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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. Shmink Bidubski

    Lame.

    May 31, 2011 at 4:57 pm |
    • Jesus Lover

      jesus is not lame! Now he will not sleep with you!

      May 31, 2011 at 5:00 pm |
  2. Jesus Lover

    I only sleep with Jesus!

    May 31, 2011 at 4:57 pm |
    • Steven

      im speaking for everyone. grow up

      May 31, 2011 at 5:06 pm |
    • Jesus Lover

      You are not speaking for me OR Jesus!

      May 31, 2011 at 5:08 pm |
    • Doug

      Heh. But most of the "jesus lovers" trying to foist their silly views on others (we all know they type) are actually the hypocrites who will sleep with anything that moves...and sometimes they are not even that picky.

      May 31, 2011 at 5:12 pm |
    • Jesus Lover

      I wont sleep with it if its not moving. That goes for Jesus too!

      May 31, 2011 at 5:15 pm |
  3. Just Say No to WASPs

    Relationships have no meaning anymore. Nobody wants to be with anyone unless they can do something for them. Women won't be with a man who isn't rich because they've been poisoned by materialism and reality television. Money is the greatest evil ever indoctrinated; no one cares for honor and courtesy anymore. Being able to make a six figure salary is more important than being able to survive and defend your family. Living off the land is seen as a joke to people who have their I-crap taped to their eyeballs. I may be wrong, but currently it doesn't look right to me.

    May 31, 2011 at 4:57 pm |
    • LEB

      Bitter much? If you want to live modestly, grow your own food, own only possessions that are essential, find a woman who wants to live the same way, then live your life as you please. Do it, and OWN your choices. The way you speak suggests that you feel inadequate somehow, not to mention insecure and cynical. If you were truly comfortable in your life choices, you wouldn't feel the need to judge and censure the choices other people make in their lives in their pursuit of happiness. Not everyone is like you, and they don't have to be. Do yourself a favor and make peace with that... you'll be a lot happier.

      May 31, 2011 at 5:14 pm |
    • John Richardson

      Oh, how we long for those days of those totally non-materialistic, non-calculating arranged marriages of yore!

      May 31, 2011 at 6:02 pm |
  4. Todd

    stormsun: Very well said indeed.

    May 31, 2011 at 4:56 pm |
  5. RDB

    Thanks for posting this article. I wholeheartedly agree with the author and wish we would see more like this.

    May 31, 2011 at 4:55 pm |
  6. Kimberly

    Dannah, Thank you for your courageous and thoughtful article. Thank you for speaking unpopular truth for the sake of others, even when you know you'll be slammed by most. May your valiant service to this next generation make an effective impact!

    May 31, 2011 at 4:49 pm |
    • Dshaw

      lust? BURN! hahah jk... not

      May 31, 2011 at 4:52 pm |
    • Duke

      Don't mind DTool – he just found out being the town bicycle isn't cool anymore.

      May 31, 2011 at 4:57 pm |
    • Dshaw

      i gotta kid bud, pretty sure ur sack cant produce one, if so it would be a girl and u would leave her with her mom and go play with other girls

      May 31, 2011 at 5:07 pm |
  7. Big Walt

    The stats mentioned don't have anything to do with how the author is using them. That study simply found that 25.3% of s exually active teenage girls experienced depression, compared to 7.7% of s exually abstinent girls and that 14.3% of s exually active girls attempted suicide, compared to 5.1% of their virgin peers. It said nothing about this happening because they weren't getting their hookup "fix". Like I said previously, this just tells me that depressed and suicidal girls are more likely to be s exually active.

    May 31, 2011 at 4:46 pm |
    • blake

      exactly correlation does not equal causation.

      May 31, 2011 at 4:49 pm |
    • Big Walt

      And that I should be hanging out around depression support groups....

      May 31, 2011 at 4:53 pm |
    • Nickie

      EXACTLY! This is why scientists should post articles like this.... not... well whatever she is.

      May 31, 2011 at 4:55 pm |
  8. blake

    What an obviously biased and purpose driven article. She ignores facts that doesn't support her argument and creates facts to support it. I'm also willing to bet that if the suicide rate of virgin males to their non virgin counterparts the results would be opposite of those in this study.

    May 31, 2011 at 4:45 pm |
    • Duke

      Purpose driven article...haha. If you only knew. As opposed to what Two and Half Men would tell you, the suicide rate is actually much higher for the common Town Bike.

      May 31, 2011 at 4:54 pm |
    • Frogist

      One wonders if suicide rates are related to dehumanizing someone because of their se-xuality by calling them the "Town Bike".

