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Getting Attached After Sex: Myth or Fact?

Posted Feb 24 2014 - 7:00pm

We’ve heard it so many times: Guys can detach themselves after a hook-up, keeping the experience entirely physical. Meanwhile, for whatever reason, biological or otherwise, collegiettes like us have a harder time keeping emotions out of the bedroom.

Is this really true, though? Can boys really avoid attachment? Are girls unable to detach themselves and make sex an entirely physical act? It’s not usually something that gets covered in class, so how’s a collegiette to know the truth? We at Her Campus wanted to find out!

Your Brain on Sex

The hook-up culture that exists on college campuses leaves a lot of questions unanswered for both men and women. “Did that mean something?” and “Does he/she realize that I don’t want a relationship?” are common questions from both sides. Whether you’ve had a one-night stand or you’re trying to turn a hook-up into something more, navigating the aftermath of casual sex is never an easy task. The preconception that many collegiettes have is that men are “only after one thing,” and that a relationship isn’t in the cards. Recent studies, however, have shown that sex isn’t strictly a physical act for men or women!

A 2011 study conducted by psychology professor Jim Pfaus at Concordia University in Canada revealed that there is an “overlap between sexual desire and emotional love in the brain’s insular cortex.” They are still different receptive areas of the brain, meaning that the two emotions are different, but the overlap means that the connection between love and lust is stronger than once thought. It explains why, when someone has what they think will be casual sex, he or she ends up feeling attached afterwards. These receptive areas of the brain are the same for both men and women.

The main biological difference between men’s and women’s reactions to sexual experiences is the release of hormones during and after sex. During climax, women release higher levels of oxytocin (the “cuddle hormone”) than men do. This unavoidable release causes higher levels of post-sex attachment in women than in men. Males, on the other hand, have lower dopamine levels after sex, resulting in negative withdrawal symptoms and the occasional desire to flee from their partner. It’s bizarre, but not something that they can control. Basically, for women, sexual needs and attachment needs are more highly related than these needs are for men. 

What have collegiettes experienced? Hannah*, 20, from Canterbury Christ Church University, says it’s “definitely possible” for girls to have sex without attachment. “I was having sex with an ex for quite a while, and didn’t get re-attached,” she says. She says she’s also had a one-night stand “and definitely felt nothing afterwards.”

Her experience is not out of the ordinary. Riley*, a student at the University of New Hampshire, says “it’s easy not to get attached” after sex.

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