You know that sexually transmitted disease that the majority of men never experience symptoms of? Not HPV, the other one: emotions.
I've had them. I'm pretty sure every woman reading this right now has had them. Men have actually them, too. They may not know it, but they certainly do spread them.
I am not in the position to say whether casual sex is good or bad for women. I can say, though, that it is more difficult for women than for men.
I have found myself in several of these "casual" relationships throughout my 20s, and each time, I feel as though I am trapped by what I want and what I feel.
I became curious as to why this was, and why so many women are dealing with the same struggle, while men seem to be unfazed by the whole phenomenon.
I am all about gender equality, but I also don't think we get anywhere by ignoring some fundamental differences between men and women, particularly when it comes to sex. Can women have sex like men? Yes. Will it affect us differently? Yes.
The fact that men and women are different is hardly a revolutionary concept. While our behaviors can help us explain how we are different, most people are unaware as to why. Simply put, it has to do with the way our brains work.
In her book, “The Female Brain,” Louanne Brizendine writes:
"Women have an eight lane superhighway for processing emotion, while men have a small country road … Men have the O'Hare Airport hub for processing thoughts about sex, whereas women have the airfield nearby that lands small and private planes."
So there you have it: a scientific explanation as to why after sex, women are left wondering if and when she will hear from a guy.
All the while, guys are scrolling through Tinder on their couch, wondering if that chicken parm they ordered an hour ago is actually on its way. Perhaps I'm generalizing, but I think I just accurately described many of you.
How can we expect to completely detach when our brains simply process and experience more emotion than our male counterparts? When it comes to safe sex, especially for women, it isn't just our physical health we need to worry about.
We need to understand how our emotional health is at risk, as well. I'm not suggesting we all save ourselves for marriage. I'm just saying, until someone discovers a condom for emotions, we need to be a little smarter about the decisions we make and how they affect us.
I'm also not saying this is true for all women, just most.
What is oxytocin?
Oxytocin is a chemical released in both men and women after we have sex, just in very different doses. Who receives more? SURPRISE! WE DO! It is called the "attachment molecule," the "cuddle hormone," or as I like to call it, "what makes women crazy."
Jokes aside, it serves a very important role as the agent that bonds a mother to her child, as women experience a substantial wave of it during childbirth. It's what gives women their nurturing instinct.
That instant emotional bond we have to the human that comes out of us, we feel a similar bond to the human that... Do I really need to finish that sentence? We get it.
Women are programmed to become emotionally attached as a survival method, to ensure security for their children. Men, on the other hand, are programmed to detach.
So what happens when women no longer have the same agenda they used to? What if we are not, in fact, having sex to stay together and procreate?
What happens when our biological hardwiring has not yet received the message that we, too, are trying to "hit it and quit it”?
What does oxytocin do?
When applied to casual sex, oxytocin can create a sense of attachment to someone we don't really know that well. It's kind of like beer goggles in that it makes someone appear more attractive than he or she actually is.
Ladies, have you ever slept with a guy you didn't particularly like that much, but then it bothered you that you didn't hear from him?
That would be oxytocin. Not only does it create a greater sense of attachment, it also enhances the trust circuits in our brains. Brizendine writes:
"These hormones activate the brain circuits for nurturing behavior while switching off the caution and aversion circuits. In other words, when high levels of oxytocin and dopamine are circulating, your judgment is toast."
Perhaps this could explain why we hear so many women referring to that mysterious "connection" they felt, while simultaneously ignoring huge red flags that should make them want to run the other way.
Oxytocin is like a drug, and because of that, when we don't get our next fix, we can experience various degrees of withdrawal. It creates a craving for bonding, so when we don't get it, we become anxious and irritable.
We confuse this craving with feelings towards the person, when in reality, it is simply a biological need that is no longer being met when we engage in one-night stands, or certain casual sex relationships.
The good news:
We are not, in fact, powerless over our emotions. Larry Young, author of "The Chemistry Between Us: Love, Sex, and the Science of Attraction," writes:
"…because genes or a molecule modulates a behavior, it doesn't mean those genes or molecules determine that behavior."
In other words, just because we think one way, doesn't mean we have to act said way. Simply being aware of our brain's chemically altered state can help us respond to these feelings in a more rational way.
If we can recognize that it might be the oxytocin making us feel attached to someone, we can recognize that it might just be that: a chemical reaction. In this case, casual sex can be much more manageable.
If we were slaves to our impulses, drug addicts would never be able to recover. Anyone struggling with obesity would never be able to lose weight. Couples would never be able to fight the urge to be unfaithful.
Just because we want something doesn't mean we have to have it or that it's even good for us. Usually, the worse it is for us, the more we want it.
How to screw without getting screwed:
To say women cannot partake in casual sex if they so choose to do so would be disempowering. My goal is the opposite. However, we can't empower ourselves without understanding ourselves.
Avoiding, repressing or denying the fact that we are, biologically, emotional creatures will not help. The only way to manage our emotions is by becoming aware of them and why they exist in the first place.
Look at the situation from both an emotional and rational perspective:
You might feel like there is a connection after you have slept with someone, but look at the facts: How much do you actually know about him? Are you blindly trusting him or have his actions given you reason to do so?
Now, when I start sleeping with someone, I remind myself: Even though my brain might think up a few of those "Will I hear from him?" moments, it doesn't mean that I have actual, true feelings for him.
Pay attention to the negative feelings as much as the positive:
It is only human to chase a high we once felt. However, if you are sleeping with someone who isn't giving you what you need, do not delude yourself into thinking more attention from him will alleviate those "withdrawal" feelings.
You may get your fix, but you will just be left wanting more. If you sense early on that this guy is only interested in one thing, be honest with yourself about how that makes you feel when it becomes a reality. Anxiety early on in relationships is usually a telltale sign that something is off.
Know what you're getting yourself into:
You read nutrition labels; you don't smoke cigarettes; you wash your hands before you eat. You are careful about everything you put into your body, so why not apply that to sex?
No one eats a tub of Ben & Jerry's and goes, "WAIT, THERE ARE CALORIES IN THIS?!"
We shouldn't be so naive as to think we can be sexually involved with someone on the regular and have absolutely no emotional consequences. I'm not saying we shouldn't indulge. I'm just saying, think about it before you do it.
My final words of wisdom: You do you, girl, or let him do you. Either way, now you know what exactly is going on in that head of yours.
Photo Courtesy: Kelsie LeMonnier/500px