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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. Tina Louise

    Dannah, you are hot. Want to hook up?

    June 1, 2011 at 7:00 pm |
    • prazr 21

      II don't see any evidence from the other side to support that “hooking up” is safe & without ANY side effects. There is however, scientific evidence showing that it does have negative physical effects on the brain as well as the possible obvious effects on the body: unplanned pregnancy & STI’s just to name the most obvious.

      June 1, 2011 at 9:58 pm |
    • Adelina

      @Prazr21: And the detrimental damages to character

      June 2, 2011 at 8:11 am |
  2. Philippe

    Another Christian telling me how to achieve happiness by following their belief system. No thanks.

    June 1, 2011 at 6:05 pm |
    • Alec

      And you are an idiot. Did you not read the portion where she says stick to the facts. People are so prone to bash Christian faith because they feel threatened by it. Get over it. You should treat any form of perspective as a means to challenge what you currently believe, otherwise what you think you believe you really don't. That goes for Christian and non-Christians.

      June 1, 2011 at 6:58 pm |
  3. Kay C

    The reason why this is in the religous section because this writer is the writer also for secret keeper girl a Christian advice book for young girls and teen girls and young ladies to adapt a moral and healthy life. Its best to keep away your measurements away from the boys because its the modest thing to do. What is wrong with sticking up with and for morals? What happend to living moral?

    June 1, 2011 at 5:48 pm |
  4. frank

    He also came to know the pleasures of women, when he was bred to the finest stock...

    June 1, 2011 at 5:31 pm |
  5. goblue

    Although the author brings up some interesting points in this article (despite the obvious bias), my major contention is with her comment "just like the hippie culture found a pill that conveniently removed the “inconvenience” of pregnancy...". The view that "hippie culture" is to blame for the expansion of contraceptive methods for women is a rather obsolete argument- hippies have nothing to do with birth control, birth control gave women the freedom to plan their pregnancies (within and out of marriage) so that their life situation (financially and emotionally) is optimally stable by the time their ready for children. Whether the author is willing to admit it or not, pregnancy IS inconvenient, not only physically for the mother, but also economically for the family- the cost of raising ONE child from birth to age 17 is approximately $250,000 according the US Dept of Health and Human Services.

    June 1, 2011 at 3:36 pm |
    • Amanda

      God sees every life as precious...every life is a gift, it is not an inconvenience in the eyes of God. As far as the birth control pill goes....not the best contraceptive method out there...they have been scientifically linked to early abortions. I will post a link about it a little later....just have to look it up again.

      June 1, 2011 at 11:22 pm |
    • myweightinwords

      Amanda, birth control does not cause abortion. Contra-ceptives prevent pregnancy from happening.

      June 2, 2011 at 10:42 am |
    • Frogist

      @Amanda: Not to be trite, but will God provide the $250,000?

      June 2, 2011 at 6:15 pm |
  6. Ahab

    June is national masturbation month. It's faster, cheaper, and 100% safe.

    June 1, 2011 at 3:19 pm |
    • h

      yay! im totally celebrating this one, should be on calendars

      June 1, 2011 at 8:12 pm |
  7. tc

    In general, higher rates of belief in and worship of a creator correlate with higher rates of homicide, juvenile and early adult mortality, STD infection rates, teen pregnancy and abortion in the prosperous democracies. Rates of gonorrhea in adolescents in the US were up to 300 times higher than in less theistic pro-evolution secular democracies. The US also suffered from “uniquely high” adolescent and adult syphilis infection rates, and adolescent abortion rates.
    9 out of the top 10 states in divorce rate are heavily religious red states.
    Most of the better educated states are the least religious ones.

    June 1, 2011 at 2:56 pm |
    • Reality

      The scientific references to support your statements are?

      June 1, 2011 at 3:09 pm |
    • InFormed99

      Reality: This data is freely available, see US Census data for the last 10 years, also many organizations have running totals for all of the data.

