You feel ready for a lasting relationship. You are tired of guys disappearing after you become intimate. You have the vague idea that waiting to have sex may be the key, but you’re told that “withholding” sex is manipulative, old fashioned, and not very romantic.
Savvy friends tell you there is an understanding that date #3 is the appropriate time to give it up. You’ve noticed this is usually the stage when a man invites you to his apartment to “hang out” in the general vicinity of his bedroom. You fear that if you hesitate, he won’t invest further in your relationship. Yet, experience has shown you that third-date sex doesn’t seem to have any effect on a man’s commitment level; in fact, sometimes he just gets busier and has even less time to hang out with you, afterward.
It can be hard to trust your intuition and instincts when so much of popular culture implies that sex is Level 1 in the mating game, a stepping stone toward commitment and bonding. But what if I offered you scientific proof that, in fact, the opposite is true?—that in waiting to have sex you’re actually increasing your odds of experiencing lasting attraction and romance.
Listen up, girlfriend, because science is on your side when you wait. Here are a few facts to help you commit to saying no until you are sure Prince Charming is all that he seems:
Dopamine: From Crush to Crash
Chemicals like dopamine feed the buzz of infatuation in our brains. When you daydream about your crush, the anticipation of being together produces lots of dopamine, which further increases your feeling of infatuation. When two people feel a connection, this buzz can be amplified through non-sexual contact such as locking eyes, touching hands, and even simple physical nearness—the “don’t stand so close to me” phenomenon.
Guess what shuts off the production of dopamine—and therefore that “in love” feeling—in men?
Completion of the sex act. That’s right: having sex can temporarily shut off your man’s seemingly obsessive interest in you. If he is not already emotionally bonded (unlikely by date 3), then this sugar crash will leave him empty and ready to move on—in search of a woman who can give him a longer and more sustained hit of happiness. (Interestingly, researchers have found that men with high self-esteem are even more likely to experience this post-sex emotional detachment than their less-secure brothers.)
Oxytocin: It’s a Girl Thing
Oxytocin is known as the “love” hormone, and it is true that in women, the release of oxytocin during sex can increase our emotional attachment to a sex partner. We also know that oxytocin is released in men during sex, as well as through other forms of physical affection and pleasurable experiences. However, unless a man is already emotionally bonded with his partner—a process that requires time and a healthy stock of shared experiences—the effects of oxytocin release in men is unclear.
There is no scientific evidence that oxytocin released during casual sex—where an emotional attachment has not yet developed—will result in a man becoming further bonded with his partner. (In fact, oxytocin’s effect on male behavior is downright confusing and not necessarily loving.) If you’ve ever seduced a man in the hope of making him more attached to you, understand that that approach simply doesn’t work. (And after reading about the potential for a dopamine crash, I hope you’ll see that “sex for fun” is exceedingly unlikely to lead to a walk down the aisle.)
So which would you rather experience with your dream guy: the slow build-up of desire… or the letdown of simply reaching the finish line?
Although they won’t broadcast it among their casual buddies (because it’s nobody’s business and it is maybe a little unmanly-sounding), men who really dig you will wait. They will wait until you are ready. And in the midst of that dopamine-fueled sugar high, they won’t really mind waiting, either.
All primary research by Dr. David M. Buss and his lab at the University of Texas.
ROBYN ORIGINALLY CREATED THIS ARTICLE, WITH LOVE, FOR YOURTANGO.
Robyn Wahlgast is a Rules Certified Dating and Relationship Coach for Women, and a happily married mother of three. Need advice about your own relationship? Consider booking a private consultation with Robyn. Never miss a new blog post: subscribe to our FREE newsletter.