Tag Archives: relationships

Is Having Sex Early In The Relationship Harmful in the Long Run?

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Keep reading below.

A new study published in The Journal of Sex Research concludes that the sooner a couple starts having sex, the lower the quality of their relationship. And not surprisingly, media outlets are quick to pick up these findings and publish headlines along the lines of “First-Date Sex May Harm Couples. or “How Leaping into Bed Harms Relationships

This study, conducted by researchers at the School of Family Life at Brigham Young University (your BS meter should be on high alert at this point)* asked participants in an online survey about when they started having sex with their partner and completed several measures of relationship functioning (e.g., satisfaction, communication). Participants were then lumped into one of four groups based upon timing of first sex: Predating Sex (hooking-up before becoming a couple; 9.9%), Early Sex (sex on the first date or two; 35.5%), Delayed Sex (sex after a few weeks; 47.9%), and No Sex (couples who were still abstaining; 6.6%). Results revealed that people who waited longer to have sex scored the highest on all measures of relationship quality. Based upon these findings, the authors concluded that dating couples who have sex therefore have “poorer” outcomes than couples who abstain and that timing of sex represents an important “turning point” in the relationship.

But is this really the case? 

What every single media failed to report was that the average levels of satisfaction, communication, and commitment were high for both men and women no matter when they started having sex. For instance, looking at relationship satisfaction, which was rated on a scale ranging from 0 to 12 in this study, the midpoint for this scale was 6, which means that anything above that represents satisfaction and anything below that represents dissatisfaction. For women, those who had sex in the first month had a satisfaction score of 7.9, while those who waited six or more months had a score of 8.5. For men, the numbers were 8.2 and 8.5, respectively. Thus, average levels of satisfaction were high for all groups. 

So where is the “harm” and all of the “unhappy” couples? There aren’t any, at least in this study. Indeed, the people in the survey who delayed sex in their relationship were happier, but that does not mean people who had sex sooner were unhappy. This study simply does not provide any evidence that abstaining from sex is a better recipe for success than having sex whenever you and your partner feel most comfortable.

Will jumping into bed sooner truly hurt your chances at a lifetime of happiness? No. Just do it when you’re both comfortable.

*If you didn’t already know, Brigham Young University is a Mormon-controlled university. Mormons aren’t allowed to have sex before marriage so it’s no surprise that studies like this support their irrational doctrine through more legitimate and scientifically accepted methods. Unfortunately for them, I could sense their bias from a mile away.

Sources:

Willoughby, B. J., Carroll, J. S., & Busby, D. M. Differing relationship outcomes when sex happens before, on, or after first dates. The Journal of Sex Research (2012)

Sassler, S., Addo, F. R., & Lichter, D. T. “The tempo of sexual activity and later relationship quality,” Journal of Marriage and Family (2012)

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Is Love a Mental Illness?

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Falling In Love

The expression “falling in love” is ubiquitous in our culture. People say it all the time – I find it somewhat annoying. As a society, we seem to relish the experience of falling in love and I have no doubt that if you were to ask a tween or teenage girl if she wants to fall in love, they would unanimously say “yes.” It seems like a happy, romantic thing, but if you think about it, the phrase actually maintains a negative connotation. People usually “fall in” a hole, a rut, a trap, or a pile of poop. No one ever says I “fell in” a job, a friendship, a goal, or a pile of money. You are hired for a job. You build a friendship. You attain a goal. You dance in a pile of money. This suggests, quite accurately, that we fall in love like we fall over, by accident rather than by design.

So, logically, shouldn’t we try to avoid falling in love like trying to avoid driving into a pothole? Why would anyone welcome the agony and misery that love usually accompanies?  Are all humans either hopeless romantics or closet masochists?

Love vs. Limerence?

If love and limerence were twins, love would be the caring, loving and loyal twin, while limerence would be its unwanted doppelganger, anxious, obsessive, and irrational. It’s not unusual for love to start off as limerence but it would be wise to understand the subtle differences between them and act accordingly. Limerence is a similar state of mind like love, which comes from a romantic attraction to another person but he or she is preoccupied by an overwhelming obsessive need to have their feelings reciprocated. There is no established precondition for limerence, but research suggests that there is a high rate of coincidence between limerence, and dysfunctional attachment environments in childhood. What this means is that individuals who had parents that neglected or abused them would have a higher chance of experiencing limerence.

The symptoms of limerence are also very similar to drug addiction, probably because they both involve the same dopamine-using pleasure circuit of the brain. When you first start dating, you feel great pleasure being with your potential lover; similar to the first few times you use cocaine or heroin. However, you soon realize that you don’t feel the same high you once did when you first started the relationship. As the addiction to your partner progresses, tolerance, dependence, and cravings emerge, and the euphoria that was once felt gradually diminishes. It’s a double whammy. You need more and more attention from your partner to feel good but you derive less and less pleasure from it. Eventually, being together no longer produces much pleasure and the liking for your partner becomes a need for you to function normally. If you are a coffee addict like me, you know what I’m talking about. Days when I don’t drink coffee is almost always unproductive and I am much more irritable and tired.

Love As Humanity’s Greatest Illusion

The intense, euphoric pleasure that comes with falling in love is simultaneously accompanied by several distortions in the brain brain. When in love, there is heavy deactivation of the prefrontal cortex, the judgment center of the brain, as well as deactivation at the temporal poles and parietotemporal junction, regions that are involved in social cognition. These patterns of activation and deactivation in the brain resemble those who are diagnosed with, unsurprisingly, obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Why Do We Love?