      June 1, 2011 at 4:08 pm |
    • Sam

      sources please?

      June 1, 2011 at 6:53 pm |
  8. tc

    I find it interesting that these same "christians" that quote scientific research also believe in noah's ark and a 6000 year old earth. Also while they profess the virtues of monogamy and celibacy until marriage they will not allow two adults of the same gender to marry.

    June 1, 2011 at 2:40 pm |
    • CollegeKid2K

      B/C the Bible explicity warns against it.

      Learn to read.

      June 1, 2011 at 3:42 pm |
    • InFormed99

      CollegeKid2K: So, the bible also says we should have slaves and many wives.

      CollegeKid2K: Lean to think.

      June 1, 2011 at 4:09 pm |
    • ET

      woah, hold on there, don't lump all Christians into one ark there tc, most Christians do NOT believe in a 6,000 year old earth, and all the Christians I know celebrate science and evolution and don't take many things in the Bible so literally. "These" are NOT the "same Christians", these are different Christians who look to science for explanations of the natural world around them.

      June 1, 2011 at 5:17 pm |
    • patscondition

      Well, the scoffing at "Noah's Ark" is kind of an ignorant one and one that is based on your anti-religion bias. I believe that National Geographic has a special on a discovery as such a vessel. Whether or not it is the legendary "Noah's Ark" is up for debate, but such an event is very plausible. Much of world and one point or time was under water in fact.

      Your argument should be whether or not the whole scenario was "God ordained".

      June 1, 2011 at 5:24 pm |
    • hehe101

      How do they think the earth is 6,000 years old. They cannot deny that the Roman empire existed, so they can't deny the egyptian empire either, because of that, you know of ancient greece and before that (and egypt) you have to accept Babylonia and Assyria and Persia as well. But back to Egypt. The Old Kingdom was around 2400 BC which is around the same time Native Americans had discovered agriculture (10,000 years ago). You have to think about this. People think that all humans come from Adam and Eve, who were on a first name basis with God. But wouldn't they teach their kids, who would teach their kids about their once great friend? How would you explain that the original inhabitants of "the new world" knew nothing of the father, the son, and the holy spirit? You don't have to study science to have a disbelief in the almighty! Christians spend so much time arguing with scientists, but you never here of arguments over our history! Do you here them denying that there was a small civilization before the VERY old "Old Kingdom" in Egypt? No! You here them saying stuff like, well the bible tells us this and that and evolution is myth and what not. food for thought!

      June 1, 2011 at 5:53 pm |
    • goose

      If you were as familiar with the Bible as you claim to be you would know that it condones neither slavery or polygamy.

      June 1, 2011 at 5:54 pm |
    • Frogist

      @pat'scondition: "Such an event is very plausible"? Really? Maybe I'm reading you wrong... but how do you figure that an old dude built a giant boat and gathered every single species and checked to make sure they were male and female and then hauled them all onto said boat to protect them from a worldwide flood that killed off everything on the planet is VERY plausible? Flooding occurs is not a reasonable answer.

      June 2, 2011 at 6:21 pm |
  9. Yahtzee!

    I'm about 12 $exual partners away from 100, at which point I'm pretty sure balloons will fall from the sky and sirens will go off.

    June 1, 2011 at 2:15 pm |
    • 23

      lol, probably one of the better comments i've read. makes me want to bang my way to 100!

      June 1, 2011 at 4:18 pm |
  10. Name*Mary

    I found your article encouraging as well as enlighting. Interestingly, God knew how our body works and gave us guidelines to give us the best possible life experiences.

    June 1, 2011 at 2:03 pm |
  11. Bad Checker

    My comments have been censored. Ahhh religion; the way you annoy me. Let me count the ways.

