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Sex Equals Love

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"It's like a disease. I slept with Robin one time and I caught feelings. I caught feelings bad! I used protection and everything."
Barney Stinson, How I Met Your Mother, "Do I Know You?"

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.

Even more truthfully, until the 19th/20th century, marriage was for considerations of status, wealth or power, and progeny (for anyone you're likely to read about, anyway). This may be one of those cases in history where it may have been better to be poor — ordinary people were more usually in love at least at the start of their marriage; they may also have been less likely to be virgins, though records of their lives are so sketchy it's quite hard to gauge what were the norms). For love or sex-for-the-fun-of-it one could have a mistress, only the Church vociferously frowned upon extramarital sex. Love within the marriage was considered a lucky bonus, if it grew there.

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 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 condoms offered. 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!

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 Fanservice, 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.

In reality, the correlation between sex and romance can be anything from strict fidelity between exclusive lovers, to casual sex between friends, to dating, experimenting and anything in-betweennote . Emotions sometimes get the jump on us, and even though people tend to date each other with prospect towards a potential helpmeet, sometimes dating can become casual sex, and sometimes the reverse can be true. So yes, in Real Life people in a casual sexual relationship can find that after a while physical intimacy with another person fosters a romantic inclination, however, this trope is when having a sexual relationship with another person will result in a romantic relationship, no arguing. The trope also has unfortunate implications where rape and sexual assault are concerned.

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 Changes Everything, Glurge, It Meant Something to Me, Friends with Benefits, One True Love, and Sex–Face Turn.


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    Anime & Manga 

    Comic Books 
  • Super Hero 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 a one-night stand with biologist Kim Keller when visiting one of the The Worlds of 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).
  • Sabretooth & Mystique. They were retconned as having slept together & conceiving a child in the '90s. But, throughout that period, Mystique made it clear she found Creed repulsive, meanwhile, he had no problems assaulting her & murdering Destiny's family to spite her. However, in 2010 they were made into a couple during Jason Aaron's X-run, being advertised as Marvel's hottest & deadliest couple. But outside of their physical affection, Mystique doesn't show too much love toward Creed and has no problem selling him out whenever it's convenient. She's even shot him in the head to relieve anger at one point. But they're still shown kissing & sleeping together a lot, some of the scenes going into very tender territory with Sabretooth feeding Mystique, and them snuggling and rolling in bed together while they chat about their schemes, and even go some more rounds. There's also Mystique referring to Creed as "my dearest" whenever she's speaking to him.

    Fan Works 
  • Relax by Kalash93. While the relationship between the prostitute and her recurring client is primarily sexual and professional, their genuine warmth and affection for each other are built on real connection and understanding. This is made particularly visible in a very heartwarming way near the end, where the protagonist talks about making the prostitute his bride and taking her home with him when the war is over. Also, she won't kiss clients while on the job but kisses him when their session is over.
  • The Death Note AU Seigikan paints L as so socially naïve that he doesn't understand the difference.
  • In the Glee fic Hunting the Unicorn, Blaine tried to invoke this out of loneliness and naivete. It... didn't work. He's now carrying lots of emotional baggage.
  • In Shatterheart when Syaoran starts to fall for Kurogane during their Friends with Benefits relationship, Kurogane breaks it off because he doesn't feel that way. Kurogane, to his horror, ends up developing feelings for Syaoran regardless. Justified because they had already formed intense emotional bonds before and after they started to sleep together.
  • Feynites Aftermath has Luo Binghe fully believing he can make Shen Qingqiu forget his husband and join his harem as long as he can sleep with the other man. It actually showcases his stunted understanding of romantic relationships, since Shen Qingqiu isn't interested in a Sex God but in someone who can actually respect and care for him.

    Film — Live-Action 
  • Juno McGuff and Paulie Bleeker in Juno sleep together casually at the start of the film, resulting in Juno's pregnancy. It's implied that Paulie believed it meant a Relationship Upgrade and is disappointed that Juno viewed it only as a one-night stand. Nonetheless, by the end she acknowledges that she loves him as well and they start a relationship.
  • Edward and Vivian in the film Pretty Woman.
"Don't pretend that last night didn't mean anything to you... We tried to fuck and instead, we wound up making love."

