Where did we go wrong, or did we? (love and sex edition)

For ever – or at least for 70 years – make love was many times more common than have sex, at least in the Google Ngrams database of millions of books in American English. And, then — well, you can guess what happened then:

The results are the same with “making” and “having” (you can play with the search here).

Why? What happened? Could it be “the culture”? Zooming in on the period since 1950, preliminary evidence is mixed:

I’m open to hypotheses.



8 thoughts on “Where did we go wrong, or did we? (love and sex edition)

  1. It is very interesting and have to say that from socionomics point of view all this happen because bear market.This is what i am talking about:

    Positive mood – Negative mood
    Confidence – Fear
    Desiring power over nature – Desiring power over people
    Search for joy – Search for pleasure
    Interest in love – Interest in sex
    Practical thinking – Magical thinking


    This is my hypothesis.

    P.s Ι am truly imprеssеԁ by yοur wгіtіng. Υou оffer ехtгеmely hеlpful information.Thank you.


  2. The “have sex” line seems to show that beginning in the sixties, it became more and more acceptable to talk explicitly about sex. I’m not sure what that has to do with the “make love” line. Maybe “make love” declined because it became ambiguous. Until the sixties,the meaning was mostly non-sexual. After that, the sexually explicit meaning of the phrase grew. So by 1990, writers who wished to avoid the ambiguity had to find a different phrase.


  3. I think the “have sex” rise is just, as already stated above, an indication of less need for euphemistic terms for having sex – and the acceptance of this phrase as being a frank, non-slang way of talking about sexual activities. I think “make love” has peaked because it is now seen as a particular type or subset of sexual activities, and for some people and/or contexts, its use seems corny or just inaccurate.


  4. Muscat has it. The old phrase, “make love” was actually ambiguous. It was used euphemistically on the one hand, to mean “have sex,” and literally on the other hand, to mean, “express strong feelings of love through sexual activity, not necessarily intercourse.” This ambiguity made the phrase useless to a more liberated, literal-minded generation.

    The same problem of ambiguity applies to many other outmoded usages, such as using “men” to mean “people in general,” and to some modern ones, such as using “low income” to mean “African-American.”

    The problem with “have intercourse” is that it’s too long 😉 Also, you may think it sounds less ambiguous, but in fact it’s just as ambiguous as “make love.” Intercourse means primarily “connection or dealings between persons or groups.” The sexual meaning has emerged over time, I believe, being first recorded around 1800 and probably gaining steam through the Victorian period.


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