I just finished reading "Hooked" by Joe McIlhaney, Jr., MD and Freda McKissic Bush, MD. The timing could not be better for my reading this book at this time. I am conducting a 10 rules of dating/Marriage seminar tonight. What I read perfectly matches what I preach about dating and marriage. This is one more example showing science finally catching up to the bible.
I would have to recommend this book to all parents, teenagers and especially all school teachers and administrators. Here are some takes:
Sex can and should be a positive experience. It should be the intimate interaction between two persons who care for each other and desire to share their innermost feelings with each other. Sex has many wonderful benefits: the pleasure and satisfaction of becoming an intimate part of another person’s body; verbal and physical communication; expressing and deriving pleasure with a partner; uniting the “two” to become another “one” and, clearly, the potential for procreation.
But sex misused has obvious negative consequences. When one is forced or coerced to have sex, it is not good. When sex is used to accomplish favors or to influence another , it is not good. When sex is used for financial gain, used abusively, or used to humiliate another, it is not good. When sex results in an unplanned, nonmarital pregnancy or a sexually transmitted infection, it is not good. And when sex produces feelings of regret, depression, suicidal ideation and other emotional problems, it is not good.
The book refers to many studies throughout the course of the book.
…research has found that home environment had greater influence on behavior than hormone levels and if parent-child relations were good, hormone levels do not seem to matter at all regarding risky sexual behavior.
The study showed that both boys and girls who have had sex are three times more likely to be depressed than their friends who are still virgins. The girls who became sexually active were three times more likely to have attempted suicide as their virgin friends, while the sexually active boys were fully seven times more likely to have attempted suicide.
The book poses these 3 questions and gives an answer.
Why are those who were not virgins when they married more likely to divorce than those who remained abstinent until marriage?
Why are sexually active adolescents more likely to be depressed than their abstaining peers?
Why to married couples report higher levels of sexual satisfaction than unmarried individuals with multiple sexual partners
The answers, of course, lie in the fact that human beings are creatures who are much more than physical bodies….Our decision-making ability, coming from the highest centers of the brain, can guide an individual to the most rewarding sexual behavior—unless bad programming from premature and unwise sexual behavior during the adolescent years has occurred, causing the brain formation for healthy decision making to be damaged.
The book describes the working of the brain. It points out that the brain can change.
Synapses either are sustained or they are allowed to deteriorate based on behavior and experience.
The book describes different chemicals released in the brain, one of them being dopamine.
It is dopamine that gives us a charge of excitement and rewards us for having the courage to take an action with an uncertain outcome. (Think of any time you tried something new and pulled it off)….it is an involuntary response that cannot tell right from wrong, or beneficial from harmful—it rewards all kinds of behavior without distinction….driving fast. The behavior is exciting; it triggers a values-neutral dopamine reward, and strengthens the synapses that lead to making habitually unsafe driving decisions.
However, sex is one of the strongest generators of the dopamine reward. For this reason, young people particularly are vulnerable to falling into a cycle of dopamine reward for unwise sexual behavior—they can get hooked on it. But the beneficial effect of dopamine for the married couple is that it “addicts” them to sex with each other.
The next chemical discussed is oxytocin in women. It gives us the reasons for oxytocin release: Meaningful or intimate touching with another individual, creating bonding and trust in the other person; sexual intercourse, creating more bonding and trust in the other person; onset of labor in a pregnant woman, oxytocin causes uterine contractions in association with other mechanisms, results in birth; nipple stimulation after delivery of an infant, helps produce the flow of milk from a mother’s breast during nursing.
The release of this chemical helps a woman bond with her child; and the man who will take care of them.
When two people touch each other in a warm, meaningful, and intimate way, oxytocin is released into the woman’s brain. The oxytocin then does two things: increases a woman’s desire for more touch and causes bonding of the woman to the man she has been spending time in physical contact with.
…behavioral experts have connected the dots and concluded that oxytocin is key to bonding a mother and child, few have appropriately emphasized the similar effect between a mother and father. Just as nature has provided a built-in defense mechanism to ensure that infants are not abandoned, it has also provided a mechanism that words to keep sexually active couples together as well.
Oxytocin, however, is values-neutral. Much like dopamine, it is an involuntary process that cannot distinguish between a one-night stand and a lifelong soul mate….She may know he is not the man she would want to marry but intimate sexual involvement causes her to be so attached to him she can’t make herself separate. This can lead to a woman being taken off-guard by a desire to stay with a man she would otherwise find undesirable and staying with him even if he is possessive or abusive.