    June 1, 2011 at 1:18 pm |
  12. Fancy

    While the information is nothing new, it's nice to hear an objective point of view on such a taboo such. As an abstinent individual myself, my reasoning stems from religous and social roots, but I can now add "scientific" to that list as well! Never really understood the appeal of hookups, and too be honest, the thought of 'hooking up' with someone who's been with everyone and their mama is quite repulsive to me. Guess I'm old fashioned; doesn't bother me none! As the article said, I'm waiting for the right person to give me "some mind-blowing pleasure and an incredible intimacy–without all the baggage of a broken heart."

    Is that too much to ask?
    -Smooches!

    June 1, 2011 at 1:14 pm |
    • PRISM 1234

      Fancy,
      You said"Guess I'm old fashioned; doesn't bother me none!".......

      The problem with this post-modern ge-neration is that they think they have acquired so much knowledge, so they have rejected the need for WISDOM that sustained the ge-nerations upon ge-nerations of people of the past.
      But wisdom is ageless, and is never irrelevant. Those who reject it, do so, only find out that without it, they become wret-ched, miserable and bar-ren in all aspects of their lives.
      And how it is with individuals, so it becomes with society they are part of.
      So as the society crumbles, so does the nation and civilization....there is NO WAY around it, and no man's advancements in knowledge will sub-sti-tute for the value of wisdom he rejected!
      To keep one's self pure, waithing to give your heart, and offering the fullness of your love to one person who has done the same to offer his/her to you, it's the most treasured thing one could experience in his/her life.
      Those are the marriages and relationships that are protected from intr-uders, because if a man or women keep themselves pure valuing their love and what they have to give to the other person so much, they will NOT go and squander themselves in shallow, frivolous affairs dese-crating their bodies and defiling their souls with strangers, even though they have some rough waters to go through in their marriage.....

      How many lives would be spared the pain they are going through, if they took heed to this kind of counsel?!!!

      June 1, 2011 at 1:44 pm |
    • Newo

      I hope you aren't a girl, no virgin is going to be able to do anything mind blowing to you. If you're a guy, chances are blowing your mind isn't hard.

      June 1, 2011 at 1:53 pm |
    • PRISM 1234

      @ newo
      In the sewers of this world many are crawling to grab for some refuse to give them rush, a quick fix, only to find themselves empty wanting another fix.... And they sink deeper into the hole which pulls them deeper with every fix.
      But those who never go to the sewers, and live their lives above in the sunlight, to them it is given a clear vision, and they can recognize the things that are of immense value. They also have peace and no fear of rejection, becaue they know that what they have is of much greater value then what those in sewers ar indulging in. But I don't think that you grasped the things I was talking about, or else you would not have made your corny remark! But suit yourself... Sure, you have plenty of company where you are! There are those who understand the value of company of ONE, and they have chosen much better way! But to each his/her own!

      June 1, 2011 at 2:16 pm |
    • Fancy

      @ Prism1234

      So I'm going to take a wild guess and assume that you agree with me.
      But what you said, especially about keeping one's self pure, was on point, and while I can do without the......elaborate diction, i was able to comprehend your statement.

      Finally, Honors English was put to use!

      June 1, 2011 at 3:29 pm |
    • PRISM 1234

      Someone said the only way you'll find out what someone is made out of is by exposing them to truth...Their reaction says more then mult-itudes of words! Also, the language of wisdom is not measured by how well the words are spelled or composed, but by the content of the message of them! Amercans need to learn a lot oin that aspect!

      June 1, 2011 at 4:00 pm |
    • Clam Man

      Good excuse for being ugly.

      June 1, 2011 at 4:50 pm |
    • comm0nsense

      Thank you Clam Man. Exactly my thinking. PRISM 1234, please stop. You are making a fool of yourself. Talking smooth is just a crappy human tradition that has no real value or meaning in the larger context. Life is but an aimless experiment on this planet. Science can take us to a better place beyond the uncertainties of this small, rocky blue planet.

