Casual sex has become so accessible and commonplace these days that people are having a hard time committing to any partner. I am sure you have heard about commitment-phobes or even have dated a few.
Despite this, we all seek more or less exclusive relationships at one point or another as we are universally programmed to want the safety and intimacy offered by close human connections.
And yet, have you noticed that your relationship status impacts your sexual satisfaction – and not always in a good way?
We tend to assume a committed partner – the RIGHT committed partner, obviously – will provide endless hours of mind-blowing sex and permanent bedroom bliss, only to find this isn’t really how love goes.
Many couples end up being very disappointed and disconnected when, after shifting from dating to exclusivity, they start to notice a gradual but significant decrease in their desire to get physical with their significant other. To many, this makes no sense at all, since this is one of the key reasons we seek commitment and a life together: Sex on tap, isn’t it?
The answer to this conundrum comes from neuroscience.
Casual Sex is WIRED in our brain!
When we first meet someone we find sexually attractive, this encounter triggers a neural system evolved as a species survival strategy that’s as basic as our need for food or shelter: our Sex Drive or Lust.
This means we are programmed to seek sexual partners who in turn will give us pleasurable experiences so we keep trying to mate. This is Mother Nature just making sure humans stick around and keep populating the world.
Lust is such a primal need that many people struggle to contain this desire for multiple casual partners.
Sometimes – when people fail to engage higher-level brain functions due to alcohol consumption or a belief that they may be in love – they end up making decisions they later regret (We’ve all woken up next to a stranger sometimes, wondering ‘how in the world did I get here?’… Oh, Never you say?!? Well must be just me then😂)
But wait! There’s more!
When things evolve beyond a one-night stand, partners keep wanting to spend time together and establish a deeper emotional connection.
This is that phase when we are completely obsessed with a person and all we want is to be close to them. We desire them deeply, any sign of attention and affection feels just like a drug and we cannot stop fantasizing about the next time we’re going to be together.
This constant preoccupation with satisfying this irresistible itch ensures our body is permanently in a state of semi-arousal as sexual thoughts trigger significant hormonal responses asking for more. The great part about spending time together and getting to know each other is that we learn to feel safe and we develop a higher sense of intimacy, which in turn allows us to experience sex in a different way.
The cocktail of hormones produced in these moments makes us feel like on top of the world: Testosterone and estrogen keep our whole body and brain primed for sexual arousal, while dopamine gives us the drive to keep seeking that feeling of intense pleasure and excitement that is so typical of ‘being head over heels’.
When we repeat these experiences regularly, oxytocin and serotonin ensure we become obsessed and attached to our partner – creating a deep sense of trust and connection and making it impossible for us to even think about someone else. Our mind and body have identified this person would make a good mating partner so we’re kinda hooked.
But then we start seeing each other more and more, we move in together and make a commitment to love each other forever. In the beginning, it feels great. But as time goes by, a third neural system that has rather different objectives kicks in.
Things are moving to the next level… (but committed sex is not all that’s cracked up to be).
Attachment is much more about protection and creating long-term safety, about making us feel like we belong, ultimately ensuring we stay together long enough to ensure our children reach adulthood. The longer we stay together, the less the brain produces lust and attraction hormones, which means our desire for sex and therefore the frequency we need it changes dramatically.
That’s where we need to take action. Sex in a committed relationship can be fun and exciting if we don’t forget some of the key aspects of Lust: novelty, mystery and intention to push boundaries.
Keep it interesting by exploring each other, your desires and fantasies with curiosity and wonder, no matter how long you’ve been together. Avoid merging your lives to the point of not being sure when you end and they begin. Create anticipation and couples rituals that ensure sex, intimacy and connection play a significant role in your life.
This article was also published in Cantonese in the July edition of Marie Claire Hong Kong.