People now have a new perspective on the relevance of sex and love. People who believe in "open relationships" generally believe that sex can be had without a foundation of love, and that informed consent is not cheating. So, does the traditional love really complicate our quest for intimacy? Do we still need to pursue complete, unified sex? What is the relationship between sex and love for adults?
"Sometimes it is often easier to get bored with the tighter the grip, sometimes it feels quite good to be open instead ......"
"I remember seeing a sentence before: emotional needs and physical needs, if the needs of both parties are different frequencies, the one with more needs will be prone to cheating."
"So if both people want to cheat on each other, you can try an open relationship and be honest with each other, but also to balance the above-mentioned emotions for a relationship that may produce tiredness and boredom and anger. But the premise is that the two trust each other and communicate openly."
From these perspectives, it seems that people now have a new perspective on the relevance of sex and love. For example, people who believe in "open relationships" generally believe that sex can be had without a foundation of love and that informed consent is not cheating.
So, does the traditional "love" really complicate our quest for intimacy? Do we still need to pursue complete, mind-body sexuality? What is the relationship between sex and love for adults?
Let’s check today's article.
Table of Contents
Sensations of sex and love arise in the same place in the brain
Neuroscience has long confirmed that the feeling of love exists in our brains. So, what about sex? Research has found that the same brain regions that control love also control sexual desire（Cacioppo et al., 2012）。
The researchers first looked at brain regions that glow when aroused by love and then compared them to brain regions that are aroused by sexual desire.
Brain networks associated with sexual desire (blue) and love (red). Screenshot from Cacioppo, S., Bianchi‐Demicheli, F., Frum, C., Pfaus, J. G., & Lewis, J. W. (2012). The common neural bases between sexual desire and love: a multilevel kernel density fMRI analysis. The journal of sexual medicine, 9(4), 1048-1054.
The results showed that both insular cortex and striatum play a role in sexual desire and love.
Not only that, but researchers have also found an overlap between sexual desire and love in the insula. Located deep in the cerebral cortex, the insula affects emotions and can transform "internal emotional" feelings into "external meaning" - that is, sexual desire can actually be transformed into love.
According to neuroscientist Dr. Nicole Prause, love and sexual urges are often indistinguishable in the brain. This means that people can confuse what they are experiencing - some people feel in love after having sex, while another person may not have the same thoughts.
Science also explains that when we fall in love making love, it feels more amazing because we get a double dose of chemicals.
"I think love is so beautiful that it makes sex a hundred times better. Sex without love is not really meaningful."
With the popularity of Internet dating, young people's concepts of sex and love are changing.
"In high school I became clear about my sexual orientation. In our group, open relationships are now a norm and a tacit agreement. I can sleep with a stranger while traveling, but I will be the first to go to my boyfriend whenever he needs it. For me, sex and love can be separated because love may not be exclusive, but it must have priority."
In addition to open relationships, there are many kinds of "casual sex" that are different from traditional sex-in-intimacy: friends with benefits, booty call, one-night stand ......
People try to make the boundaries of sex and love clearer, and these non-traditional relationships can all be summarized as -
No Strings Attached Relationship.
Interestingly, a similar, but completely opposite relationship also exists -
When you start to like someone, many people have experienced the feeling of simply loving without sex. Sometimes it is even considered a "blasphemy" to include sex in a relationship. This idea may come from the sexual education received in a particular culture.
"In the education we receive related to sexuality, sexual liberation must be accomplished after love has been established. For an intimate relationship, marriage is a necessary path for us to pursue the integration of love and sex.
This means that love is a restraint, and the standard of restraint includes sex. In this dimension, sex and love can never be separated. The inability to have premarital sex is a prerequisite for our marriage."
The latest study also found that two-thirds of couples begin their relationships platonically（Stinson et al., 2021）。
Not only in the initial stages of a relationship, but people may also face changes in their sexual relationships in long-term relationships.
As intimacy progresses and the two move from the lust and attraction stage to the attachment stage, the sexual desire for each other gradually becomes less intense, but more meaningful sex that secretes dopamine and makes both partners more satisfied.
"As we've gotten older, sex between my husband and I has declined from what it used to be, both in frequency and in experience, but that doesn't seem terrible to us.
Because I know clearly that sexual satisfaction is not enough to keep the promise of taking care of our family and to accompany us through many, many difficulties. But love, makes us watch out for each other like comrades in arms. Love is more irreplaceable and scarce."
——Anonymous, Mother of two children
There is another group of people who do not naturally feel sexual attraction: "asexuals" (Bogaert, 2015). There is no single definition of asexuality, and each person has a different experience of asexuality:
Asexuality is a spectrum where some people have no sexual attraction, others have a little sexual attraction, and still others have a lot of sexual attraction;
Many asexuals desire and have intimate relationships;
Some asexuals have no interest in romantic intimacy;
Some people find that their attraction and desires change over time ......