Like everything else, attraction, arousal, and love, are the products of millions of years of finely tuned biological engineering. And there’s really only one goal behind the engineering—to get you to have sex.

Falling and staying in love—the pair bonding that keeps a couple together long enough to have, raise, and care for children—almost certainly involves chemical processes that are a product of millions of years of evolution.

Across most animal species, male reproductive success hinges on mass distribution, and female reproductive success depends on careful selection and conservation. Sperm are small and continually replenished. Eggs, on the other hand, are large and precious. To put it more bluntly, sperm are cheap and eggs are expensive. Therefore, from an evolutionary standpoint, the best way for a male to increase his odds of passing his genes on is to distribute his sperm as widely as possible among fertile females. Females, on the other hand, have an interest in seeking partners who will give her the healthiest offspring so that the huge investment her body makes in pregnancy and child-rearing is worth it.

That’s the way it is in most species; they’re polygamous. But it would be foolish to believe in such genetic determinism. Knowing our biological weaknesses can help us overcome them and have fulfilling and long-lasting monogamous relationships. You could say, “Oh, it is just my DNA, and I am going to ignore it.” We all heard that line before and it’s a pathetic excuse. Biology is not destiny.

Genetic tendencies can influence our behavior, but we have the capacity to exercise control over our impulses. Similarly, you can choose to be a vegetarian for moral and ethical reasons but that smell of crispy bacon wafting in the air will still make you salivate just the same.

Conclusion

You want to know what the magic ingredient to a good relationship? Understanding. Realize that it may not be possible to completely escape evolution’s grasp. So what can we do? Be open and adapt. Understand what you like, and why you like it. Learning about the influences that millions of years of trial and error have played in our evolution as a species can bring us closer to breaking free from instincts and make informed choices. The more we understand how love works, the greater the opportunity we have to enjoy one of evolution’s greatest gifts.

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Are You More Interested In Someone Who Is Already Taken?

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Highly likely. 

A new study provides evidence for what many have long suspected: women are much keener on pursuing a man who’s already taken than a singleton.

Researchers from Oklahoma State University conducted this mate-poaching study by asking 184 heterosexual students at the university to participate in a study on sexual attraction and told the volunteers that a computer program would match them with an ideal partner. Half the participants were single and half were attached, with equal number of men and women in each group.

Unknown to the participants, everyone was offered a fictitious partner who had been tailored to match their interests exactly. The photograph of “Mr. Right” was the same for all women participants, as was that of the ideal women presented to the men. Half the participants were told their ideal mate was single, and the other half that he or she was already in a romantic relationship. Everything was the same across all participants, except whether their ideal mate was already attached or not.

The most striking result was in the responses of single women. Offered a single man, 59 per cent were interested in pursuing a relationship. But when he was attached, 90 per cent said they were up for the chase. Men were keenest on pursuing new mates, but weren’t bothered whether their target was already attached or not. Attached women showed least interest and were slightly more drawn to single men.

A Stamp of Approval

Burkley and Parker, the researchers of the study, speculate that single women may be more drawn to attached men because they’ve already been “pre-screened” by other women and found to be satisfactory as a mate, whereas single men are more of an unknown quantity. But what else motivates women to pursue “taken” partners? Apart from the explanation of “pre-screening”, another possibility, they say, is that in US society, women are socialized to be competitive, so they derive self-esteem by mate poaching from rival women.

Implications for Gay Couples

While this was conducted with heterosexual couplings, it’s not hard to extrapolate these findings to male-male or female-female couples as well since the concept of “pre-screening ” is not hetero-exclusive. And going by the conclusion the researchers offer, gay men should be even more likely to pursue these semi-unattainable mates because they are socialized, more so than women, to be competitive.  

Source: “Who’s chasing whom? The impact of gender and relationship status on mate poaching” Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 2009.

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Is it a good idea to believe in Soulmates?

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Yes and No.

Soul mates are defined by couples who share the belief that their meeting was fate and that only one person in the world exists whom they are destined to be with.

Two psychologists decided to put such couples to the test to see whether those who endorse soul mate relationships are more fulfilled than those who believe in more practical pairings. What they found was that a combination of traditional union ideologies (such as marital permanency, division of labor, etc.) coupled with a soul mate mantra (you are the perfect one for me) lead to the most fulfilling unions.

There is a longitudinal study known as the PAIR project, which examined 168 couples since the early 1980’s for several years and provided fascinating insights into predictors of divorce. Couples who maintain idealized, romanticized, and unrealistic expectations (i.e. soul mates) about married life were more likely to divorce when things didn’t go exactly as planned.

Also, those who believe in only “one” compatible person are at risk for staying single forever if no one lives up to their ideal.

Source: W. B. Wilcox and J. Dew (2010) Is Love a Flismy Foundation? Soulmate versus institutional models of marriage. Social Science Research, 39(5), 687-699.

Source: Caughlin, J. P., & Huston, T. L. (2006). The affective structure of marriage. In A. L. Vangelelisti & D. Perlman (Eds.), The Cambridge handbook of personal relationships (pp. 131-155). New York: Cambridge University Press.

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