Chapter 27: A deliberate inaction is better than a blind action – Part 2

At the same time, sexual intimacy does a lot to bring two people closer, both physically and emotionally. Even the most straight-laced traditionalists will admit that intercourse can help strengthen or perfect the relationship. It functions as glue to keep together a couple while they collaborate in bringing up their offspring.[1] Then, a good shag can contribute to main­taining the cohesion within a couple in various ways, for example by preserving the necessity of romance, by easing the natural irritation of living in close quarters with another person, or by fostering familiarity, receptiveness, and forgiveness.[2] Thanks to sex, fond­lers (who do not necessarily have to be parents) feel more connected to each other, be it through the amo­­rous exchange of compliments during foreplay, the time spent both bodies entangled in one another or the post-coital pillow talk.[3] Moreover, as soon as true love is involved, phy­sical contact facilitates the expression of that love, which thereby acquires depth and intensity. Even if the sexual act does not ultimately lead to a partnership in the long term, both actors know one another better than the rest of the world ever will. These argu­ments may also explain why some people claim that sex is better with someone we love. In their opinion, the most gratifying sex is the product of the “kind of mind-body con­nection that comes from good communication, lower inhibitions, and less pressure to be perfect”.[4]

As elucidated in other chapters, this emotional interconnectedness results from the release of hormones (specifically, oxytocin) during sex, which trigger feelings such as affection, trust, bonding desires, romantic attachment, etc. In other words, human biology rewards us for our effort to seek arousal and intimacy with a healthy dose of well-being.[5] These brain chemi­cals are responsible for the good mood that people experience during and after congress. This property turns sexual activity into a superb stress reliever and a highly effective agent for falling asleep or for relaxation in general. According to one source, sex is about ten times more efficacious a tranquilliser than Valium![6] Although the oxytocin produced in the course of orgasm accounts for most of the anxiety-reducing and content­ment-elevating effects, climaxing is not necessarily a prerequisite for these to kick in, at least not for women. That should be good news for them since reaching an orgasm through intercourse is usually much more difficult than for a man. Rather, studies show that semen itself con­tains a number of hormones and other compounds (e.g., testosterone, estro­gen, prolactin, dopa­mine, norepinephrine, vasopressin, prostaglandins) that have poten­tial mood-altering cha­rac­teristics. After entering a woman’s bloodstream through the vaginal walls, these chemi­cals can then unfold their curing functions, ranging from stress relief, through the reinforce­ment of happiness and the improvement of energy, focus and motivation down to the crea­tion of feelings of deep attachment.[7],[8]

Regrettably, sex does not only have benefits. Given the natural character of this activity, it is difficult to speak of it in terms of costs. Other than physical energy and the money paid for protection, lovers do not really have to “spend” anything when enjoying their time together this way. That being said, there are downsides to intercourse, which should rather be regar­ded as risks rather than as costs. First and foremost, a woman always faces the possibility of getting pregnant. If she does not want the baby, she has to find a way to free herself from the burden. Many solutions to this “problem” can have profound consequences on both her physical and emotional well-being as well as on other aspects of her existence (including her repu­tation, career, lifestyle, etc.). Then, by sleeping with someone, we expose ourselves to the other’s illnesses, in particular, his or her sexually transmitted diseases (HIV, genital her­pes, gonorrhoea, syphilis, human papillomavirus / HPV, among countless others). Bar­rier devices such as condoms, dental dams, or gloves can significantly reduce the risk of infection. Nevertheless, one should be aware that no protective device or technique is ever entirely safe and that some peril always remains. From there on, it is merely a mathematical truth that the more sexual partners a person has, the higher the probability of contracting an STD.

 


Notes

[1]    Diamond (1998), p. 69

[2]    Kearns (2008), p. 223

[3]    Vartan (2012)

[4]    Hatfield (2014)

[5]    See chapters 28 “Pluck flowers as they bloom; wait and you’ll have only the twigs”, 30 “You can’t help shoots grow by pulling them up higher”, and 32 “Hearing something one hundred times is not as good as seeing it once”.

