From lust to love: sex and emotional attachment

Book-Club-338x350With sayings like “women are from Venus and men are from Mars”, it is no secret that the male and female sexes are different in many ways. This difference is generally attributed to the fact that different hormones found in each sex affect the way both sexes think and feel. In spite of this, when it comes to having sex, are we really not from the same planet?

According to Emma Gray, a journalist for the Huffington Post, when it comes to the dating world, “Wisdom tells us that men and women have totally different feelings about sex. Women automatically get emotionally attached and men quickly flee to the next social partner.”

However, a study done last year disproved this myth. Psychologist Jim Pfaus and his research team from Concordia University in Canada wanted to discover where feelings of lust and love originate in the brain. By scanning men and women’s brains with fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imagining) machines, these two emotions would light up in the part of the brain they originate from – the striatum (the part of the brain that gets messages about emotions and memories from the cerebral cortex). Although these are two separate emotions, they were found to come from the same area in the brain.

However, more specifically, lust originates from the ventral striatum of the brain, which is associated with the emotion and motivation area of the brain, whereas love comes from the dorsal striatum, which is associated with decision-making. Pfaus says that although love and sex are different, his research team discovered that there is an “overlap between sexual desire and emotional love in the brain’s insular cortex”. This explains why even though someone might have the intention to have meaningless sex, that lust may change into love after sex.

Ian Kerner, a sex therapist and relationship counsellor, argues that even though men and women are free to have casual sex, women almost always form some sort of attachment. Kerner says that with women, “deeper pleasures require some level of emotional attachment”. This is mainly because oxytocin, “the cuddle hormone”, is released during the female orgasm. Dr Lauren Berman, a sex and relationship educator and therapist, says that “oxytocin can inspire feelings of closeness, affection, and intimacy”. Berman goes on to say that “This is why women might ‘catch feelings’ after a one-night stand or a so-called casual hook-up.”

When Perdeby spoke to Tuks student Tamara*, she agreed with Kerner that women feel an attachment after sex, saying, “As soon as sex is over and a guy doesn’t want you anymore, then you get emotional. So it’s more of an emotional attachment to the feeling of being wanted and being close to someone than the actual feeling of being attached to men.”

Berman further mentions that even though men also release oxytocin during orgasm, their high levels of testosterone combat the effect of “lovey-dovey” feelings, making casual one-night stands less meaningful to them. Men’s dopamine (the “pleasure reward” hormone released during orgasm) levels decrease after orgasm is achieved, resulting in men having negative withdrawal symptoms after sex. This makes men feel irritated along with the need to flee from their sexual partners.

Moustapha Diop, a second-year BPolSci student, tells Perdeby that he has never had an emotional connection with a girl after casual sex. “I sometimes feel guilty because the girl makes it obvious that she has feelings for me and my emotions aren’t [the same],” he says. He goes on to say that most men are not as hollow-hearted as they seem, but when it comes to sex, it is only considered as “making love” if the man really likes the woman before they have sex.

 

Erick Leech, a blogger for WomenOnTheFence.com, argues that men who have feelings for a woman need confirmation that their relationship means as much to their partner as it does to them. This confirmation is usually made through sex. “It reminds [men] that [women] are still attracted to [them],” says Leech. Only after this confirmation can some men’s sexual desire be replaced by love and a sense of attachment.

Kerner says that it is possible for women to have meaningless sex like men. He believes that the real question is whether they should or not? Although this answer is up to each individual, there are things for both parties to consider. Kerner feels that “We can treat sex lightly, but sex doesn’t always treat us lightly back in return.” He further explains that casual sex can make a person feel depressed after climax has been reached because people, though mostly women, can sometimes feel “post-orgasm regret” along with anger and sadness if there was a feeling of hollowness and a lack of passion during sex.

It seems that the orgasm, which is the main goal of sex, may have a negative side effect after all. Although casual sex may not affect you directly, the other person could have unwillingly broken the core rule of engagement – no emotional attachment. It appears that men and women can view casual sex in the same way, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that they will come out on the other side seeing eye to eye.

Published: Perdeby on 2 May 2013

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