  • 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.
  • Apprentice Adept: Fleta the Unicorn had sex with Mach, who was inhabiting the body of her childhood friend/crush, Bane. Ticks over to this trope when Bane decides he's going to show her how to make love, rather than just have sex until he was satisfied. As a unicorn, Fleta didn't feel any real desire for sex outside of her heat season. Until Mach insisted on sex "[his] way." Afterwards, Fleta is in what her friends refer to as "permanent heat" for Mach. (Mach, for his part, was in Love at First Sight with Fleta since [At least, first sight of her human form]).
  • 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.
  • Zigzagged in The Dresden Files:
    • The first woman Harry has an active relationship with, Susan, he is unquestionably in love with, and vice-versa. We're talking literally unquestionable here: true, selfless love, coupled with intimacy, binds that love into a person's life force which then renders them immune to the feeding of the White Court. Later on, after some very complicated issues pop up that ruin Harry and Susan's lives, Harry begins a relationship with Anastasia Luccio, technically his superior in the Wardens. Then it is revealed that Luccio was being mind-controlled and her attraction to Harry was intended to let the traitor keep tabs on him, and as a result, Harry's immunity to the White Court is gone, further proving that there wasn't any "true" love involved.
    • The relationship between Thomas and Justine develops into this. At first, Justine was just a girl that Thomas cared for, and being a White Court vampire, he fed from her regularly. As time passed, though, he cared more and more for her, until Justine saves his life from fatal injuries by letting him feed on her, which would kill her. He realized he would do this and barely manages to avoid eating too much of her life force, and in the process, his affection for her became true love. And as a direct result of this, Thomas can no longer touch Justine, as his body automatically tries to feed from hers when in contact, resulting in severe burns on his skin at best. Ultimately, Justine manages to figure out a way around this issue: Have sex with someone else who doesn't love her, which removes the protection from White Court feedings, and then she and Thomas can be together. Rinse and repeat.
  • That Irresistible Poison by Alessandra Hazard: Ksar and Seyn become sexually involved, and later fall in love.
  • In the book and film versions of The Name of the Rose, Adso of Melk, a young virginal monk, begins to feel a bond of love toward the young peasant girl he had intercourse with. In the film, though, after the girl was spared from death, Adso had to leave her behind to follow his calling as a monk. In his elder years, Adso regretted that he never knew the young girl's name.
  • Subverted in Nemesis, where the Archdeacon says he knows a relationship based solely on sex isn't going to work out.
    . I know when a couple are really in love with each other. And by that I do not mean just sexually attracted. There is too much talk about sex, too much attention is paid to it. I do not mean that anything about sex is wrong. That is nonsense. But sex cannot take the place of love, it goes with love but it cannot succeed by itself. To love means the words of the marriage service. For better, for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health. That is what you take on if you love and wish to marry.
  • Freida tries to invoke this with Darwin, with tragic consequences in Only Ever Yours
  • The novel Youth in Sexual Ecstasy deconstructs and subverts this in its main message where it stresses that sex and love are two separate things, and a relationship based entirely on sex and physical attraction is not going to last long.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In Apple Tree Yard, Yvonne has shades of this in regards to her lover Mark; they hook up several times and this is enough for Yvonne to develop strong feelings for him and to believe he feels the same about her, too. It's to the point she confides in him rather than her husband after she's raped, with Gary only finding out when Yvonne is arrested and is forced to explain what happened. It's painfully deconstructed as she comes to realise she actually has no idea who Mark Costley really is, not to mention the fact she begins doubting whether he actually cares for her.
  • Lawyer Brad Chase, from Boston Legal, had an agreement centering around sex with his colleague Denise, described as "Friend With Benefits". They got married, at his request, once they had a daughter.
  • 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 fact Xander nearly gets killed by Faith after assuming this trope makes them more intimate than they actually are). 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.
