My colleague and expert in partner and trauma therapy, Jill Seely, emailed me a quote this morning from Mary Anne Layden. Mary says: "... We are hardwired to love and be loved. That's what feeds our hungry heart..." She adds, "We have a generation who are starved and have hungry hearts...They are eating the sexual junk food... because they are so starved they would eat junk food if that's all that's available to them."
I love Mary's quote; however, I think that it is not just one generation that suffers from starved and hungry hearts. Rather, we have a mass population across the globe that, although wired to be sexual, has gotten lost in the delusion that sex equals love.
Why is that?
Anthropologist and researcher professor at Rutgers University, Dr. Helen Fisher, has done extensive research studying the neurochemistry of sex and emotional systems of humans.
She explains that there are three primary emotion systems that have evolved in humans.
The first to evolve was the sex drive; lust, libido. This is characterized by a craving for sexual gratification and is associated with estrogen and androgens. One's sex drive evolved principally to "motivate people to seek sexual union with any appropriate member of the species to continue the survival of the species" (2007, P. Carnes, In the Shadow of the Net, p. 60).
The second emotion is attraction. This is often described as passionate love, infatuation, or in some cases obsessive love. People that experience this emotion system may have intrusive thoughts about their object of attraction, and may crave emotional union from their partner or a potential partner.
This emotion system is associated with high levels of dopamine and low levels of serotonin. It evolved to facilitate an individual's choice in mates, as well as help them focus their attention on "gentically superior individuals" (2007, P. Carnes, In the Shadow of the Net, p. 60).
The third emotion system is attachment. This is where we see individuals form companion love in their monogamous adult intimate relationships. It is often characterized by building a nest egg, mutual grooming and feeding, feeling anxious when apart, shared responsibilities, staying physically close to each other.
In humans, this attachment is often characterized by "calmness, security, social comfort, and emotional union" (2007, P. Carnes, In the Shadow of the Net, p. 60). It is associated with oxytocin and vasopressin, both known for connection. This emotion system developed as a means to motivate people to sustain their relationships.
We know that when it comes to intimacy disorders, it is not about sex. Sex is just a tool in which people use to cope, just like some folks get hooked on substances, sugar, spending, etc. as a means of coping with various unresolved issues.
There are indeed deeper issues that impact an individual's choice to use sex as a means of gaining love.
For example, attachment failure, genetics, trauma, and the internet itself (especially for children and teens), all hijack people's brains into thinking that the means to finding lasting happiness and comfort(via escape) is through an escape. For a lot of people that escape is sexual gratification because it feels good.
Get a quick dopamine fix and the world seems brighter, right? This is the delusion that feeds addiction...
Sometimes people get stuck in the lust and limerence phase that Helen Fisher describes, getting their continual dopamine fix while avoiding attaching to someone. A lot of times, especially with the clients that I work with, their addiction to the "feel good" is really a way to avoid feeling rejected by a live person.
For example, an anxious-avoidant or love avoidant individual may like to play the "catch and release" game of one night stands and hook ups. Or they might avoid reality by way of viewing pornography for hours and days at a time, especially when they feel stressed.
Both do this to get their sexual needs met and may even think that by doing so, it keeps them safe from being abandoned or rejected. It also may feel like "love" because of the high they feel; when in reality, it isn't.
Intensity is not love, nor is it intimacy.
Recovery is about realizing that there are ways to heal from one's past without escaping in detrimental and destructive ways. There are also ways to connect to others non-sexually and sexually. Recovery teaches us that it is actually safer and easier to be honest and vulnerable than stay detached and disconnected.
Recovery helps you get to a place where you learn what love is and what it isn't; and where you start to experience what unconditional love is, which is not about sex. You also learn the importance of having self love and self respect in all your relationships. Then, sex can become the icing on the cake, not the cake.
YOU ARE SO WORTH IT.