      June 1, 2011 at 5:51 pm |
    • PRISM 1234

      "PRISM 1234, please stop. You are making a fool of yourself. Talking smooth is just a crappy human tradition that has no real value or meaning in the larger context. Life is but an aimless experiment on this planet. Science can take us to a better place beyond the uncertainties of this small, rocky blue planet."

      .....And you couldnt tell that my words were anything but smooth, but that cutting through all pretence , they go to the heart of the matter. Is that why you're telling me to stop, turning away, not wanting to face it?!

      Do you know that you, by your own words, reveal your own condition?

      If your life is what you said it is, an aimless experiment, then what a pity of a wasted gift that was given you... You have missed it all together , friend, and your bitterness against the truth is just the picture of what is deep inside of your soul! I see no rebuke from you to the foul mouths of some who come here talking trash, but you call me a fool!!
      It is no wonder that our society is crumbling if we have people who give themselves names such as "commonsense", yet are having such warped view of what the truth is, having no sense nor discernment of it whatsoever!
      This is my response to you, and now I will stop, but only because I chose to do so!

      Good evening to you!

      June 1, 2011 at 10:53 pm |
  13. LIsaM

    Ummm, have to say "going to Woodstock" is something the GRANDPARENTS did. I'm 50, and I was a small child during Woodstock. You're dealing with the 70's generation now, and they had a LOT of hookups.

    June 1, 2011 at 12:49 pm |
    • KC

      And the 70s generation was the only one who could. The 60s were still fighting for birth control and the 80s were afraid of AIDS.

      June 1, 2011 at 1:29 pm |
    • Robble

      You said it!
      What a bunch of crap!
      I'm a woman who grew up in the 70s, had MANY partners from whom I did not get pregnant or infected and now have a wonderful husband, family and career.

      June 1, 2011 at 3:30 pm |
  14. Howie

    Just more regurgitation of the standard christian moralist theme. $ex is fun! Have as much as you can with as many people as possible. If you choose marriage, be honest with your mate. Maybe you are not cut out for monogamy, maybe you are. But sample as much as you can while you are young and beautiful, because that wont last forever!

    June 1, 2011 at 12:45 pm |
  15. Adelina

    Keep purity for your future partner. Once you are married, believe he or she is your fate. If a tragedy hits you, trust in God and don't be a traitor in any way. Put your priority on honoring God and the well-being of your children, not your own. Keep being faithful, praying and doing good. Find the mysterious expansion of life in the process.

    June 1, 2011 at 12:13 pm |
    • Sha na na naah

      Uhm. What? You lost me at the word "purity".

      June 1, 2011 at 3:24 pm |
  16. Adelina

    Exposure of skins everywhere in every possible way also makes people unsatisfied with themselves and their partners. People create their unhappiness for their own sake.

    June 1, 2011 at 12:07 pm |
    • JohnD

      With such comments I bet you are not hot!

      June 1, 2011 at 2:44 pm |
    • Artist

      JohnD

      With such comments I bet you are not hot!
      ---------
      lol even if she was, I am guessing la me in you know where.

      June 1, 2011 at 2:51 pm |
    • Sha na na naah

      Exposure of skin everywhere makes me satisfied, and I'm pretty sure my partner would say them same 😉

      June 1, 2011 at 3:25 pm |
  17. Jon

    I wish I had more hook-ups in college. In anything I am emotionally scared for being below the averages reported in the article 😦

    June 1, 2011 at 12:07 pm |
  18. Adelina

    I think obesity helped people from having promiscuity. No? Life has a lot more than just romance, folks!

    June 1, 2011 at 11:44 am |
    • Artist

      Fat chicks generally are good at one thing...don't be so quick to conclude.

      June 1, 2011 at 2:52 pm |
  19. Chuck

    Let's face it, as American's get fatter more and more of them are s-exually unattractive to potential partners. That fact likely has more to do with there being a slightly lower percentage of college age people having s-ex. They want to, they just can't find partners. Even fat people don't want to hook up with other fat people. When you look at statistics in a vacuum you can make them appear to indicate just about anything you want.