Finally, an important finding of scientists about oxytocin is that it produces a felling of trust in a person with whom a female is in close contact.
Here is the standard warning we give all girls about the man or boy they are with: be careful when he says he loves you. (if he loved you he would keep his hands off of you).
There is a warning here for parents and young people, particularly young women. If a young woman becomes physically close to and hugs a man, it will trigger the bonding process, creating a greater desire to be near him and, most significantly, place greater trust in him. Then, if he wants to escalate the physical nature of the relationship, it will become harder and harder for her to say no. The adolescent girl who enters into a close physical relationship may therefore find herself, because of the normal effect of her brain hormones, desiring more physical contact and trusting a male who may be using manipulative pledges of love and care only to get her to have sex.
The common phrase is: it feels for right. And they are right the chemicals released in their brains are rewarding them for more and more intimate activity bonding them to each other. The problem is that this bonding is meant to be forever.
When a couple is involved in a short term relationship and they are breaking an oxytocin bond that has formed this severing of the bond explains the incredibly painful emotions people often feel when they break up.
Men also having a bonding chemical released called vasopressin. It is referred to as the “monogamy molecule”.
The neurochemical responsible for the male brain response and synaptic change is called vasopressin. It plays a role in many body functions…Vasopressin seems to have two primary functions related to relationships—bonding of the man to his mate and attachment to his offspring.
As with dopamine and oxytocin, vasopressin has powerful impact on human behavior. Yet most people are totally unaware of it. Men may question why they keep going back to a woman who treats them poorly or may wonder why they never seem able to feel, deep inside, a commitment to a woman after having sex partner after sex partner. Sadly, they simply do not know that their brains are flooded with vasopressin during sexual intercourse and that this neurochemical produces a partial bond with very woman they have sex with. They do not realize that this pattern of having sex with one woman and then breaking up and then having sex with another woman limits them to experience only one for of brain activity common to humans involved sexually—the dopamine rush of sex. They risk damaging a vital, innate ability to develop the long-term emotional attachment that results from sex with the same person over and over.
The conclusion of this understanding of neurochemicals and sex is:
Taken as a whole, these complicated processes offer a compelling pattern. They are designed to lead toward and strengthen long-term monogamous relationships, supporting and reinforcing the family structure that is so vital to our survival.
The authors also look at the development of the brain.
For example, one fascinating finding reports that the brain center for “lust” is different than the brain center for “love”. Knowledge of this phenomenon is made possible by PET scans and other new techniques.
They talk about the failures of most teenage love affairs to be long term.
But for the vast majority, these relationships begun while the couple is young and unmarried are short lived….These breakups are due to any number of reasons,…But in spite of the brevity of these sexual encounters, research indicates that bonding does occur, even when a couple has only engaged in sex a single time.
Further, there is evidence that when this sex/bonding/breaking-up cycle is repeated a few or many times—even when the bonding was short-lived–damage is done to the important, built-in ability to develop significant and meaningful connection to other human beings.
Several stages or forks in the road of sexuality.
Infatuation or nascent love: this is the emergence of interest in the opposite sex during adolescence. An adolescent may have very emotional and strongly felt “love” for one individual and a few months later, a similar strong feeling for another person.
Short-term sexual relationships: these are sexual relationships that have very little connectedness and, according to extensive research, the least satisfying sex. The normal connecting and bonding seems to become damaged by such relationships, often leading to a pattern of serial sex that can last for years.
Long-term monogamy outside of marriage: a sexual relationship that usually results in weaker connectedness, less permanent relationships, sex with somewhat less satisfaction and bonding.
Love: this is the real thing and causes a couple to view each other as potential lifelong mates (or at least long-term mates). This emotion often occurs in young adulthood after the cognitive development of adolescence is largely completed. Though this relationship may not invariable lead to marriage, it often does.
Marriage: this is the sexual relationship in which connectedness is found to be the most long-lasting and strong and the relationship associated with sex in which the greatest satisfaction, bonding, and healthy sexual addiction is found.
