As the feminist movement has gained more and more momentum over the years, women have embraced their sexual freedom in a variety of ways. In what is perhaps an ironic aspiration, women desire to be more like men, aiming to possess the “freedom” afforded their male counterparts. Specifically, some women have singled out the goal of “having sex like a man.”
In saying this, women mean they want to be as care-free and emotionally detached from their sexual partners as men seem to be. From their perspective, men are able to have as much casual sex with women as they want, without the repercussions of emotional attachment. It’s all about having a good time. No strings attached.
Now to me the problems with this goal are fairly self-evident. First, it negatively impacts men by proliferating the illusion that men can have casual sex without any sort of repercussions. Some men might seem to fit this prototype, but you will be hard pressed to find a man who’s never experienced any heartache at all. No, men are not sex-driven robots without hearts–they too can get hurt when physical intimacy is involved.
But the damage doesn’t stop there–this mindset clearly endangers women as well. From a female perspective, it is very difficult for women to have sex without forming some kind of attachment. When we sleep with someone and engage in that bodily intimacy, our hearts become entangled. We struggle to separate our actions from our hearts.
However, while these conclusions seem obvious to me, there are many women who disagree. They object saying, “That’s not true for me! I have lots of sex with men and it doesn’t mean a thing.” Or, “I have lots of friends who engage in casual sex without getting hurt, so they disprove your theory.”
In conversations like these, I have frequently been written off as the token Christian prude. From their perspective, I only hold those beliefs because of my faith. They also argue that my beliefs are true for me, but not true for every woman. Some women can separate themselves emotionally, so I shouldn’t make generalizations based upon my own subjective views.
Well interestingly enough, those objections to my “biased perspective” are becoming less and less tenable. In recent years, scientists have researched the effects of a hormone called oxytocin on the human body, and with enlightening results. While there is still much to be learned about this hormone and its influence, scientists are fairly certain of one thing: its presence can often lead to attachment and bonding in intimate relationships.
For instance, a woman’s body produces oxytocin when she is breast feeding, the result of which is greater emotional attachment with her child. Similarly, a woman’s body also produces oxytocin when she climaxes during intercourse, and this too can result in feelings of greater attachment with one’s partner.
Much of this research has come from comparing the mating habits of rats with those of prairie voles. Prairie voles are notoriously monogamous, and they also produce significant amounts of oxytocin when they mate. Rats, on the other hand, are polygamous creatures. Their bodies do not produce oxytocin when they mate, which is why they fail to bond with their respective partners.
Given that scientists still have much to learn about oxytocin’s effects on human relationships, I hesitate to draw any concrete conclusions about it. However, the research does lead us to one undeniable truth–sexuality cannot be reduced to an issue of mere ideology. It is clear from these studies that some creatures are biologically wired to be monogamous, and others to be polygamous. God has written these wirings into us from the start.
So given the presence of oxytocin, as well as other hormones that are thought to result in similar feelings of relational attachment, it’s clear that God designed us to be monogamous. He wrote it into our beings in a profoundly elemental way.
That said, why do some women seem able to have casual sex without any sort of emotional attachment? This is another area about which I hesitate to draw conclusions, given that I am not a scientist. But, after researching and discussing the matter with reliable resources, I suspect it has something to do with conditioning. There is a degree to which we can condition our bodies to respond to certain circumstances in specific ways, even to the extent of undermining our natural tendencies. And given that fact, it is altogether possible that, over time, a person can condition themselves to resist emotional attachment if they have casual sex enough. They essentially kill off their body’s natural tendency to attach, by training it to remain guarded or untouched.
I can certainly see this trend in my own life. I think we all remember our first kiss, and how meaningful it was. But gradually, the more people you kiss, the less meaningful a kiss becomes. Especially if you get hurt by someone you kissed. Because of that bad experience, a kiss loses the special romantic purity and newness that it had before, and it can even take a negative connotation for you. The more people you kiss, and the more broken promises and broken relationships that you associate with those kisses, the less a kiss will mean.
And one day, you wake up to find that it doesn’t mean almost anything at all.
That is the effect of conditioning. But even if you train yourself to remain unattached, it doesn’t change the fact that you were initially designed to associate sex with intimacy. God has written it into our original design, which means we cannot and should not ignore it.
The argument for conditioning should not lead us to conclude that women can, in fact, shut their hearts off completely. Even if a woman has conditioned herself to engage in uncommitted casual sex, she must constantly be on guard. If she lets down her guard for even a second, and allows herself to enjoy her partner as more than just a tool for pleasure, she is in danger of vulnerability. If she finds him to be a source of enjoyable company, or if she enjoys sex with him more than others, then she runs the risk of producing oxytocin. Without even meaning to, her body can lead her to form an emotional attachment. It’s as if her body is pulling her back to its created purpose.
With all of that in mind, we are wise to protect our divinely designed hearts. When we attempt to engage in casual sex, or even chronic flirting or casual kissing, we walk a fine line. Not only do we devalue those precious acts of affection, but we play Russian Roulette with our hearts. Will this be the hook-up that hurts us, or will it not? Maybe you’re having fun now, but God has designed our hearts in such a way that makes that lifestyle emotionally unsustainable. We merely sew seeds of brokenness that we will eventually have to reap.
What’s more, this research reveals that we Christians are not merely blind ideologues who ignore science for the sake of preserving the Bible. In this instance, biology is actually complementing our theology, which gives us all the more reason to heed God’s guidance. Our bodies are trying to tell us something that God has been telling us all along.
* Special thanks to David Goodman for helping me with the research on this one!!