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My Take: There’s nothing brief about a hookup
May 31st, 2011
11:58 AM ET

My Take: There’s nothing brief about a hookup

Editor's Note: Dannah Gresh is author of What Are You Waiting For? The One Thing No One Ever Tells You About Sex.

By Dannah Gresh, Special to CNN

Recent studies have revealed some good news in the sex culture among college co-eds: there are more virgins among them now than was the case a few years ago.

These days, 29% of females and 27% of males between ages 15 and 24 claim to be virgins, up from 22% of both sexes in 2002, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

But among the college students who aren’t abstaining, we’re seeing more sex, thanks to casual hookups. According to recent research from Stanford University, the majority of college co-eds are still having sex, with an average 9.7 sexual partners for men and 7.1 for women.

Thankfully, we have more scientific information about casual sex than our parents did when they drove their Volkswagen buses to Woodstock for a dose of the sexual revolution. They wanted to think—as many of those cruising along the New Millennium highway still do—that we can engage in the act of sex without the emotion.

"Emma wants a relationship without the relationship. She just wants the sex,” actress Natalie Portman said of her role in the recent movie "No Strings Attached." “…I’m tired of seeing girls who want to get married all the time and that's all they're interested in. I think there is a wider vision of how women can conduct their lives and what they want."

Sounds so easy.

Just like the hippie culture found a pill that conveniently removed the “inconvenience” of pregnancy, today’s hookup culture believes it has found a recipe for removing the inconvenience of emotion: friends with benefits.

Scientifically, though, that’s impossible. We know that thanks to what neuroscientists have learned about a walnut-sized mass in the brain called the deep limbic system.

The deep limbic system stores and classifies odor, music, symbols and memory. In other words, it’s a place for romance, capable of processing a splash of cologne on your lover’s neck, a particular iPod playlist or a bouquet of red roses.

The brain chemicals associated with romance and sex wash over the deep limbic system during a wide variety of sexual experiences, according to research from the Medical Institute for Sexual Health.

Holding hands, embracing, a gentle massage and, most powerfully, the act of sexual intercourse work together to create a cocktail of chemicals that records such experiences deep into the emotional center of your brain.

It’s why we remember sexual experiences and images so clearly.

One of the critical neurochemicals released during sex is dopamine. Dopamine makes you feel good; it creates a sense of peace and pleasure. Anytime your body experiences pleasure, whether it’s good for you (working out) or bad (doing crystal meth), the limbic system gets washed in dopamine.

In essence, it is a “craving” chemical. It makes you want more. It creates addiction. Dopamine attaches you emotionally to the source of pleasure.

Another critical sex hormone is oxytocin, the subject of recent books like "The Chemistry of Connection: How the Oxytocin Response Can Help You Find Trust, Intimacy and Love." The chemical is released during sexual expression. A tiny dose is downloaded during intimate skin-to-skin contact; a much bigger dose is released during orgasm.

In fact, the only other time as much oxytocin is released as during orgasm is when a mother is breastfeeding her baby. The mother feels its release and is bonded to her child, and the baby’s brain learns for the first time to enter into relationship by connection. I’d say the chemical’s job is to bond us for life.

The knowledge of sexual bonding is nothing new.

“Do you know that he who unites himself with a prostitute is one with her in body?” the apostle Paul wrote in the New Testament. “Do you know that he who unites himself with a prostitute is one with her in body? For it is said, ‘The two will become one flesh.’”

Christian author Lauren Winner translates those verses this way: “Don’t you know that when you sleep with someone your body makes a promise whether you do or not?”

The bottom line is that you get “addicted” and “bonded” to the people you have sex with, even if they are “just friends.”

That helps explain why Stanford sex researcher Paula England has said that “Some people are hooking up a bunch of times with the same person but are not calling it a relationship.” Maybe these people are not as unattached to their “friends” as they would like to think.

Here’s where the hookup culture starts to be a problem. What happens if you get caught up in the friends-with-benefits-game and have multiple partners? What happens when the partners you’ve become addicted and bonded to are gone?

You experience withdrawal symptoms in the emotional center of the brain.

Young women, especially, are likely to spiral into a depression when the source of their addiction isn’t interested in another hookup. A 2003 study from the conservative Heritage Foundation found that 25.3% of sexually active teenage girls experienced depression, compared to 7.7% of sexually abstinent girls.

The study found that 14.3% of sexually active girls attempted suicide, compared to 5.1% of their virgin peers.

