Dr. G Hits the Spot: What’s love got to do with it?

casual sex

Written by Gretchen Lambert-Wiltbank

Dear Dr G,

Is it possible to just have sex and not fall in love? There is a guy I have dated on and off. The sex is great, but our relationship isn’t all that good for me. We argue a lot, which is fine, but I have caught him lying to me. I would love to keep it as a friend with benefits thing, but I feel like I fall in love again and again when we sleep together.

Love Fighting but want more

Dear Fighting Love,

I have heard it said that it is far easier to NOT have sex with someone than it is to have sex with them and not become attached. Casual sex, if there such a thing, would be great. However, I’ve come across very few people who don’t have some emotional issues if they are able to do that. If you are one of those people then, sorry not sorry, (but the benefits don’t outweigh the drawbacks). The ability to have casual, non-emotional sexual relationships is probably more detrimental in the long run, for all the reasons you might think and then some. Of course you stand the chance of STDs or pregnancy (if that is still an option for you), but the risk you run is that you can become numb to the love hormone. You may well find yourself wanting to be with this guy more and more every time you have sex with him, and believe it or not, there is a scientific reason behind it.  

The attachment chemicals that run through our body when engaged in sex are there for a reason. They aren’t hormones that are just left over from evolution as a cautionary tale (no pun intended), rather they are there to help the human species survive. When we become attached through sexual relations, we have a desire to connect again and again (which evolution hopes at some point will allow sperm and egg to meet in order to send our DNA into tomorrow). Love and attachment isn’t anything we necessarily intend to do, that hormone rush just happens whether we want it to or not.

Don’t get me wrong, lust is different from love. Lust is quite short-lasting, sadly, huh? Here’s the deal, we actually stop thinking when we are in love. Helen Fisher (the researcher and love specialist for Match.com) said, “When we are in love, parts of the brain associated with decision-making shut down. The blood rolls out instead of rolling in. But the whole love thing is something that happens so that we can overlook EVERYTHING in order to be with another human being.” It’s in our DNA to want to be in love.

When we use the word love, most of us tend to think it has a universal meaning. However, I have yet to hear of a concrete definition agreed upon by all. That said, attachment is far easier to pinpoint. Attachment happens when we have a rush of oxytocin, or the feel good hormone. It has been dubbed, the cuddle or bonding chemical for good reason. It is important for all of us to understand that our feelings aren’t necessarily something over which we have a lot of choice, especially the kind we are talking about right now.

Julian Fellows (the creator of Downton Abbey) wrote, “Lust, that state commonly known as ‘being in love,’ is a kind of madness. It is a distortion of reality so remarkable that it should, by rights, enable most of us to understand the other forms of lunacy with the sympathy of fellow-sufferers. But, paradoxically, mad and suffering as one is, and the heat of the flame, few of us are glad as we feel that passion slip away… No, while most people have been at their unhappiest when in love, it is nevertheless the state the human being yearns for above all.”

So, to answer your question, it is possible to not feel love after sex, but highly improbable that one or the other won’t become attached. Again, it is far easier to NOT have sex with someone than it is to not become attached after having sex. Almost all of us want to stay in that space where we feel a barrage of exhilarating sparkles flying through the body. There are all kinds of sex. There’s boring sex. There’s incredible sex. There’s orgasmic sex. There’s feel sorry for someone sex, and so forth. But, no matter what kind of sex you engage in, if and when you have the “rush of joy”, it’s over in the causal department.

They don’t call those potato chips “Lays” for nothin. No one can eat just one.

Gretchen Lambert-Wiltbank is a licensed associate mental health counselor. She has a bachelor’s degree in special education, and a master’s degree in clinical mental health counseling. (“Dr. G” is her pen name. She isn’t a REAL doctor.) Get in touch with her at [email protected].

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