I see this all the time. A woman tells me that she went out on a first date with a man and then tells me that they slept together. In the same sentence, she tells me, “I probably shouldn’t have done that.”
I also see this all the time. A woman comes to my office five years after engaging in casual hook-up behavior (defined as brief, uncommitted sexual encounters among individuals who are not romantic partners) and wonders why she is having so much difficulty connecting in her current relationship. She says, “I love him, but I don’t have any sexual desire.”
I work with twenty-somethings, and I see how casual sexual relations can have negative impacts on women’s minds and bodies. Of course, not everyone who engages in this type of behavior will have difficulties later in life. Some people can navigate this terrain without any problem whatsoever, and may even find it empowering. However, enough women struggle with this that I can make a full-time practice out of helping them.
A typical scenario I encounter in my practice: A woman finds it difficult to find a man who is interested in a relationship. It’s hard to find someone who wants a commitment, even if she isn’t interested in marriage. Typically, a woman may tell me that there’s part of her that is lonely and wants to feel the warmth of someone close to her. She may long for the emotional and physical sensation of intimacy. She may want to feel wanted. She may want to feel loved. She may want to feel connected.
We all have a longing for intimacy—it’s part of what makes us human.
We all want to have connection. That’s what social media are about. We want to connect with old friends though Facebook, famous people through Twitter, and colleagues and contacts through LinkedIn. But all this “connecting” doesn’t really do it for us. We want something more, something deeper, something more satisfying. So, in many cases, we turn to sex.
In one study of 832 college students, 26% of women and 50% of men reported positive feelings after a hook-up (Owen et al., 2010). Other than feelings of regret, many report feeling anxious about the state of the relationship or their physical health. In another study of 140 (109 female, 31 male) first-semester undergraduates, women, but not men, who had engaged in a hook-up with intercourse showed higher rates of mental distress (Fielder and Carey, 2010b).
Something I see all the time in my private practice is women diving straight into a physical relationship while the emotional relationship is not yet mature. The woman may give fully of herself physically while still “protecting her heart” by remaining guarded emotionally. This is a type of dissociation.
Five years later, when she is engaged or married, this may catch up with her. She may be so adept at disconnecting mind from body that she has a hard time unifying or connecting the two. This can manifest as genital pain or low sexual desire.
So what can you do with this information?
Some things to ask yourself and to keep in mind:
- How do you feel after hooking up? Do you feel regretful? Do you experience feelings of sadness or depression? Do you feel anxious about the state of the relationship or your physical health?
- What are you getting out of this relationship? Are you feeling connected and satisfied?
- What is it that you really want right now? Are you looking for a husband?
- If you are experiencing genital pain or low sexual desire in a committed relationship, your body may (but not necessarily) be telling you to slow down. I would recommend speaking with a medical practitioner to rule out physical causes.
- Practice being completely in the moment and being mindful with your actions.
- If you feel any anxiety, take it slower and set some boundaries. Back up the physical relationship to match your emotional comfort. Engage only in sexual activities that make you comfortable and not anxious.
- Remember that just because you had intercourse with someone does not mean you cannot back up your boundaries. Speak to your partner and explain that you need some time and that you went too fast.
Sexual relations are the most intimate act between two individuals. Establish an emotionally intimate and emotionally safe relationship to match the depth of your actions. This will create a more connected and happier relationship with yourself and others.
- Fielder, R. L., and Carey, M. P. (2010b). Predictors and Consequences of Sexual “Hook-Ups” among College Students: A Short-Term Prospective Study. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 39, 1105–1119. doi:10.1007/ s10508-008-9448-4
- Garcia, Justin R. (2013). Sexual Hook-Up Culture. American Psychological Association, Vol 44, No 2.
- Owen, J. J., Rhoades, G. K., Stanley, S. M., and Fincham, F. D. (2010). “Hooking Up” among College Students: Demographic and Psychosocial Correlates. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 39, 653–663. doi:10.1007/ s10508-008-9414-1
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