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Great Sexpectations
By Jenn Lackey

Is it possible to connect with someone sexually and not become attached to an outcome? 

Face it. At some point or another in any sexual relationship, no matter the level of commitment communicated, there is usually some sort of expectation looming in the distance. Whether it's an expectation to see or not see each other again, receive a phone call or a text message, despite our efforts to attach or detach, we're preprogrammed to inevitably have feelings of desire, fear and hope, all of which create sexpectations.  

Chemically Connected Desire

We're chemically connected to the desire to have sex, regardless of sexual preferences.  We're animals and like all animals we're biologically driven to have sex.  The theory that falling in love is based on our bio-chemical make-up is becoming well known. Forget about "soul mates" or finding "the one", that is a bunch of hooey.  Whether or not you're looking for Mr. / Ms. Right or Mr. / Ms. Right now, we're driven to find someone that we can connect with sexually, purely based on chemistry.

A variety of chemicals pulsate through our veins causing our hearts to be faster, our palms to become sweaty, our stomachs to flutter and we find ourselves physically drawn to another person.  Dr. Helen Fisher, an anthropologist at Rutgers University whose research focuses on the brain physiology of romantic love and sexuality was recently interviewed for Lori Gottlieb's Atlantic Monthly article, "How do I Love Thee." According to Fisher, sex drive is associated with the hormone testosterone in both men and women. Romantic love is associated with elevated activity of the neurotransmitters dopamine and probably norepinepherine. And attachment is associated with the hormones oxytocin and vasopressin. "It turns out that seminal fluid has all of those chemicals in it. So I tell my students. 'Don’t have sex if you don’t want to fall in love,'" said Fisher.

We humans have the ability to reason and look ahead, making it very difficult not have expectations.  Eventually we become attached to the other person and how they make us feel and inevitably an expectation is created. 

Romantic love, Fisher maintains, is a basic mating drive- more powerful than the sex drive. "If you ask someone to go to bed with you and they reject you, you don’t kill yourself. But if you’re rejected in love, you might kill yourself," said Fisher.

Is this different for women versus men? Sabrina Ullmann Mathews, a Portland based licensed clinical social worker practicing psychotherapy for more than 20 years says she doesn't know if sexual expectations are fundamentally different for men versus women, but she says women are trained to share their feelings differently than men. A classic example of this is how we help little boys not to cry. "With girls we say 'Oh honey it’s o.k.' but traditionally this has been discouraged in men," says Mathews, "Men are able to compartmentalize their feelings where women I think do that less. But on a human level, I think men get just as easily attached."

Fused or Differentiated Fears?

With these feelings of romantic love comes the feeling of vulnerability. Many of us associate feelings of vulnerability with how we felt as children.  "My understanding of sex is nobody really understands it very well," says Mathews, "But I think when people have sex, in many ways we regress to an infant like state. Think about how we call each other baby…But when I use the word 'regressive', I don’t mean it in a negative way. We want to regress because it's the next best thing to being in the womb. You act like a baby because it’s part of being human."

Without question sex complicates things. If you can accept the notion we're chemically driven to have sex and it's really biochemistry that give us the feeling of "being in love," then wouldn't it be impossible not to have expectations?

Mathews agrees with the notion that sexual expectations are a part of human nature, "I really think it's unrealistic not to have expectations because as a species, we have the ability to look ahead," she says, "but we do have the ability to tell ourselves not to have feelings of expectation."

We live in a culture that promotes the idea that having lots of sex with lots of different people is a good thing, leaving little room to explore the spiritual side of sex. "I think we've sexually cut ourselves off from spirituality, but when I say spirituality I'm not talking about God," says Mathews, "We’re so casual about sex that we bump against the profound nature of these feelings and then we feel bad when guy or girl X doesn’t call. You feel bad because you’re looking for all these primal needs to be met."

Exploring feelings of attachment is where spirituality comes into play for some people. The general idea behind the Buddha philosophy is that we can free ourselves from future expectations and past experiences through the practice of meditation and self-awareness. We can attain spiritual enlightenment.
But can we attain sexual enlightenment? Historically many Buddhist leaders were celibate, but why not apply some of the same Buddhist philosophies to the practice of dating? Charlotte Kasl's book, "If the Buddha Dated," explores this very question. The following is an excerpt from one of the book’s chapters, "Fused or Free: Understanding the path to Intimacy." 

Differentiation means the ability to maintain your identity when you are in close relationship to other people or ideologies: you are able to rest securely inside yourself and not to be swept away by other people's emotions, opinions, or moods. At the same time you're open to other people. Differentiation brings a spacious, open feeling, because our mind is free.

Fusion, the opposite of differentiation happens when we become enmeshed with someone. They have a headache, we take aspirin, they lose a job we search the want ads. In many relationships, fusion is mistaken for love. If you don't get upset when I'm upset you don't love me. If you don't want sex, when I want sex, you're rejecting me. When we're fused differences are seen as a threat because everything has to be either right or wrong so if we have two different opinions one person is naturally wrong.  This attitude inevitably leads to arguing and blaming and that's why fusion can get in the way of intimacy.  It doesn't allow for two different people with two different ways of thinking, perceiving or handling situations.

Like Mathews, Kasl says we begin experiencing these feelings from birth. She goes on to explain how we start out in life completely fused with our mothers and that moving from fusion to differentiation is a developmental process that continues throughout our lives.

It's no wonder many people express feelings of fear when they fall in love.  Kasl says we all naturally slide between varying degrees of fusion and differentiation throughout our lives given different life situations and circumstances. It's not a question of whether one feeling is right and another feeling is wrong, it's more about being human. 

Long Term compatibility & Hope
When it comes to sex we're hopeful for what? Everybody is different and different people will want different things, but we're considered lucky if we can find somebody we can connect with sexually, share similar future desires and are able to continually surprise one another to keep the fire alive. It's a connection we’re all looking for, says Mathews, "We want a connection because we come into this world alone and we go out alone. No wonder match.com is doing such a great business."
Detaching ourselves from an outcome after we've given into our chemically induced physical desires is never easy, but there are no guarantees with anyone. We simply can't control the way we will or won’t feel about someone. As usual, when it comes to matters of the heart the answers are never clear. In the end it's just theory and rhetoric. You might be asking yourself, 'so why the hell did I just read this article then?' Hopefully you weren't attached to receiving a definitive outcome.

 

 

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