“Sex changes everything.” It’s the cliched advice that our friends love to give us after the fact, when it’s already too late. But what exactly does sex change? And why?
As luck would have it, there is extensive research on the topic. Here’s the breakdown of what happens to you, chemically, when you have sex and what it means.
1. Orgasm makes you lose control of your rational mind.
Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you the lateral orbitofrontal cortex. It’s the part of your brain that’s responsible for reason and self-control. And guess what? When you orgasm, it shuts off. Completely. In both men and women.
So, at the moment of orgasm, you are not thinking rationally. In fact, you can’t. So all of the rules of engagement that you’ve been holding yourself to with this stranger/friend/person you’re dating fly temporarily out the window.
2. “Trust Drugs”
Every heard of oxytocin? It’s a kind of a big-wig, hormonally speaking. Oxytocin’s basically running the block, reproduction-wise. Lactation? Erections? The strength of your orgasm? Oxytocin, oxytocin, oxytocin. This power-hormone’s most famous achievement, though, is that it’s largely responsible for making you like and trust people. And when you orgasm? Huge spike.
So. At the precise moment that your reason control center shuts down, you experience a rush of hormones that make you like and trust the person you’ve just had sex with. You like and trust and trust this person. A lot. Without understanding why.
Then it goes away.
3. Women are addicted to oxytocin. Men aren’t.
Kissing, hugging, caressing, positive touch in general — all these things release oxytocin in a big way. Because girls tend to get more physical affection from their family and peers at an early age,, many women may have developed an oxytocin dependency. Like, the equivalent of a drug dependency. Men, while they like oxytocin, aren’t necessarily addicted to it.
Part of the function of oxytocin is that it makes you associate the drug high with the person who was with you when you got high. The more intense the high is for you, the more you’re going to want to see that person again. Whether you like it or not.
So… What Do We Do?
Sex causes an irrational attachment — one that doesn’t necessarily match up with your thoughts and feelings outside of the bedroom. It can be difficult to negotiate the difference.
Casual sex is, of course, possible. So is Friends With Benefits if you’re careful. But, I have to say that I have never had really mind-blowing sex (i.e. oxytocin-heavy sex) and had both parties mutually shrug “whatevs,” afterward.
It seems that if there’s some rational, reality-based bond with a person before we have sex with them, it’ll be a easier to deal with them, and ourselves, when we come back from our temporary trip to Orgasm-Trusty-Rainbow-Land. It doesn’t have to be a committed relationship — just some kind of a lifeline back to reality. A conversation about what your expectations are would work fine.
Think of it like cleaning your apartment before you go on vacation. It’s up to you if you do or don’t, but you’re usually glad you did when you do.
Originally published March 2011