      June 2, 2011 at 4:04 pm |
  9. Steven

    This is a fantastic article! So true

    May 31, 2011 at 4:43 pm |
  10. clickerbug

    there was absolutely no reason you needed to state "full disclosure." If you were stating scientific facts, then stand by them. By "disclosing" a motivation of religion, you blew your credibility, even if your article is scientifically accurate. That's really too bad, it's a good article. Why bring religion into it unnecessarily? Unless you consider this your way of proselytizing. Which is mostly unwelcome to unbelievers. Which is why it ruins your article.

    May 31, 2011 at 4:43 pm |
    • Drew

      First of all, so because she believes in a God that somehow invalidates her from a scientific discussion? How?
      Second, you're reading the CNN Belief Blog, if you don't want to hear about faith, then why did you come here?

      May 31, 2011 at 4:46 pm |
    • cheshire

      lol – too stupid a comment to even argue with. "She loses credibility because she's religious". How are you anything other than an ignorant bigot?

      May 31, 2011 at 4:52 pm |
    • Paul

      Or – it lends credibility to the Bible. Imagine that – hundreds and hundreds of years ago words were written that today science supports. We've come a long way!

      May 31, 2011 at 4:53 pm |
    • Brian

      Because it's basically a statement that she already had a formed and solid opinion and theory on it, thus skewing the validity of the data that she's providing.

      May 31, 2011 at 4:56 pm |
    • Drew

      @Brian,
      And atheists don't have a solid and formed theory on the same things this author does? But, their view isn't skewed? Huh?

      May 31, 2011 at 5:06 pm |
    • Brian

      See Drew, that isn't a response, thats not even a rebutal. Thats called avoiding an answer and trying to question the nature of the person that asked it.
      The reason being Science, or even statistics for this matter is supposed to stay as unbiased as possible, because otherwise numbers can be skewed to show whatever the hell you want.
      And FYI champ, I'm not an athiest.

      May 31, 2011 at 5:09 pm |
    • Big Walt

      No their view isn't skewed, there's nothing to skew it. The point to begin with is, what does she mention it at all? It shouldn't have anything to do with what she's saying. When scientists write articles for journals they don't disclose their religious beliefs. This being far from a scientific journal I don't care if she does or doesn't but she opens herself up to being criticized for saying it.

      May 31, 2011 at 5:12 pm |
    • Drew

      I wasn't assuming you were an atheist. I was establishing that someone on the other side of the issue also has bias, but you seem to think that since someone has religious beliefs that their scientific opinion shouldn't matter.
      I'm merely asking whether atheists may show data that supports whatever the hell they want. How are they less biased in any way?

      May 31, 2011 at 5:13 pm |
    • Frogist

      @Drew: I don't think I know any atheist who relies on science to prove god doesn't exist. They will all readily say there is no such proof. That is the basis of their stance. You have no proof of a god, therefore as far as is relevant to the world, god does not exist. The opposite is true of many believers, like the author, who pulls bits and pieces from varying source material to "prove" her narrow-minded POV of morality. She didn't start of saying, "What are the facts?" like any self-respecting atheist does. She started off by saying this is what I want to be true, therefore I will pick facts to prove whatever I want. That is not scientific methodology, but rationalization of a pre-disposed idea.
      Your insistence that "atheists are biased too", not only shows your prejudice, but also a lack of understanding about atheism and the scientific process.

      June 2, 2011 at 4:23 pm |
  11. Dshaw

    is it ok that i want this writer to be dead and to never speak about this kind of crap again? wow... i hate infidels!! haha

    May 31, 2011 at 4:42 pm |
    • Jesus Lover

      Do you love Jesus too?!

      May 31, 2011 at 4:44 pm |
    • Dshaw

      YOU ARE AWESOME! lmao...

      May 31, 2011 at 4:45 pm |
    • Jesus Lover

      Jesus loves us and agrees that we should hate everbody that loves him any less than we do! Praise Jesus and kiss his feet!

      May 31, 2011 at 4:47 pm |
    • Dshaw

      I THINK OF JESUS BEING MORE AS THE POWER OF GOOD FROM GOD AND SATIN THE POWER OF DARKNESS. GOD IS BOTH.... THAT IS SCIENCE THAT WILL NEVER BE PROVEN.. i could care less about the jesus that walked, the bible was here before him. he could of just relived the story.

      May 31, 2011 at 4:50 pm |
    • Jesus Lover

      Jesus is God and he loves us all! He makes our sins go away when we do bad things. He makes us invincible! I'm better than everybody because of Jesus!

      May 31, 2011 at 4:52 pm |
    • Dshaw

      fU^k JESUS... i woulda killed him myself. i believe in evil and love... depends on what it is tho. not evil over someone spilling a drink on u, thats nuts, evil over someone beating on someone thats weaker> done DEAL!!! >:)_ HAHAH

      May 31, 2011 at 4:59 pm |
    • John Richardson

      If Satin is darkness, what is Velvet?