And when a person graduates from the hookup scene and tries to have an intimate relationship with the person they want to spend the rest of their life with, things can get complicated.

There are already a lot of other people he or she will be addicted to, and that creates more chaos for the exhilarating but challenging task of building a life of intimacy together. The Kinsey Institute notes that one of the five factors that predict infidelity in a relationship is “having had a high number of prior sex partners.”

Casual sex is happening. We shouldn’t ignore it. That’s especially true of the faith community. But when we talk about it, we should use science. There’s nothing biologically brief about a hookup.

In the interest of full disclosure, my motivation here is my Christian faith. I believe sex to be an incredible gift from God, meant to transcend the physical to discover something emotional and spiritual with another person.

But since my faith may alienate some of you from my message, I ask you not to think too hard about religious differences. Stick to the facts.

The good news is that we are seeing an ever-so-small rise in the number of young people choosing abstinence.

What are they waiting for? Some mind-blowing pleasure and an incredible intimacy–without all the baggage of a broken heart.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Dannah Gresh.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Christianity • Opinion • Sex • Sexuality

soundoff (846 Responses)
  1. Sid Airfoil

    What hypocrisy!

    I agree that the facts may be on your side on this issue, and I will consider them accordingly. But while you ask US to ignore your faith and judge your arguments based on the facts, you, on the other hand, would NEVER ignore your faith and base your judgments on JUST the facts, would you? Am I wrong? You may have lucked into an important and objective conclusion that happens to be consistent with your faith, but if you had to choose between your faith and the facts, you would flee from the facts like they were smallpox.

    Your credibility is zero. It's bad enough when people like you put faith (i.e. belief without evidence) before objective facts, but it's UNBELIEVABLE when you resort to facts ONLY when they suit your purpose. You will use rational arguments when they are on your side, but ignore them when the aren't.

    OBSCENE HYPOCRISY!!!

    Sid

    May 31, 2011 at 8:25 pm |
    • Samculper

      And, let me guess- you, who write her off and blast her as a hypocrite because of her worldview and not because of her argument... you are the open-minded, evidence-based, liberalized, enlightened one, and she is the close-minded, ignorant one, right?

      I think a few moments in front of a mirror might be in order, Sid.

      May 31, 2011 at 8:50 pm |
    • Uhoh

      What blasphemy!

      I agree that faith may be on your side on this issue, and I will consider it accordingly. But while you ask US to ignore your facts and judge your arguments based on your faith, you, on the other hand, would NEVER ignore your the facts and base your judgments on JUST on faith, would you? Am I wrong? You may have lucked into an important and objective conclusion that happens to be consistent with the facts, but if you had to choose between your faith and the facts, you would flee from your faith like it was a se-xually transmitted disease.

      Your credibility is zero. It's bad enough when people like you put facts (i.e. truth, proof, the proof is in the pudding, etc.) before your faith, but it's UNBELIEVABLE when you resort to your faith ONLY when it suits your purpose. You will use spiritual arguments when they are on your side, but ignore them when the aren't.

      OBSCENE BLASPHEMY!!!

      Sid (the kid from Toy Story who peed himself when the toys came to life)

      June 1, 2011 at 9:40 am |
  2. chris

    id rather f*** with one girl anyways cuz if you move around its never gonna be as good

    May 31, 2011 at 8:24 pm |
    • Timbo11

      Umm, no if you move around it actually feels much better. You might thinking about trying that next time...

      May 31, 2011 at 8:48 pm |
    • Guest

      i agree with the above reply! in catholic school they told us that one man would only fit one girl..
      i enjoy trying out the different sizes till i find the one that fits. 🙂

      June 1, 2011 at 2:10 am |
  3. 123doreme

    The deep limbic system is much more complex than the author states here. It might be best to read more about how it works. That aside, the author does seem to have been someone who has been "limbicsized" (a new word I just made up for this post) and has found god as a way to find happiness afterwards. (good for her). Women have larger limbic systems than men, so they are affected more deeply (in general). Personally I (male) have found that in a relationship, my feelings of bonding started way before any intercourse. I think the attachment comes in the form of the first glance or the first desire to have s-ex. I do think it's easier for men to have s-exual relationships with little or no emotional feelings. Certainly one does bond with a person they are having s-ex with and certainly one can get hurt after, when the relationship ends. What's wrong with that? Isn't that part of life? Seems nowadays everyone wants to go through life with no rough spots, no valleys, no bad times. Seems like people just want to have a smooth road all the way. What happened to learning from one's mistakes in life or from cherishing the good times more from having to live through the bad times. Relationships don't have to be long lasting to be good and the fact that you can remember them (limbicly speaking) is a good thing, even if it's related more to science than to fiction. I would rather have my deep limbic system memories from a few short term hot & heavy relationships, than to have a lifetime of an unhappy marriage with a woman who's deep limbatic system went dead right after she said "I Do". Monogamous relationships are based in religious circles, not in scientific circles.