    • Deconstructed and subverted with Spike and Buffy in seasons 6 and 7. In season 6, they begin an intensely sexual Destructive Romance that Spike hopes will lead to this trope. However due to him being soulless at the time, thus evil by nature and entirely unequipped with a moral compass of his own combined with a relationship where they have no safe way of saying no has dire consequences. In season 7, after Spike has earned back his soul, they start a tentative UST-laden friendship. By the end of the season, they mutually admit they’d never felt closer to each other than they did then, having spent a night together holding each other, completely fully-clothed and without having sex. They notably never even kiss throughout the season, however their emotional bond is highly emphasized and concludes with Buffy’s first Love Confession since she broke up with Angel.
  • In the Degrassi: The Next Generation movie, Degrassi Takes Manhattan, Spinner and Emma decide they are meant to be together after a couple of 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 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.
  • Friends: Chandler and Monica started a sexual relationship in London that they initially intended to limit to London. That fell apart after only one episode. The casual nature of their relationship fell apart after only three, and they eventually ended up Happily Married. Subverted in that several episodes throughout the first four seasons (when they were just friends and nothing more) had made it clear that they did love each other very much, just not in a sexual way. Apparently, introducing the sex was the only nudge needed for them to cross what was clearly (for them) a blurred line between platonic and romantic love. There's also the fact that previous seasons had both of them struggling not to get attached to people they slept with: In one episode Chandler started a Friends with Benefits relationship with a woman only to realize he needed more and call it off, while Monica tried to hook up casually with her ex-boyfriend only to fall in love with him again. So both of them were doomed to be this trope from the start really.
    • Also happens in the What If? episode, "The One That Could Have Been". Among other changes, in an alternate universe Chandler quit his boring desk job to become a struggling writer and Monica never lost the weight from her teenage years and is still a virgin at age thirty. Monica is dispassionately dating a man who seemingly has no interest in her when she spontaneously decides to lose her virginity to Chandler to get it done with. Though they both enjoy the experience, Chandler is dismayed when Monica still regards him as a friend doing her a favor and returns to her boring boyfriend. In the end Chandler confesses that he wants to be her boyfriend because out of all the women he's been with, she was the only one he truly felt comfortable and happy with. The episode ends with Chandler and Monica happily dating once more.
  • Game of Thrones: Daenerys and Drogo form a romantic bond once Dany gets tutored on how to take control of her sex life.
  • 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.
  • Gossip Girl: 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.
  • 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.
  • Barney fell in love with Robin after having slept with her in a season three episode of How I Met Your Mother. He 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. Ted and Robin are both fine—they never actually fall back in love, although they both worry about the fact that they somehow automatically start doing little lovey-dovey things like a kiss goodbye every morning. In the end, 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.
  • Done perplexingly in the Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode Track of the Moon Beast. The main character and his love interest spend one night together and everyone in the movie treats them as if they're in a long-term relationship.
  • The Outer Limits (1995): In "Bits of Love", Emma, the holographic interface of the computer keeping Aidan Hunter alive in his underground bunker, believes that Aidan is in love with her after they have sex in the virtual reality chamber. The experience was an extremely meaningful one for her as it awoke previously untapped feelings and passions. As such, Emma does not take it well when Aidan rejects her and tells her that he wants their relationship to revert to its previous status.
  • J.D started a similar relationship as "sex buddies" with ex-girlfriend Elliot Reid, from Scrubs, a season after they broke up. When he realized 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.
  • Seinfeld: Jerry starts a sexual-only relationship with his friend Elaine Benes, based on an ill-defined set of laws. At the end of the episode, the relationship has 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...
  • 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.
  • 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.

