Let’s face it: Sex means different things to different people. For some, it is an ultimate expression of romantic love and intimacy. For others, an emotional roller coaster, or a tension reliever, or just about procreation, or simply about having a good time. It can be all of these things and more.
Whatever it means to you, it isn’t necessarily constant either. It can mean different things at different points in your life, or even from one day to the next. But guess what? It’s all perfectly normal.
And despite the stereotype, your gender has nothing to do with your gender. Whatever your gender and whether you openly express it or not, your emotional response to sex is uniquely yours.
Do you need to feel some level of emotional attraction before any thought of sex enters your mind? If that sounds like you, you are not alone. Maybe you just need to connect on some level before your get intimate on the physical plane. Once you have made an emotional connection, you may begin to feel physical arousal. Outside of that zone, maybe you are just not into sex. You are into making love.
For others, finding that acting on physical attraction can lead to emotional attraction. Some people are physically drawn together like magnets. There’s a chemical reaction, a hunger, a purely physical craving for getting physical with another person. It’s lust. When the chemistry between people is just right, getting physical can grow into so much more.
You might be emotionally attracted to someone without having the slightest sexual urge. Or you have a mind-blowing physical attraction for someone who doesn’t really do it for you emotionally.
And then there are those who may find that emotional and physical attraction operate in two entirely different vacuums. For some of us, there are clear dividing lines between emotional attraction and physical attraction. They don’t necessarily come together. You might be emotionally attracted to someone without having the slightest sexual urge. Or you have a mind-blowing physical attraction for someone who doesn’t really do it for you emotionally. Even in long-term relationships, people can alternate between making love and having sex — or forgoing sexual activity entirely.
The biology of lust, attraction, and attachment is far from simple. Hormones certainly play a role. Generally speaking, lust is driven by testosterone and estrogen, regardless of gender. And lust is driven by the craving for sex. Attraction is driven by dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin. Attraction may or may not involve lust, but the brain’s reward center is a factor. That’s why you get all giddy or feel like you’re walking on air in a relationship’s early phase. Attachment is driven by oxytocin and vasopressin. That’s what sets the stage for bonding and long-term relationships.
Sex and love are complicated. We only know the surface of what makes humans tick. The mysteries of our sexual desires and emotions will remain an equation to be solved for a very long time yet, mostly left to the imagination.
If you are someone into casual relationships or in a ‘friends with benefits’ situation, here are some suggestions:
• Be honest with the other person. Always.
• Talk about what you are willing and unwilling to give physically and emotionally, along with what you expect in return.
• Discuss birth control and safe sex practices.
• Work together to avoid getting overly attached or dependent on each other.
• Talk about what you’ll do if one of you starts to want something more.
Keep in mind that whatever your plan or however careful you may be, feelings can arise anyway.
And if you want to deepen the relationship between sex and emotion, here are some ways that may sound small but are truly meaningful:
• Don’t allow physical intimacy become an afterthought, a thing you do as time permits. Schedule it. Make a date. Give it top priority.
• Incorporate affectionate touch throughout the day. Hold hands. Stroke an arm. Hug. Cuddle up. Give each other a massage. Touch doesn’t necessarily have to lead to sex right away.
• Make eye contact and hold it. Do this often. When you agree, when you disagree, when you share an inside joke, and when life gets overwhelming.
• Be emotionally vulnerable and available for each other.
• Kiss. Really kiss. Take your time doing it.
• Communicate your emotions. Say “I love you” often.
• What turns you on? Do what it takes to get into the mood.
• Communicate your physical desires.
• When things get physical, tune in to your senses. Touch, see, hear, smell, and taste with every fiber of your being.
• Really be there in the moment with this person who wants to be in the moment with you. Let there be nothing else.