Another concluding statement:
Sex practiced inappropriately can both control and damage the relationship. As one writer puts it, a nonmarital “relationship is only as old as it is nonsexual. The relationship stops growing once it becomes sexual, because the erotic aspect will become the primary focus of the (couple’s) time together.” Not only is such a relationship damaged, but the two people involved can also be.
On the other hand, in a relationship of true love and long-term commitment, sex takes its appropriate place—not at the center of the relationship, but as one of the natural outcomes of the healthy connectedness of two people. Sex will then be a catalyst to the full, healthy, long-term committed relationship it strengthens.
The next chapter is entitled “Baggage Claim”.
As we have seen, sex is far more complicated than just a momentary physical act of pleasure—engaging is sex almost always carries long-term psychological consequences, either life-enhancing or life-limiting.
Statistics, research, and casual observation tell us that many people are responding to these natural urges outside of the context of marriage or monogamous relationships. Forty six percent of all high school students have had sexual intercourse. Approximately 75 percent of graduating high school students have had sex.
The college scene is summed up by these words: Almost none of these students are seriously committed to their partners for the long term.
They take the time to go over the emotional problems associated with teen sex as well as teen age pregnancies. They cover the emotional damage associated with involuntary sex and rape. They talk of another neurochemical BDNF that is released in the brain during traumatic experiences causing social withdrawal and depression.
Discussing BDNF brings up a more subtle question about a less traumatic experience than rape. Will a woman or man who is involved in sex with someone they feel is just using them as a sex object, or having repeated broken sexual relationships, continue to bond with and trust their sexual partners? Probably not. And this crushing of these inborn healthy responses to sex can be one of the saddest outcomes of such sexual experiences for damaging an individual’s future enjoyment of sex and bonding with a partner who loves and cherishes them.
They go out of their way to share the evidence that suggests that living together is not the same as being married.
While it is possible that a couple having sex before marriage will one day make a lifelong commitment, it is statistically more likely they won’t. In fact, as we have seen, the likeliest outcome of premarital sex is simply more premarital sex.
…it means risking much more than a sexually transmitted disease or pregnancy. We now know that there is a further risk–the danger of molding your mind in a way that makes it more difficult in the future to experience the joys of a bonded, loving relationship.
Research suggests that essentially every romantic physical contact between two people results in some degree of bonding. However, such bonding requires reinforcement. We know from studies that cohabiting couples spend less time together than married couples do….If couples are spending less time together they clearly have less time to hold hands, to hug, to touch, to stimulate the bonding chemicals in the brain to flow…The finding that cohabiting couples often spend less time together may therefore explain why studies show that in general they enjoy sex less than married people
Additionally, cohabitation is defined by a lack of commitment and a lack of sexual exclusivity.
Numerous studies show that when people have had sex before marriage, they are more likely to divorce when they do marry later on. Divorce, however, is not the sole measure of the health of one’s attachment or connecting ability. Perhaps as important is the finding that individuals who have had sex before marriage are less likely to experience martial happiness. They are more likely to have difficulty adjusting to marriage and less likely to experience happiness, satisfaction, and love.
When individuals become involved in sex in ways that are casual, careless, or noncommitted, they are, consciously or unconsciously, attempting to separate sex from the rest of their personhood.
It may be that the biggest damage done by society’s view of sex is the attempt to separate the sex act from the rest of what we are….It has hurt us in one of the most fundamental aspects of our beings, our need for connectedness with another.
Short-term sexual relationships may result in the brain’s response with oxytocin and vasopressin, but they are more of a “quick fix” that do not qualify as the kind of long term connecting the human needs for wholeness.
Final glimpses of hope for all of us who have failed.
However, the human spirit is strong, and no one should feel he or she cannot change or find a way out of the cycle. There are ways. It may be a spiritual rebirth. It may be a firm decision and a strong will. It may be counseling.
We have emphasized that the behavior and experience of today can cause our brains to gel in such a way that good or bad habits develop and that our brains make us continue either good or bad behavior as a matter of course because that is “who we have become.”
It appears that the most up-to-date research suggests that most humans are “designed” to be sexually monogamous with one mate for life. This information also shows that the further individuals deviate from this behavior, the more problems they encounter, be they STDs, nonmarital pregnancy, or emotional problems, including damaged ability to develop healthy connectedness with others, including future spouses.
I will try and comment on this later, but wanted to put it out there. Once again I really recommend getting the book: "Hooked" by Joe McIlhaney, Jr., MD and Freda McKissic Bush, MD