“Sex alleviates tension. Love causes it.” – Woody Allen
Sexual stimulation is a pleasurable experience that can be fun and relaxing. Sex and love can both create strong attachment feelings and one of the most profound experiences we have as human beings. The capacity to love and feel loved leads to healthy and intense sexual interactions. Love is one of the most well-known and least understood conditions in human nature. Scientists say it’s a drive, similar to hunger or thirst, while psychologists may define it as a social or cultural phenomenon. Regardless, it is the most universal emotion in the world with elements of each model that drives our need to love, including how sexual attraction and attachment style play a role in our relationships. Studies in neuroscience show that as people fall in love, the brain releases chemicals that activate the pleasure center of the brain similar to drugs leading to side effects such as increased heart rate, loss of appetite and sleep, and an intense feeling of excitement. Love can be experienced in different forms. Our first connections with love are during infancy and childhood, and can set up love schemas that determine our capacity to love others during adulthood.
Self-love and selfishness are sometimes confused. Each has different sources and consequences. Self-love brings feelings of confidence, competence, and we are much kinder and loving towards others. Selfishness causes withdrawal, and lack of respect towards self and others. Self-love and appreciation are directly related to the capabilities of loving and appreciating others.
The following questions can help differentiate between self-love and selfishness:
- When was the last time you felt unhappy with yourself (insecure, irritable)?
- When did you last feel happy with yourself (proud, pleased with your personal qualities)?
- How did you behave towards other people on those two occasions (happy/unhappy)? On which occasion were you kinder and more generous towards others?
When you are unhappy with yourself is probably when you were more selfish. When we dislike ourselves, the energy we put out is directed towards protecting ourselves and is not focused on how we are treating others. It is when we love ourselves that we are most capable of giving to, and loving others.
How we are in adult romantic relationships is related to the working models or schemas we develop early in life – usually from our first loving experiences with caregivers. As we grow and develop these schemas become more complex. There are six different love schemas that are similar to the attachment styles that develop during childhood:
- Secure – seldom worry about being abandoned and believe other people are trustworthy and have good intentions.
- Skittish – wary of intimacy and uncomfortable with closeness, expectations that relationships fail and fear of depending on others.
- Clingy – desire closeness and worry that their partners don’t love them or will leave them and fear being on their own and abandoned.
- Fickle – uncomfortable with closeness and independence and never comfortable with what they have. They are suspicious of commitment and fear entrapment.
- Casual – view love affairs as fun and lacks desire for commitment often fearing intimacy.
- Uninterested – not interested in relationships and gets little pleasure out of it and when they end often feels relief.
The development of these love schemas depends on how comfortable we are with closeness, independence and how willing we are to be involved in romantic relationships. Identifying our love schema can give insight on our attachment style and patterns in relationships.
Love vs. Lust
The beginning stages of love are full of arousal, intense sexual desire, anxiety over rejection, and an array of positive and sometimes negative emotions. Whether it is lust, infatuation, or romantic love, a preoccupation with the loved one is common and unavoidable. Lust is actually a normal and healthy human emotion and can be very pleasurable for two people in the expression of sexual interactions. If two people do not deal with feelings prior to sexual activity lust can sometimes lead to pain and guilt.
There is this old cliché’ that men use love to get sex and women use sex to get love.
Even though society is slowly moving towards more gender equality in views of sex – surveys show that more women than men find sex only acceptable in a love relationship. If one partner is more motivated by lust than love, it can lead to difficulties in a relationship. The sharing of feelings and intentions by both partners can minimize feelings of guilt and exploitation that can arise when two people have conflicting motivations for a relationship.
Dependency and Jealousy
Feelings of dependency and jealousy are often associated with love and are often experienced by individuals that lack self-confidence and self-esteem. The consequences are a false love that consists of manipulative, exploitive, and unhealthy love behaviors. These feelings of dependency and jealousy are human and we all feel them at some point in our lives – they are painful and often unavoidable. The healthiest way to cope with these feelings is to communicate them instead of accusing, attacking, blaming or shaming your loved one. It will reduce the negative effects of dependency and jealousy.
Here are questions to assess healthy love in your relationship:
- Have you continued to maintain individual interests, including meaningful personal relationships with people other than your partner?
- Are you and your lover friends? If your erotic relationship ended, would you continue to see one another as friends?
- Have you maintained a secure belief in your own values as an independent person?
- Is your relationship integrated with the rest of your life rather than set off or isolated from your other activities?
- Do you feel improved by the relationship? Have you become stronger, more attractive, more accomplished, and more sensitive since becoming involved with your partner?
These are great questions to ask yourself and your partner if you are in a loving sexual relationship. If either of you answered “no” to more than one question it is worth discussing and looking at possibilities of changing aspects of the relationship. The quality of a relationship is not measured by the absence of problems – there is no such thing as a “perfect” relationship. The qualities that are important include honesty, integrity, and concern for resolving problems in a way that meets the needs of both partners.
Independent, mature, and self-confident people have the greatest capacity for healthy and loving sexual interactions. Two adults in a relationship that form an erotic bond can share their whole self – and can enjoy each others similarities and accept and be comfortable with their differences. If someone makes the other person the exclusive focus of one’s life, it can reduce the vitality of a relationship. The healthier way is for each partner in a relationship to develop her or his own potential and be able to contribute individual, unique qualities to a mutually satisfying and stimulating relationship. This ideal is not easily attained or constantly maintained, but striving towards it contributes to the hope and pleasure that characterize lasting and loving sexual interactions.