    May 31, 2011 at 8:16 pm |
    • John

      "Monogamous relationships are based in religious circles, not in scientific circles." But who would want a relationship based in "scientific circles?"

      May 31, 2011 at 9:23 pm |
    • Matt

      Exactly, if your kids grow up in a bubble then they will end up dead of chicken pox or the flu because they have no immune system. Life is not all sunshine and roses. People need to learn what life is BEFORE they get married. Spending years with someone that you learn to hate is worse than learning to lose early in life.

      May 31, 2011 at 10:21 pm |
  4. Guest

    Though I agree with the general point you are making completely, you really oversimplified the neuro-chemical interactions that occured. Also just as you clearly show science can support your point, what is the point of bringing religion into it? One of the biggest reason the "hippie culture" or any current analogous rebelliousness occurs is because of an attempt to enforce authority onto young people, and that includes religion. You don't need religion to explain everything, science by itself does wonders. But still good article and great overall message.

    May 31, 2011 at 8:10 pm |
    • brooke

      May I respectfully say that she has probably "oversimplified" the neuro-chemical interactions because the majority of her readers have little to no background or knowledge of the neurosystem? You're right, religion doesn't need to explain everything but it sure is interesting when science and religion agree.

      May 31, 2011 at 10:39 pm |
    • Adelina

      Religion(Christianity) knew everything all along. True wisdom based on pure science.

      June 1, 2011 at 8:14 am |
  5. Amanda

    Ugh, I had to stop reading a fourth of the way through. Most people are drunk when they hook up in college, it works differently.

    May 31, 2011 at 8:04 pm |
  6. Trey

    Oh and fyi the only promise a male body makes to it's owner is I will feel compelled to sleep with every woman you find attractive. It's just how it is. We don't act on these impulses for many different reasons. But our "bodies" want to sleep with all the fine ladies. Yes all of them.

    May 31, 2011 at 8:00 pm |
  7. Michael

    It's refreshing to hear a sensible voice in support of abstinence before marriage. I thought the different views on the subject were respectfully approached by the author. Thanks Dannah for making a stand for what you believe to be right. You're not the only one who feels this way.

    May 31, 2011 at 7:58 pm |
    • AJ

      Well Said

      May 31, 2011 at 8:17 pm |
  8. West

    Her christian faith values virginity. Just like the taliban!

    May 31, 2011 at 7:58 pm |
  9. Ec1warc1

    "Some good news – more virgins on campuses" means you enjoy making others feel guilty because they do they meet YOUR standards for appropriate behavior. Thank goodness you are as free to express your opinion as I am to disagree with its judgmental stupidity.

    May 31, 2011 at 7:57 pm |
  10. Trey

    Has anyone ever told her that from the inside you all feel the same?

    May 31, 2011 at 7:57 pm |
  11. albatross

    great example of the american polygamy

    May 31, 2011 at 7:56 pm |
  12. pronco

    yeah yeah whatever

    May 31, 2011 at 7:54 pm |
  13. charly

    well, it is ok to show a pic of a guy with 3 girls abviously just perfomed a 4some. But it would have been totally inappropriate to show 3 guys and a girl or four guys together on a picture.

    May 31, 2011 at 7:52 pm |
    • Samuel

      Mutual satiation comes with many formats. For the purpose of the article one had to be chosen. It did achieve one point. While the man is thinking with his lower head the women are simply taking a study break on the way to upward mobile achievement. The cost is what is being miscalculated due to a lack of knowledge. Sociological correction is taking place, on an ever increasing basis by those who are aware of what their real goals are and what state they want to be in when they reach for them. I find this to be a very refreshing article.

      May 31, 2011 at 8:37 pm |
  14. Kdog

    Penthouse forum letters are more realistic. Who is the doofus in the pic?

    May 31, 2011 at 7:47 pm |
  15. Michelle

    Excellent article!

    May 31, 2011 at 7:40 pm |
  16. Chase

    what a joke... bad girl in college turns all christian and moral and starts bashing men and individuals of a different persuasion. Not everyone has your childish christian views honey.

