust, I guess the whole concept goes to using your "intuition" The only question that I pose to Judith, is how do you break the addiction? Often a person is attracted to someone out of lonliness and the encounter wether it is sexual or otherwise
    generates a desire to be with someone irrespective of the internal bells going off inside, and some people rationalise this with "someone is better than no-one" despite the "risk" involved in taking this journey. Once on the journey when rationale kicks in
    a person ends up justifying that staying with him/her despite their failings are better than being on my own! How do you teach people to get out of this addictive cycle?
    judith commented on 24-Aug-2011 12:18 PM
    Thank everyone for all theirs insightful comments!
    Someone male commented on 27-Nov-2011 01:54 PM
    What's Wrong with me? Been in love with this wonderfull woman for two years now. I desire her i love her and i get broken. How Can i leave someone i love deeply? Her collection of issues are miles long. I Care for her i want her to heal..and i want out
    without hurting her.....
    Mara Enid commented on 16-Dec-2011 09:39 PM
    Love this post. I like to think of it as paying it forward or creating some good karma. Both love and money work that way, I find. When you give both freely, you get them back in spades.
    jones commented on 10-Feb-2012 07:14 PM
    Hey..Am Adams..Well having waiting long time to date this girl since 2008 when we in college but she really dislike me because i dress up cool but later on 2011 she final accept i really love her alot and when she first tell me shes not dating me again
    i cry alot but she tell me she want to date me again i do care about her and i try to make her happy and shes my first girlfriend i use to tell her all the time but she dont trust me am a shy person i dont talk to girl alot but she alway think i does but i
    alway tell her how i feel but think am playing her whenever she call me when she boring i will leave what am doing i will go there but am alway shy when i get to the place finally again she broke up with me without any reason and all her friend tell me everything
    i had for her it lust if feel confuse and i cry i dont know how i feel
    Mide commented on 30-May-2012 06:27 AM
    Thanx judith... It takes two to love. I have been in love with this guy since college days but he never showed any sign that he love me. I am afraid to tell him because i dont want to loose the friendship we have. Now am confuse. Cos i go on date with
    othe guys that ask me out but never feel anything for them. Whenever am with this guy am always scream 'i love u' in my heart but never dere to say it out. Please someone shld just help me out here. Should i tell me abt my feelings or shld i keep quiet so
    that i wldnt loose him as a friend?
    check it out commented on 08-Jul-2012 02:16 AM
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    the intuition using dowsing pendulum as well as divining rod. I've been using it for a very long time and I believe anybody can very well learn it.
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    paulette commented on 11-Aug-2012 05:46 PM
    i have been wondering about love for the entire week, i agree with what u say love is, i started to think that i was requesting too much from my husband...but i am soo glad that i see this article because i feel normal for wanting that kind of love, thank
    Anon commented on 08-Jun-2016 10:18 AM
    I have lacked self-confidence socially all my life due to several factors - a weak and distant first family experience, parental neglect/ abuse, and lack of intimacy, coupled with a religious education that states that sex outside marriage is a sin. I married a man with a mild form of Asperger's and was instantly hammered by his family before and after the wedding for a period of about 2/3 years. Financial and emotional struggles followed as my spouse has not worked for 7 years and cannot empathize or listen in ordinary matters. Against this background, when I was trying to make changes to my work life and undertake a career transition in my late 40s by returning to education I was allocated a male supervisor who was in his late 30s, a good-looker, charming and clever. I admired him silently. He immediately started to bluntly ask for sex during my postgraduate supervisions with him. I reasoned against this, but to cut a long story short I became fond of him and wanted to respond to his advances, within the context of a loving relationship, a second chance for love so to speak, in my mind. I have never been in love and for the first time had a strong drive to respond - but I denied this feeling because my obligation to my husband and a sense of moral obligation. However my feelings changed to became very strong for this man and I looked forward to every moment in his company. He claimed that I was his dream and that he needed me, but at times acted in a way that was sexually overt passing inappropriate remarks. I became very conflicted. We however agreed that we could start seeing each other and that I would inform my husband with a view to separation. Then one day he announced our relationship to a colleague (we had not dated, kissed, touched or even had coffee together at any point) but during this conversation in front of this senior colleague, he shocked me by insulting me verbally and passing inappropriate sexual remarks referring to me as a 'whore' and talking at length about 'rape' (perhaps he had fears about a possible future accusation of rape?). He wanted to act out a rape scenario with me he suggested. He also insisted that I lose weight and improve my personal experience etc and informed me through a gesture that I should shave my pubic area, he did this right in front of the senior colleague who was present. I cannot go into any further details, but I was shocked, angry, humiliated and saddened, because I felt so fond of him. Although I confronted him about his behaviour, I have not recovered emotionally from coming close to this man. We never had an affair (physically) because I was put off by his behaviour. Essentially, he promised that we would be lovers, for at least 2 years etc. etc., but never bothered with me after I confronted him about his behaviour. Within a few weeks, he cut me off altogether via email and informed me that my application for further study at PhD would not go forward because he could not meet my 'needs'. About eight months after this I started the menopause very suddenly. This is coupled with a recent diagnosis of Hypothyroidism - both of these physical conditions affect the emotions. Also, during the time that I was studying and this man was making advances, a close colleague of mine attempted suicide for the third time and was in critical condition. I work in an area where people need a lot of support. But I know now that I need support because I cannot seem to get over the close emotional bond that I formed with this man, who incidentally has no time for me now whatsover. I am still in my marriage but I am very unhappy in it, even more so now, but face a difficult series of practical choices if I separate. I am glad that I did not have a physical affair, but my sadness about what has happened overwhelms me at times. I have no family in my country of residence. Should I get some counselling,or therapy, just go to a support group I wonder?

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