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July 9, 2019 | by  | in Talking With My Dad About Sex | [ssba]

Can you separate sex from emotion, and do you think you have a choice?

Lena says: I mean, to get meta—I don’t think you can separate anything from emotion. In saying that, people’s understandings and responses to sex vary as widely as you can imagine. There are people who have no problem having sex without getting attached or experiencing a lot of emotions afterwards, and people who will feel strongly about anyone they have sex with. 


I think a big factor in how you “feel” about sex and the people you have sex with, is what meaning sex has to you: If you believe sex is a very sacred experience to be shared between people who care deeply about each other, it’s natural that you would feel attached to the people you have sex with. Whereas if you view sex as something fun you can do with people to give you both pleasure, you may be more easily able to separate the sex from the people you’re having it with. 


Without introspection, the meaning sex has for us remains unconsciously internalised. But I think you can deconstruct and potentially change the meaning sex has for you, and that it’s healthy to think critically about what meanings you hold around sex (and whether these are helpful for you as an individual). No one else’s perceptions or approaches to sex are going to be exactly right for you, and that’s okay. 


It might be that, despite doing a lot of critical thinking, you either still struggle to feel emotion or struggle with feeling too much emotion towards having sex, and that might not be able to change. In that case, as long as you’re being honest with yourself about what is healthy for you and your partners, whatever is your ‘normal’ doesn’t need to change. 


Dad says:

No one else can modulate your physical sensations for you—you’re the one getting the feedback. So if the physical sensations are at their best with self-pleasure, I would argue that this means we have sex with other people because it intensifies the psycho-emotional aspect of the experience. So I don’t believe you can separate partnered sex from some kind of emotion.


All of us release oxytocin when we cuddle, have sex, and when we orgasm. Oxytocin increases our sense of connection and comfort with people—it is sometimes called the “bonding” hormone (it’s also released when women breastfeed). So there is that aspect of our biology to contend with. It’s not deterministic, but it suggests that this is one of the intended functions of sex.


But “bonding” type feelings are just one aspect of emotional experience. As Lena said, human beings rarely do anything without emotion. Emotions provide both a motivation and a context to the action, and those emotions are dictated by the meanings we make of events. We can have sex for all sorts of reasons, and they can create all sorts of meanings.


Some of our meanings can be unconscious, but still very important. If you are having sex to reassure yourself you are attractive or important or worthy, how your partner responds to you is going to have much more emotional impact on you than if your motivation is to get to know someone better, or to just have fun. Some people avoid showing any kind of vulnerability and channel all those feelings into sex, so sex can be emotionally complex for them (and their partners). You can certainly change those kinds of meanings, and hence your emotional experience of sex.


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