    May 31, 2011 at 7:30 pm |
    • beth

      What's childish is ignoring the consequences of your behavior. Isn't that why we teach children to delay gratification? And the children who don't learn delayed gratification are called "spoiled".

      May 31, 2011 at 7:40 pm |
    • Pffft

      Did you even read it? There is not a single male-bashing line in it!

      May 31, 2011 at 7:56 pm |
    • AJ

      WOW... "starts bashing men and individuals of a different persuasion".... the author presented statistical as well as scientific information (gleaned from countless experiments by researchers motivated by genuine curiosity about how our bodies work rather than an agenda to promote morals). In addition, she mentions her own personal beliefs that lead her to live a certain lifestyle.... and in doing so, she is in turn tagged as a "bad girl in college", who now has "childish christian views"... gotta tell you bud... sounds like you're not proud of your life-style and are on the defensive because of it... Not to hurt your tender "sensibilities", but we'll pray for you.

      May 31, 2011 at 8:03 pm |
  17. Kimber

    I'm a 2009 Harvard grad and think the writer of this article was, or is still bitter for being used as garbage which happens, not all girls in college have good morals. She probably realized after a while and too late that having an easy and lose reputation is almost impossible to remediate and you have these kinds of opinions, trying to bash men to make them feel better.

    Move on honey

    May 31, 2011 at 7:26 pm |
    • Sal

      Mentioning you graduated from Harvard in the first sentence, the sad thing is that's the longest any Harvard grad has ever waited to tell you they graduated from Harvard.

      May 31, 2011 at 7:30 pm |
    • Ryan

      shouldn't you be doing more important things with your time Harvard Grad....

      May 31, 2011 at 7:31 pm |
    • beth

      How was she bashing men?

      May 31, 2011 at 7:38 pm |
    • Jason

      You'd think you would know how to spell "loose."

      May 31, 2011 at 7:44 pm |
    • Peace2All

      @Kimber

      Hey -Kimber...

      You Said: "not all girls in college have good morals."

      I believe your statement presupposes that 'you' know what exactly (good morals) are, as if they are 'objective'...?

      I'm sure you have your -opinion- of what 'good morals' are, but not everyone will necessarily agree with you, right...?

      BTW-Congrats... on being a Harvard graduate.

      Regards,

      Peace...

      May 31, 2011 at 7:54 pm |
    • Artist

      Kimber

      I'm a 2009 Harvard grad and think the writer of this article was, or is still bitter for being used as garbage which happens, not all girls in college have good morals. She probably realized after a while and too late that having an easy and lose reputation is almost impossible to remediate and you have these kinds of opinions, trying to bash men to make them feel better.

      Move on honey

      -----
      Okay so what does being a Harvard Grad have to do with this???????

      May 31, 2011 at 7:55 pm |
    • Andrew

      Look at all these cry babies, someone calls it like it is and these children put their heads in the dirt. Your right on the money Kimber. Too funny.

      May 31, 2011 at 7:55 pm |
    • MD

      The fact that you're a Harvard grand is irrelevant to the point which you are attempting to make. Didn't they teach you how to construct arguments and use critical reasoning when making arguments? They did in my uni ... but I won't tell you what it is, because it's irrelevant. 😉

      – A Non-Harvard Grad

      May 31, 2011 at 8:08 pm |
    • Truth

      Graduatuing from Harvard doesn't mean you won't get the clap.

      May 31, 2011 at 8:11 pm |
    • Rebecca

      Corrections in parentheses... there's more but time does not permit:
      I'm a 2009 Harvard grad and think the writer of this article was, or is(comma) still bitter for being used as garbage which happens,(period) not all girls in college have good morals. She probably realized after a while(sic) and too late that having an easy and lose(sic) reputation is almost impossible to remediate and you(?) have these kinds(?) of opinions, trying to bash men to make them(?..the men or her?) feel better. (major run on sentence)
      Please return your degree for a refund.

      May 31, 2011 at 8:11 pm |
    • Peace2All

      @Andrew

      You Said to -Kimber: "someone calls it like it (is)... Your (right on the money) Kimber."

      -Kimber's comments such as "lose" reputation'... 'treated as garbage' etc... to name a few are her (personal opinion) and (unverified speculation) about the author.

      So, -Andrew, I'm curious... Your statements above would seem that you are taking -Kimber's personal 'opinion' and 'unverified speculation' as if... they are (facts), given your post.