[6]    Pease / Pease (2009), p. 250

[7]    Meston / Buss (2009), pp. 252-253

[8]    Fisher (2010), pp. 219-220

Chapter 24: You can’t catch a cub without entering the tiger’s den

Nothing venture, nothing have

不入虎穴焉得虎子
bù rù hǔ xué yān dé hǔ zǐ

The previous section introduced the importance of smiles and eye contact in the flirting pro­cess.[1] At this, it only covers the very first visual touch between two people, one showing interest in the other and waiting for a positive response. What the chapter does not mention, however, is what should happen once a mutual personal appeal has been effectively confir­med. Of course, the two actors could continue to smile and wink back at each other, but such superficial exchange might not be enough to substantially develop the relationship. Dee­per interaction becomes necessary at this stage, which is where things become com­plicated for many men and women. Indeed, people tend to be intimidated by the idea of moving onto the next steps once the initial contact has been established. “What shall I say?”, “What opening line does not sound too cheesy?”, “How is he going to react if I invite her to a coffee?”, “Is it all right if I rub my arm against his now?”, etc. are the types of ques­tions that may cross the mind of someone facing the situation of how to prepare for the next step. Such moves can be daunting as they do not always turn out well. Every first chance could also be the last one.

At the same time, the unpredictability of the results can be extremely exciting and stimu­lating. The fizzy anticipation of the other party’s reaction, the hope, the butterflies, the unknown, etc., all of these factors contribute to making coquetry a thrilling, sometimes addic­­tive, pursuit (one, by the way, that many couples miss once they are happily settled). In this regard, the proverb presented here invites people to take risks when attempting to get closer to a man or women they are drawn to. “Nothing ventured, noth­ing gained”[2] is the credo. Uncertain as the outcome may be, there is no way you can succeed and “get” the girl (or the guy) if you are afraid of making decisions.

In spite of all motivation and encouragements, procrastination in the course of approaching a romantic interest is both normal and understandable. The stakes are high (happiness vs. sadness, triumph vs. failure, pride vs. humiliation), and many people remain wary of this undertaking, which requires them to put their mood, reputation, or dignity on the line. Who has never been snubbed by a friend, classmate or colleague we had a crush on? This kind of experience hurts and can have traumatic consequences, preventing the victim from repeating the venture too soon. After suffering a blow, men and women need time to digest the defeat, recover their self-esteem and feel good about him or herself again. Once they feel secure about their own attractiveness to others, they are ready to take action again.

Biology itself offers explanations for dating nervousness and the embarrassing flirting bloo­pers that accompany such discomposure. Similar to what was mentioned in the section des­cri­bing the consequences of infatuation[3], the human brain is exposed (respectively pro­duces) all kinds of chemicals when we are in the presence of someone we like or find appealing. The effect is surprisingly analogous to what happens when we are high on drugs. The cocktail made of neurochemicals like serotonin, dopamine, epinephrine (adrenalin), etc. then launches a head trip that can ultimately lead to the impediment of our judgement or ability to make rational decisions.[4] Moreover, a Dutch study revealed that the mere infor­mation that a female would observe him while he carries out a relatively simple task was enough to affect a man’s performance negatively, leaving his cognitive functioning impai­red.[5] Inversely, a 1974 experiment established a connection between anxiety and sexual attrac­tion, showing that men were inclined to undergo higher levels of sexual stimu­lation when exposed to fear-arousing situations.[6]

 


Notes

[1]See chapter 23 “A smile will gain you ten more years of life”.

[2] The originator of the Chinese saying presented in this chapter is known to be bān Chāo, a general, explorer and diplomat of the Eastern Han dynasty (25-220 AD). His words are quoted in the Book of the Later Han, Biographies of Ban, Liang (Volume 47, 后汉书 班梁列传hòu hàn shū, bān liáng liè zhuàn). The proverb is prominently featured in chapter 117 of Romance of the Three Kingdoms, (三国演义, sān guó yǎn yì), one of the Four Great Classical Novels of Chinese literature (see also chapter 1 “Men are like mud, women are like water”). Attributed to early Ming dynasty writer Luó Guànzhōng (罗贯中), the story belongs to the most widely read historical novels in late imperial and modern China, remaining a beloved work of literature across East Asia.

[3]    See chapter 11 “A lover’s eye only sees his love’s beauty”.

[4]    See chapter 11 “A lover’s eye only sees his love’s beauty”.

[5]    Karremans / Verwijmeren / Pronk / Reitsma (2009)

[6]    Dutton / Aron (1974)