Hearts Before Parts–Sex, Science and Self-Determination Theory in Modern Dating
When I explain to women and men that waiting at least 90-days upon meeting someone new in order to have sex with them is wise, they often laugh, roll their eyes and say something akin to “yeah, I don’t see that happening!”
I can feel myself getting placed in either the “she’s a prude” or the “she’s way too old to get it” or similarly the “she doesn’t know how times have changed” category.
But I do know.
I’m out there dating. Granted I’ll be 53 this June, but I am no prude. I have my own viewpoint, of course, as do we all. It’s actually the only view we can have, the one from the point in which we are standing.
But I have been professionally trained to observe my own bias and be aware of transference and countertransference as well.
But that doesn’t mean my beliefs and values still don’t bleed through, so then I depend on facts. Cold, hard, science. Empirical evidence. I use all of these to help people understand that it really isn’t just me and my moral code or personal bias that is encouraging them to wait the 90 days. The facts are.
And yet, they don’t wait.
Then they repeatedly come back to me complaining about how it just didn’t work, or the same shit happened again that happened the last time; same color just a different shade this time.
The chemical cocktail that is released when having a heavy make-out session is something to be reckoned with, but the chemical concoction released when having sex or an orgasm, that is something to make your brain take note. And your brain takes that note with a Sharpie. Indelible ink, my friend.
It’s not going to forget it any time soon. And it’s going to want more.
We have brain receptors for oxytocin, prolactin, serotonin, dopamine, acetylcholine, to name just a few of the feel-good chemicals released during coitus. These chemicals heighten the feelings of trust and intimacy, even with complete strangers.
Oxytocin and its receptors appear to hold the leading position among the candidates for the substance of “happiness.” If not “happiness,” at least it now seems to be an important brain compound in building trust, which is necessary in developing emotional relationships, a process also referred to as social bonding. A recent study by Kosfeld published in Nature has demonstrated that oxytocin specifically affects an individual’s willingness to accept social risks arising through interpersonal interactions.
A key hormone released during sex is oxytocin, also known as the ‘cuddle hormone’. This lowers our defenses and makes us trust people more, says Dr. Arun Ghosh, a GP specializing in sexual health at the Spire Liverpool Hospital.
Men, on the other hand, instead of getting a surge of bonding hormone receive a surge of simple pleasure. ‘The problem is that when a man has an orgasm, the main hormone released is dopamine — the pleasure hormone. And this surge can be addictive,’ says Dr Ghosh.
When it comes to waiting to have sex, I give people who are dating this analogy.
Let’s say you and I meet each Wednesday at noon for lunch. And every week I deposit $1,000 in your bank account before I show up for lunch with you. You are extremely grateful, we have a great lunch, and we go about our weeks.
And then a few months in, I decide I can’t keep depositing the $1K into your account each week, but we still agree to meet for lunch. How will I ever know if you are meeting me for lunch because you enjoy me or if you’re interested in hopefully receiving the $1K in your account again?
The answer: I won’t.
Same thing with sex. If you introduce it too soon, how will you know if the other person is truly interested in getting to know and love you or if they are doing a great job of saying and doing all the right things in order to receive sex?
The answer: You won’t.
I often hear the “Well, I need to make sure this person is a good sexual match for me because I don’t want to end up in another relationship with a less than satisfying, if not all-out frustrating, sexual partner!”
And I agree, “Of course, you don’t!” But then I simply ask, “You don’t have 3 months to invest to find that out?”
Let’s say you don’t wait and have great, amazing sex and then find out this person is addicted to porn, pills, alcohol or what-have-you, or is a terrible parent, a liar, bad with money, lacks empathy, is codependent and says “yes” to everything and never says “no”, which becomes a huge burden to the partner, or is unable to “hold the note” of connection or intimacy, meaning they can act intimate and be close in short spurts but can’t keep that up for longer than a few weeks or at most a couple of months.
When two people are dating and decide to have sex, I have found that there are only two categories they fall in and it’s important to get Caribbean water clear about which one you are in before foraying into a sexual encounter.
One brings about depression, anxiety, and physical symptoms, plus feelings of self-loathing and shame. The other one has no significant negative symptoms.
Makes sense why it’s crucial to know the difference, right?
But if you don’t know this ahead of that first heady kiss or that first makeout session, it might be too late.
Here are two different ways to look at this.
- “Sex is a natural activity”-
On one end sex is an activity, a need to be filled, a challenge to be met, a pleasure to sample, a form of exercise to increase capacity or fitness, or a relaxation to indulge in.
These are all reasons for yourself as an end in itself, not particularly important who you do it with, although, it’s better with an attractive, enjoyable partner. Like most games, there is usually a winner and a loser, but there’s always another chance tomorrow.
- “Sex is a consummation”-
On the other end, sex is a consummation, a powerful symbol of joining, an act that seals, solemnizes, commits and makes something lasting, complete and final. At this extreme, it’s something you do for someone you love more than for yourself, and it is a means to ever deeper love and a strengthener of emotional and spiritual feelings. A win-win synergy, a secure acceptance of ourselves, plus you also get romance and excitement.
Here’s what that might look like using the Self Determination Theory by Deci and Ryan.
The autonomous category is the 1) “Sex is a natural activity” listed above that doesn’t create the negative results while the heteronomous category is the 2) “Sex is a consummation” category and it does produce negative results if any of those factors listed in the picture above are present.
Let me give you an example and see if you can tell which category this young woman was in when she decided to have sex.
She meets this guy, whom she refers to as a Greek God, out partying and drinking one night with friends. She is drunk, he is drunk, they are flirting, and he asked her to go back to his place around 2:00 am. She was so impressed that this Greek God would be flirting with her much less interested in having sex with her, plus she didn’t know if she would ever get to have sex with someone so good looking ever again, so she agreed. And then the next morning he asked her for her phone number. She was completely surprised by that because she fully expected this to be a hookup. Nothing more. But she did end up giving him her number before she left.
Let’s look at the Autonomous category first: She’s got all of them checked off! So, one would think that’s where she is. No harm, no foul, right?
Nope. First thing off is she’s drunk and he’s drunk. They are altered; therefore, not fully present. Puts her in the Heteronomous category immediately.
But what else gives her away at the end?
Her surprise that he asked for her number and then the fact that she gave it to him means that on some level she was kind of hoping it would turn into something more. And, additionally, she was perhaps, albeit unconsciously, trying to avoid the unpleasant feelings of thinking she wasn’t attractive enough to have a guy this good-looking be interested in her.
Often times people make the mistake of introducing sex quickly as a means to fabricate intimacy (hoping it turns into something more) rather than using sex as a means of celebrating an intimacy they have fostered together.
I use “into-me-see “as my definition of intimacy. This is something that is developed over time with conversations, experiences and consciousness—or full presence.
With a 90-day goal of abstinence from sex, you create a space for those conversations and experiences to blossom as well as increasing your chances of staying fully present. Not just to this other person, but most importantly to yourself.
© 2020. Austin Empowered.