Nowadays (in the States, anyway) to make love means only "to engage in sexual intercourse with both parties willing" (or perhaps also the similar "to engage in sexual fondling with both parties willing"). In the mid- and late 1960s, when the slogan "make love, not war" was popular (among a certain class of people), what did to make love mean in the States (not only in that slogan)?

  • Did it have the same (sexual) meaning?
  • Did it have the now-obsolete meaning of "to woo"?
  • Did it have both meanings, so was ambiguous?
  • Did it have no popular meaning at all (so that, in the slogan, it'd be viewed simply as the counterpart to to make war and thus as meaning something like "to foster agape")?
  • Or what?
  • 3
    It of course meant sex. See David Allen’s Make Love, Not War : The Sexual Revolution: An Unfettered History. – tchrist Sep 28 '12 at 17:14
  • It had the first meaning in that context;
  • it could have the second meaning in other contexts;
  • in yet other contexts it was useful to leave it ambiguous;
  • it's pretty much always meant both those things, so No; although this context undoubtedly confounded, deliberately, eros and agape;
  • I don't remember any other meanings, but we were mostly pretty drugged up at the time.
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As recently as 1967, a soul singer Ronny Dyson had a hit with these lines in its title and refrain:

If you let me make love to you,
Then why can’t I touch you?

Although I’m certainly no expert on the euphemism making love meaning having sex, if you read any British literature from the 19ᵗʰ century, you find a lot of instances of phrases like her lovers and he made love to me and I want to make love to thee, and so on.

Given how the prevailing social mores of the Victorian era have come to make its very name a byword for prudence, it’s a good bet that phrases like those from that period are not a reference to fornication or sex. It’s more like a man courting a woman, asking her to marry him, and then the sex begins.

Although written by a late 19ᵗʰ and early 20ᵗʰ century writer, Lady Chatterley’s Lover is filled with sex. But I never read it. I did see the stupid and poorly produced (circa 1980s) porno movie based on it. It was written by DH Lawrence.

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In one sense, the term making love is just a euphemism for having sex. During the "free love" movement of the 60s, "Make Love Not War" was a concise way to embrace promiscuity and protest the Vietnam War at the same time. So much progressive counterculture wrapped up in just four monosyllabic words – it doesn't get much more efficient than that!

In another sense, though, making love has a more literal meaning, referring to the strengthening feelings of closeness that often accompany acts of intimacy. The theist might refer to this as the spiritual dimension of sex, while the evolutionist might describe it as a cocktail of dopamine and endorphins. Explain it however you'd like, the point is, amidst a swirling blend of vulnerability and trust, two people often feel a rush of heightened closeness, a feeling of intimate bonding. During sex, they are "making love," that is, they are creating the feelings that often accompany emotional love and infatuation.

One blogger explained it like this:

I’m talking about the reason they call it “making love.” This is the erotic pleasure that is given and received as an expression of the commitment, passion and friendship you share with that guy that stood at the altar with you. Of course you may not be “feeling it,” before you begin – but opening yourself to such joy makes both of you feel better about yourselves. Not only that, but those delightful orgasms flood your bodies with oxytocin, the bonding hormone. You literally feel closer to your mate, richer, sexier and more valuable.

Another website reads:

It is not a cute phrase for sex, but having deeper meaning. Sex is the physical act, regardless of the context or emotions of the persons involved.

Making Love, is just that – creating love. The act, when done with love between the persons involved, brings up the deepest feelings of love they have for each other.

All that said, sometimes the term is stripped bare of that deeper meaning, and it's merely used as a euphemism for cheap sex. As Tammy Wynette crooned:

A little barroom, on his way home
A bed to lay on in a room upstairs
What's her name, he'll never see her again
Close the door, who knows, who cares

And they call it makin' love
Makin' love, makin' love
Throw it down, pick it up
Dress it up and call it love

Together alone like nothing's wrong
In a house called home, in a double bed
They've grown so far apart, they just fumble in the dark
Not one single word is said

And they call it makin' love
Makin' love, makin' love
Throw it down, pick it up
Dress it up and call it love

Incidentally, OED indicates that using the expression "make love" to refer to sexual intercourse dates back to 1622, so the phrase has probably meant most all of your suggestions at one time or another.

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"Make Love Not War" = Have sex instead of killing people. It's more fun.

That was turned into a song: Love the One You're With by Stephen Stills of Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young in 1970: "If you can't be with the one you love, love the one you're with" = the spirit of the decade: never faithful.

It was just another way of saying Be promiscuous and get genital herpes! I didn't, but my first ex-wife did. She deserved it.

And, as Bob Dylan said in Love is Just a Four-Letter Word:

Seems like only yesterday
I left my mind behind
Down in the Gypsy Café
With a friend of a friend of mine
She sat with a baby heavy on her knee
Yet spoke of life most free from slavery
With eyes that showed no trace of misery
A phrase in connection first that she averred
That love is just a four-letter word

"Make love" is just a euphemism. The meaning hasn't changed since the act was discovered. The 1960s was just another decade. The only positive thing that came out of it was the Civil Rights Movement, AFAIC. Everything else was an isomorph of Rosemary's Baby.

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  • 2
    I see an ambiguity in my first ex-wife. It rather suggests there are more ex-wives. – Barrie England Sep 28 '12 at 18:05
  • @BarrieEngland, I see no ambiguity: that's precisely what it means (to me, anyway). (Well, that there's at least one more ex-wife, not necessarily that there are more ex-wives.) – msh210 Sep 28 '12 at 18:17
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    Hello Bill. I only notice that not sex and war, but peace and war are complete opposites. And to have peace, we must love human beings. So, as Stoney said, I would not categorically exclude that "make love" can have a more general meaning. -1 – user19148 Sep 28 '12 at 18:42
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    Two is more than one. – Barrie England Sep 28 '12 at 18:44
  • @Barrie: 4 ex-wives, #5 died of cancer. When I saw Tommy Manville, the asbestos millionaire who married 11 different women in 13 marriages, on TV in 1953 -- either when he was refused or finally granted his 12th marriage license -- I decided that I too wanted to have 12 wives. I'm only halfway there. But I'm happy with that. :-) – user21497 Sep 29 '12 at 0:56

It meant the same as at any other time. But the context, of the 1960s, was a bit unusual.

In the United States, the Vietnam War coincided in time roughly with the beginning of the so-called "sexual revolution," which was occasioned by newly available birth control methods, notably the pill. "Make love, not war," meant roughly, "don't go to war (and kill Vietnamese) when you have such an attractive alternative with your female peers." This ethos was also occasioned by the incline of the "Baby Boom," more women born in the 1950s for (slightly older) men born in the 1940s.

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  • "don't go to war (and kill Vietnamese) when you have such an attractive alternative with your female peers" made me smile. – msh210 Apr 15 '13 at 22:25

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