Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Sex: Men and Women Are Not On the Same Page

We often blame social constructs for male promiscuity, but that simply describes the social acceptance and encouragement of it. Biologically men and women are different and, therefore, the act of sex, as well as the aftermath of sex, can be very different experiences for men than women. 

Just one biological example is the hormones released following sex. During the anticipation, initiation, engagement, and aftermath of sex, oxytocin is released in women. Oxytocin is an empathy and bonding hormone. For men, dopamine is released after sex. Dopamine is a pleasure hormone causing feelings of achievement and victory. 

Can you see how just on a hormonal level men and women are not on the same page about the meaning of a sexual act? Bonding and victory are clearly not the same feelings or experiences. This is why after sex women want to cuddle (bonding) while men want to sleep, smoke, or conquer a project (celebrate, ride the wave of success).

Men can literally have sex without having an agenda beyond sex, and without forming an emotional bond. I am not saying that is right. I am not condoning male over female sexual liberation in any way. Neither am I saying every man acts on this ability. Some, for whatever personal reason or characteristic, choose not to have casual sexual encounters. 

Women, on the other hand, rarely have the ability - or even the desire - to have inconsequential casual sex, though there are exceptions.

Jennifer (not her real name) came to me several years ago to talk about having sex for the first time. She was an independent woman and a virgin. She had not maintained her virginity for religious reasons but because she was absolutely petrified of an accidental pregnancy. As a result, she had completely avoided sex throughout high school and college in order to avoid any accidents. After talking with her, I  also discovered she had intimacy, rejection, and commitment issues.  Jennifer had decided she wanted to "get over" the barrier of her virginity by choosing to have her first sexual experience with a man she had known for many years. They were just friends and had no interest in each other beyond friendship. 

I spoke with Jennifer several times and explained the difference in how men and women viewed sex. I explained the hormonal differences. We talked about intimacy and what that meant. We talked about her issues with intimacy, rejection, and commitment and how having sex would likely affect her.

One day Jennifer came to me and said she had sex with her friend the night before. She also proudly told me I was wrong - she was experiencing no side-affects. She explained they had made an agreement that sex would not affect their friendship, that neither would become interested in the other beyond friendship. They had even used several forms of birth control together to alleviate her fears of an "accident." 

For Jennifer, her biggest surprise was that she neither looked nor felt different after sex. In her words, she "was exactly the same." She decided she did not have all the "female issues" we had been discussing. She was the exception. She even suggested the entire analysis of women was false, based on outdated social assumptions, and were simply attempts to oppress female sexuality.

A few days later, Jennifer called me very upset. Through her tears she explained she was so confused. She had begun thinking about her friend, a lot. She began texting him more. She started worrying about what he thought about her as well as whether there were hidden meanings behind his short reply texts. She wanted to see him again. She wanted to talk to him more. Jennifer was an emotional wreck.

Jennifer was not an exception. Jennifer had fallen for the phallacy associated with women's liberation. Women's liberation does mean women can choose do anything they want, including take on traits traditionally associated with men, but it does not mean there are no consequences for those choices.

Jennifer made her decision, and attempted to prepare for the situation, according to what she wanted to be true - that she could have protected sex with someone she had no emotional involvement with and remain totally unaffected.

Her mistake was thinking she could make intellectual choices while ignoring biology - rather than acknowledging the emotional impact and including it in her decision.

Know the information, know the potential consequences, and then make your decision with open eyes.

Making decisions based on false information or assumptions (including the other party's intentions) and especially not being honest with yourself about what you want, will lead to negative consequences - whether emotional or physical.

Deedra is originally from Arkansas; an attorney in Scottsdale, Arizona; a diversity expert and motivational speaker for The Ambassador Project; and has a blog at where she shares her perspectives based on questions and experiences. Follow Deedra on Twitter @askdeedra

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