In addition, a study in the United Kingdom showed that 70% of the asexual population is female, much more than male (Bogaert, 2004). In other words, women make up the majority of those who experience love independently of sex.
"My girlfriend and I agreed to have sex once a month, which we have kept since the beginning of our relationship until now, and I find that I have no strong physical needs and even find it difficult to enjoy the feeling of having sex with her.
This may sound absurd, but I don't actually have a physical problem. We are nestled together in the sofa, she is holding the cat against my shoulder, and I feel that the word happiness is just that. I don't think it's that important whether or not I feel that way."
Are there other differences between men and women in the relationship between love and sex?
There seems to be a stereotype that men are more likely than women to distinguish between "the pleasure of sex" and "the emotions of the person with whom they are having sex," whether in movies or in everyday life experiences.
In other words, it is widely believed that men can achieve true sexual separation, but for girls this can be difficult.
In response to this phenomenon, a study on break-up sex (Moran et al., 2002) investigated:
1）How it feels to have sex after a breakup, and how it will feel in the future
2）Men's and women's motivations for engaging in post-breakup sex
Women are more likely than men to be motivated by relationship maintenance, and men are more likely to be motivated by hedonism and casualness. Screenshot from Moran, J. B., Wade, T. J., & Murray, D. R. (2020). The psychology of breakup sex: Exploring the motivational factors and affective consequences of post-breakup sexual activity. Evolutionary Psychology, 18(3).
Results showed that women were more likely to have sex motivated by relationship maintenance and to feel better about their relationship afterwards when they were no longer in love with each other.
Men's motivations are relatively more casual and hedonistic, they don't think too much about the meaning of the relationship and usually feel better about themselves after sex.
Another review of the literature on casual-sex also concluded that women are more likely than men to worry and regret their casual sexual encounters after dating. Dating is less emotionally satisfying for women than for men（Wesche et al., 2020）.
But that doesn't exactly mean that men can separate sex from love. A more accurate conclusion would be that men do have a more casual attitude toward sex and more diverse sexual motivations than women.
What would happen if sex&love was completely separated?
Surveys show that men and women generally find sex with love more satisfying. If a person tries to separate sex from love completely, they may experience these:
1) Falling into emotional emptiness
When we have sex with each other in a non-relationship situation, we may feel an unconscious desire for more. This is because sometimes the sexual experience does not fully satisfy our need to connect with another person.
After sex, we may feel a void - in a "no strings attached" relationship, we may be looking for love in the name of sex, even if we don't realize it.
"At the beginning of the relationship, I would clearly agree with each other that there would be only a physical relationship, no feelings. All the way to today, I can do sex and love without any connection at all. But you ask me what love is, I don't know."
2）Misunderstanding of relationship status
Love and sex are connected, but they are not the same. If we don't choose intimacy with sexual unity, in the process of having sex, two people may misunderstand the state of the relationship - either being cheated and hurt or cheating and hurting others.
When in a relationship, both partners want the same thing, this ultimately promotes mutual sexual compatibility and an ever-deepening relationship - each wanting to please the other both in and out of bed.
However, when love is removed from a relationship, sex can become selfish. The other person may use our affection for our own sexual gratification, or we may use the other person's affection for our own sexual gratification.
3）Loss of ability to manage intimate relationships
Sexual separation can rob us of the ability to run an intimate relationship.
"I fell out of love a while ago and was half dead with pain, drinking night after night, or not being able to sleep at all. Then started dating different people in contact with them, just to distract myself from the pain.
I carry myself very clear, and did not have real feelings for them, in fact, this is no one sorry who, after all, for them, I am just a person to spend time together."
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Meaningful happiness can only be elevated when responsibilities are truly taken, commitments are made, and difficult parts of the relationship are faced.
Make love or make it true love？
It's your choice.
Stinson, D. A., Cameron, J. J., & Hoplock, L. B. (2021). The Friends-to-Lovers Pathway to Romance: Prevalent, Preferred, and Overlooked by Science.Social Psychological and Personality Science, 19485506211026992.
Cacioppo, S., Bianchi‐Demicheli, F., Frum, C., Pfaus, J. G., & Lewis, J. W. (2012). The common neural bases between sexual desire and love: a multilevel kernel density fMRI analysis. The journal of sexual medicine, 9(4), 1048-1054.
Moran, J. B., Wade, T. J., & Murray, D. R. (2020). The psychology of breakup sex: Exploring the motivational factors and affective consequences of post-breakup sexual activity. Evolutionary Psychology, 18(3), 1474704920936916.
Bogaert, A. F. (2004). Asexuality: Prevalence and associated factors in a national probability sample. Journal of Sex Research, 41(3), 279-287.
Bogaert, A. F. (2015). Asexuality: What it is and why it matters. Journal of sex research, 52(4), 362-379.
Wesche, R., Claxton, S. E., & Waterman, E. A. (2021). Emotional outcomes of casual sexual relationships and experiences: A systematic review. The Journal of Sex Research, 58(8), 1069-1084.