    June 1, 2011 at 11:41 am |
    • CollegeKid2K

      Dude,

      I'm in college now, and i can tell you right now, pu$$y is pu$$y now matter how you slice it. You'd be suprised how quickly one's weight is overlooked....especially when there's alcohol involved.

      June 1, 2011 at 1:18 pm |
    • Thatguy

      HAHAHA CollegeKid, you just made my day!
      Also, if you're slicing it you're probably doing it wrong 😉

      June 1, 2011 at 3:46 pm |
    • hater2157

      If she is a 2 at 10 she will probably end up a 10 at 2.

      June 1, 2011 at 6:07 pm |
  20. Reality

    The dangers of casual/hookupa or non-casual se-x/marriage if you do not practice safe s-ex: PREGNANCIES/ ABORTIONS AND/OR ST-Ds

    For those who partake some statistics of epidemic proportions:

    from the CDC-2006

    "Se-xually transmitted diseases (S-TDs) remain a major public health challenge in the United States. While substantial progress has been made in preventing, diagnosing, and treating certain S-TDs in recent years, CDC estimates that approximately 19 million new infections occur each year, almost half of them among young people ages 15 to 24.1 In addition to the physical and psychological consequences of S-TDs, these diseases also exact a tremendous economic toll. Direct medical costs as-sociated with S-TDs in the United States are estimated at up to $14.7 billion annually in 2006 dollars."

    And from: http://pagingdrgupta.blogs.cnn.com/2011/02/20/yes-o-ral-se-x-is-se-x-and-it-can-boost-cancer-risk/?npt=NP1

    "Yes, o-ral se-x is se-x, and it can boost cancer risk-

    Here's a crucial message for teens: O-ral se-x carries many of the same risks as v-a-ginal s-ex, including human papilloma virus, or HPV. And HPV may now be overtaking tobacco as the leading cause of o-ral cancers in America in people under age 50.

    "Adolescents don’t think or-al se-x is something to worry about," said Bonnie Halpern-Felsher professor of pediatrics at the University of California, San Francisco. "They view it as a way to have intimacy without having 'se-x.'"

    And this: "CON-TRACEPTIVE METHOD CHOICE (Guttmacher Insti-tute data)

    Cont-raceptive method use among U.S. women who practice con-traception, 2002

    Method........ No. of users (in 000s)........ % of users
    Pill ..................11,661 .................. 30.6
    Male condom ...6,841................... 18.0 "

    i.e.
    The pill fails to protect women 8.7% during the first year of use (

    i.e. 0.087 (failure rate)
    x 62 million (# child bearing women)
    x 0.62 ( % of these women using contraception )
    x 0.306 ( % of these using the pill) =

    1,020,000 unplanned pregnancies
    during the first year of pill use.

    (And the abortion rate in the US is? 1,000,000/year)

    For male condoms (failure rate of 17.4 and 18% use level)

    1,200,000 unplanned pregnancies during the first year of male condom use.

    The Gut-tmacher Inst-itute notes also that the perfect use of the pill should result in a 0.3% failure rate
    (35,000 unplanned pregnancies) and for the male condom, a 2% failure rate (138,000 unplanned pregnancies).

    o Conclusion: The failures of the widely used birth "control" methods i.e. the Pill and male con-dom have led to the large rate of abortions and S-TDs in the USA. Men and women must either recognize their responsibilities by using the Pill or con-doms properly and/or use other safer methods in order to reduce the epidemics of abortion and S-TDs

    June 1, 2011 at 11:11 am |
    • Clam Man

      this guy definately hasn't gotten laid in a while.

      June 1, 2011 at 4:52 pm |
    • Jenna

      Married people are at risk for unplanned pregnancy too.

      June 3, 2011 at 1:01 pm |
    • Adelina (the real Christian one)

      But they are married and if follow Christ's teachings will be blessed.

      June 3, 2011 at 1:05 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.