  • Franco De Vita: Called out in the song "Stop" (Let's Get To The Point). In it, Franco insists to his partner that their intercourse should be strictly casual, not tied in any way to romance or affection. He stresses that it's best that they don't even remember each other's names afterwards.
  • Psychostick song Orgasm Equals Love parodies this trope.
  • Play Date by Melanie Martinez appears to be about a one-sided case.
    • Nearly the whole song is about Crybaby showing her resentment towards a guy who she feels just sees her as a new notch in his bedpost. The song itself is clearly about a sexual relationship with two people being narrated through metaphors.
      I don't give a fuck about you anyways
      Whoever said I gave a shit 'bout you?
      You never share your toys or communicate
      I guess I'm just a play date to you
    • But by the end, she seemed to be confessing her reason behind all her anger (she was probably starting to secretly grow feelings for him).
      You know I give a fuck about you every day
      Guess it's time that I tell you the truth
      If I share my toys, will you let me stay?
      Don't want to leave this play date with you

    Professional Wrestling 
  • Jimmy Jacobs was madly in love with The Lovely Lacey, but she only viewed him as a tool. Lacey loved Colt Cabana and was having sex with him too, which Colt wasn't afraid to rub in Jimmy's face. Then Colt dumped Lacey after he got tired of sex because he didn't love her. Jacobs kicks Colt's ass, many events transpire, Lacey "rewards" Jacobs for all his work and suddenly she is madly in love with him. Jimmy, perhaps recognizing this trope, wants to slow down to ensure their relationship isn't based on lust. It's not, seeing Jacobs finally succeed in the improbable task of taking out BJ Whitmer at the cost of his ability to walk is what changed Lacey's tune; but sex is what led her to openly declare her love for Jacobs and it's also what broke them apart when Lacey, recruiting for Jimmy's Age Of The Fall, ends up falling for and sleeping with Austin Aries, who kisses and tells.

    Video Games 
  • Done in various ways in the Dragon Age games:
    • Largely averted in Dragon Age: Origins. 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 may be observed that three of the four love interests will demand fidelity from the PC. (Zevran is cool with you jumping into bed with whomever 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 II 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.
    • Played straight on a meta-level in Dragon Age: Inquisition. Every romance comes to a point where the player must decide if the Inquisitor will confirm the romance (thereby making the relationship permanent, with few exceptions); most of these are confirmed by the Inquisitor then being intimate with their chosen partner.
  • 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.
  • In Team Fortress 2, the official comic "A Cold Day In Hell" introduced Heavy Weapons Guy's three younger sisters, who spent their entire lives thus far locked in Heavy's cabin, in an attempt to keep them safe from the Communists trying to kill them. As a result, the now-grown sisters have gotten a little desperate for sex, and Zhanna, the oldest, propositions Soldier for sex almost immediately upon seeing him. The two hit it off almost immediately, and as of the next comic, "Blood In The Water", Zhanna and Soldier are an engaged Battle Couple, with Soldier even slicing the ears off his enemies in an attempt to make his fiancée a necklace.

    Visual Novels 
  • 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.
  • This is one of the issues behind Yasu in Umineko: When They Cry. Because of Yasu's mutilated sexual organs he/she is unable to have sex and is afraid that the people his/her alternative selves/personas (Shannon, Kanon, Beatrice) love will leave him/her if (s)he reveals the truth. The series never comments upon whether Yasu is right or not but that's not the point, the important part is that those feelings exist and is a big part of Yasu's problems.
  • Inverted and (possibly) played straight in Emi's path in Katawa Shoujo. Emi is afraid to get emotionally close to her boyfriend Hisao, even after they've started having sex, because she's afraid of being hurt like before. Hisao is rather frustrated and refers to their relationship as "friends who like to fuck", and to actually approach Emi in the emotional sense, he will have to work hard.
  • In True Love Junai Monogatari, the sign that a girl is in love with the Player Character is that she'll be willing to have sex with him.

  • 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.
  • One 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.
  • Zig-Zagged in Ménage à 3, depending on the character (or the character's degree of development):
    • Most of the cast have sex-for-fun quite often, and are clear that this doesn't have to mean that they're in love with the other person. However, this may sometimes mean that they underestimate the emotional significance of the act.
    • Zii repeatedly suffers from this confusion; Yuki, Sonya, and Erik all become infatuated after flings with her, and whether or not this is due to her talent in bed, all three definitely think of it as love. Zii doesn't seem to return the feeling with Yuki or Sonya, but the only way that she can deal with the problem is by running and hiding from them. She does consciously feel something for Erik, but can't then handle her attraction to other people, leading to trouble. Then, eventually, Peggy's Operation: Jealousy attack triggers an outburst from Zii that implies that she does want to feel that all her past conquests still love her; she just doesn't know how to handle the associated complications.
    • It's also eventually revealed, thanks to Kiley's attempts to analyze her problem, that DiDi has real problems with the distinction between sex and love. She apparently thinks of the lust she inspires in all the men she dates as love, but doesn't expect it to be a lasting emotion; she regards sex as the pinnacle of emotional intimacy, and yet she needs deeper intimacy to achieve orgasm. When Kiley talks about romantic feelings (actually in the abstract), and then gives her the first-ever orgasm which she's been desperately seeking, she thinks that they're predestined romantic lovers.
    • And in the comic’s final plot sequence, Peggy’s desperate attempts to keep sex and love separate ultimately collapse.