      She 'may' be accurate in her assumptions, but for you to say... "it (is)... and "(right on the money), are just 'your' personal opinion as well.

      I suppose it wouldn't be so bad if you weren't also attempting to 'insult' some of the people in this thread.

      Regards,

      Peace...

      May 31, 2011 at 8:12 pm |
    • Pickwick

      And in this corner we have FRASIER CRANE, folks!

      May 31, 2011 at 8:18 pm |
    • civiloutside

      Would "Pickwick" by any chance be a little purple fuzzball belonging to a certain batgirl? 😐

      June 1, 2011 at 10:16 am |
  18. Rob

    if you don't want us to consider your christian faith, why mention it?

    May 31, 2011 at 7:19 pm |
    • TheWiz71

      She said it herself. She wants the reader to know her motivation for writing the article, for bringing the science behind this stuff to light.

      May 31, 2011 at 7:30 pm |
    • Peace2All

      @Rob

      From the Article:

      ..."Young women, especially, are likely to spiral into a depression when the source of their addiction isn’t interested in another hookup. A 2003 study from the conservative Heritage Foundation found that 25.3% of se-xually active teenage girls experienced depression, compared to 7.7% of se-xually abstinent girls.
      The study found that 14.3% of se-xually active girls attempted suicide, compared to 5.1% of their virgin peers."

      Personally, I believe she is attempting to try to bridge 'abstinence' = only good way to go.

      Which of course may not prove true for everyone.

      Peace...

      May 31, 2011 at 7:48 pm |
    • Samuel

      Faith is the application of revealed knowledge. Scripture encourages us to prove all things, which is the scientific method. The matrix in which we exert ourselves in the creative process has been furnished for us.

      May 31, 2011 at 8:24 pm |
  19. Karen

    Great Article. Very sobering facts for the school kids. Should be required reading in school as a warning.

    May 31, 2011 at 7:14 pm |
  20. joe

    I'm not saying it's a bad thing, but why does the author indicate virginity is a good thing?

    May 31, 2011 at 7:13 pm |
    • DJL

      It's in the fourth paragraph from the bottom: "In the interest of full disclosure, my motivation here is my Christian faith." Once I read that, she lost all credibility.

      May 31, 2011 at 7:27 pm |
    • Peace2All

      @joe

      You Said: "I'm not saying it's a bad thing, but why does the author indicate virginity is a good thing?"

      @DJL

      You Responded to -joe with the following: "It's in the fourth paragraph from the bottom: "In the interest of full disclosure, my motivation here is my Christian faith." Once I read that, she lost all credibility."

      To answer your question -joe, I believe that -DJL is 'partly' accurate. The following is also in the article which, I believe, the author is trying to 'prove' scientifically that 'virginity' is a good thing with the following studies and statistics:

      From the Article:

      ..."Young women, especially, are likely to spiral into a depression when the source of their addiction isn’t interested in another hookup. A 2003 study from the conservative Heritage Foundation found that 25.3% of se-xually active teenage girls experienced depression, compared to 7.7% of se-xually abstinent girls.
      The study found that 14.3% of se-xually active girls attempted suicide, compared to 5.1% of their virgin peers."

      Personally, I believe she is attempting to try to bridge 'abstinence' = only good way to go.

      Which of course may not prove true for everyone.

      Peace...

      May 31, 2011 at 7:45 pm |
    • civiloutside

      I wonder if there are any statistics at the other end, such as percentage of "active" versus "abstinent" girls who report feeling fulfilled in their social lives or connected with their peers. Do those exist but weren't reported, or were those sorts of questions not asked in the study. After all, it could be a case of greater risk versus greater reward.

      Also, what are the corresponding statistics for males? They do make up half the population, after all, and they bear just as much responsibility for their se-xual behavior as the females.

      May 31, 2011 at 8:00 pm |
    • Peace2All

      @civiloutside

      Hey -civiloutside ! Hope that you are doing well...?

      I like your questions... I also wondered about some of these questions if they were asked or not, and/or a comparison study done as well.

      I was also wondering about the group that performed the studies that the author is using to back up her claims: The Heritage Foundation... which is, from what I understand 'extremely conservative'. So, the studies 'may' very well be skewed.

      Peace brother...

      May 31, 2011 at 8:19 pm |
    • civiloutside

      I'm doing very well, Peace, thanks for asking 🙂 I hope the same can be said for you!

      May 31, 2011 at 8:45 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.