      May 31, 2011 at 6:07 pm |
    • Dshaw

      niiiice hahha im sorry, if u didnt understand what i meant, i meant to say satan, not satin... does that make u feel better, i really dont givva:fu#k bout spellin grammar sum times bud, kids tlk lik ds nw n dayz. do u undstan tat

      May 31, 2011 at 9:53 pm |
    • Frogist

      @DShaw: And if all the kids these days jumped off a bridge, would you? 😉

      June 2, 2011 at 4:25 pm |
  12. Jesus Lover

    You dont need human love when you love Jesus! I'm better than everybdoy because of Jesus! I'm better than everybody!

    May 31, 2011 at 4:42 pm |
    • Alejandro

      Yeah right

      May 31, 2011 at 4:46 pm |
    • Jesus Lover

      Do not doubt me or my love for Jesus!

      May 31, 2011 at 4:48 pm |
  13. KnowYourMath

    @Duke – http://courses.csail.mit.edu/6.042/fall10/mcs-ftl.pdf

    Page 128, section 5.2.1

    BAM, in your face

    May 31, 2011 at 4:42 pm |
    • Mike

      Why complicate reality with such trifling things like facts?

      May 31, 2011 at 4:52 pm |
  14. Duke

    Interesting to see the cross-section of a typical CNN reader...can't stand a Christian perspective and eager to lash out at anyone who would agree with said perspective. What happened to all that blubber about 'tolerance' and understanding?? Scientific facts can't be relayed a person of moral standing? Supreme hypocrisy from the leftist atheist segment. No surprise here.

    May 31, 2011 at 4:34 pm |
    • Drew

      My thoughts exactly, Duke.

      May 31, 2011 at 4:40 pm |
  15. So

    So True, Miley

    May 31, 2011 at 4:33 pm |
  16. B S

    what a sorry bit of trash this writer doesn't even know what they are talking about.

    May 31, 2011 at 4:32 pm |
  17. Ashley

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

    I'm sure guilt pushed on them about their bodies via people like the "apostle" Paul has NOTHING to do with it. Right-o.

    May 31, 2011 at 4:31 pm |
    • felixblock

      I am not keen on Paul. His motives were essentially political. It is true that christianity was to some extent "invented" by Paul, and his writins sound to me:narrow minded, untolerant and even to some extent fascist.

      May 31, 2011 at 4:52 pm |
  18. KnowYourMath

    The statistic cited in this article is mathematically impossible. You're CNN, don't print things that are provable false. That is all.

    May 31, 2011 at 4:28 pm |
    • Duke

      Nice try. Funny how support for censorship comes in so many flavors and with so many different excuses.

      May 31, 2011 at 4:36 pm |
    • Jeff

      That's just a tad hetero-centric, my scientific friend.

      May 31, 2011 at 4:44 pm |
    • Jessica

      I'm curious, how are the statistics mathematically impossible? Don't print things wihtout support, and that don't make sense

      May 31, 2011 at 4:44 pm |
    • KnowYourMath

      BAM, here it is again:

      @Duke – http://courses.csail.mit.edu/6.042/fall10/mcs-ftl.pdf

      Page 128, section 5.2.1

      May 31, 2011 at 5:03 pm |
    • Big Walt

      He's saying the claim in the beginning that college men have about 9 partners and women have about 7 is impossible. A) I think that's debatable, and B) who cares it doesn't have anything to do with the point of the article, which in and of itself is crap.

      May 31, 2011 at 5:09 pm |
    • KnowYourMath

      Math really isn't debatable. See proof. (Granted, the proof is for the entire population, but unless men are having relations with older women in droves, it still stands).

      May 31, 2011 at 5:15 pm |
    • KnowYourMath

      *Entire population, not just college

      May 31, 2011 at 5:16 pm |
    • Big Walt

      I saw your proof it talked about opposite-gender partners. You don't know what the stats in the beginning of the article are talking about but since it doesn't specify I'll assume it takes everyone into account which means your proof has no meaning here.

      May 31, 2011 at 5:21 pm |
  19. Heather M.

    Bravo Dannah Wonderful article. I'm praying your words and wisdom will reach many young women and men and help them to see "how" God meant for intimate relationships to be handled. Their is nothing casual about it at all! Keep up the GREAT work, and many blessing to you and your work!

    May 31, 2011 at 4:26 pm |
    • Artist

      May your magical thoughts reach your god and he deliver you magical wishes.

      May 31, 2011 at 4:27 pm |
    • JediMindTrx

      God has nothing to do with it...it's not the 1950's anymore

      May 31, 2011 at 4:32 pm |
    • Drew

      What a perfectly tolerant comment, Artist. Thank you for your input.

      May 31, 2011 at 4:33 pm |
  20. aa

    how very fox news of you, cnn.

    May 31, 2011 at 4:24 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.