Why Sex Causes Emotional Attachment

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couple intimate

What do sex and emotional attachment have to do with each other?

If you've ever felt loved-up after sex, you’re not alone. Sex can be both an expression of love and a way of creating love.

You might then wonder: Why does sex cause emotional attachment? The answer isn’t a simple, clear-cut one.

There are 3 possible connections between sex and emotional attachment.

1. Hormones

Often dubbed the "love or cuddle hormone," oxytocin is the hormone responsible for connection and bonding. It’s released through touch — both the non-sexual and sexual kinds.

And because of this, sex — even with a complete stranger — can lead to feelings of attachment and connection from the get-go.

However, for this to happen, the sex has to be satisfying. An unpleasant experience or sex that we haven’t consented to doesn’t equal attachment. And even if we did enjoy ourselves, oxytocin doesn’t automatically mean we bond and form an emotional attachment.

In my job as a sex therapist and sex coach, I’ve found that a lot of sexual and relationship phenomena are deeply rooted in psychology and culture. And these factors may play a bigger role when looking at the connection between sex and emotional attachment.

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2. Culture

Western culture has an immense focus on romantic relationships, especially the monogamous kind.

We talk about finding "the one," saving sex for marriage, and that sex is better when there’s an emotional attachment. Even when explaining sex to children, it’s referred to as an activity that’s part of a romantic relationship or marriage.

Put simply, our culture talks about sex as a part of love. Perhaps, this is one of the reasons sex can cause emotional attachment — we expect it to.

Feelings of pleasure and satisfaction after good sex might sometimes be mistaken for something deeper, possibly believed to be a sign of true connection and compatibility all around, instead of just sexual compatibility.

In turn, this might lead us to invest time in a newfound relationship, spurring us to get to know the other person and exploring opportunities to create a long-lasting bond.

3. Psychology

There are 237 reasons we have sex, according to a study from the University of Texas at Austin.

One of these is to express the love we feel for someone. Another is to get close to someone to form an emotional connection and experience closeness.

Sex offers a way to connect with another person and can help you feel that emotional intimacy (as well as enjoy sexual pleasure together).

So, not only does our culture kind of expect sex to lead to an attachment, but sex can also be used as a means of forming an emotional attachment.

But beyond the sexual act itself, there are other things we often do that can spur an emotional connection. Cuddling or laying close together after sex can lead to a more loving mood.

In some ways, this intimate embrace can feel even more vulnerable and attachment-building than the sex itself. There’s something special about just holding someone and being held, even if you don’t know them that well.

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Sex doesn't always cause emotional attachment.

It's important to remember that sex and love aren’t one and the same thing. The experience of sex can certainly be worthy of the expression "making love," but sex isn’t always about deep connection.

Sometimes, sex is more of a fun activity, a way of releasing stress, or satiating instant attraction or a strong sexual appetite. Enter, casual sex. Many people have sex that doesn’t lead to a lasting bond — or even a second sexual experience together. It's those one-night stands.

However, this doesn’t mean that casual sex is void of emotions. We experience many feelings during a hook-up.

We're all different! Sex can be the beginning of a deep-seated emotional connection and the reasons for this span culture, psychology, and biology.

If you've been taught that sex leads to attachment, you might be on the subconscious prowl for signs of it and put in the effort to turn sexual relationships into romantic ones.

Of the 237 reasons we have sex, one of these is to form an emotional bond and get close. Sex releases oxytocin, the "love hormone," which is responsible for bonding and can explain why we feel attached after sex.

The thing is, though, whether or not sex does lead to attachment, there's no right or wrong here. Our relationships with sex differ depending on who we are.

For some, sex leads to love. For others, it doesn’t, or only does on occasion and often just makes us feel good.

As with most sexual phenomena, feeling close after sex isn’t just a biological, evolutionary thing. It also depends on who you are, the sex you’re having, and what meaning you ascribe to sex.

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Leigh Norén is a sex therapist and writer with a Master of Science in Sexology. She's been featured in Thrive Global, The Good Men Project, Elephant Journal, The Tab, Glamour, The Mind's Journal, and more.

This article was originally published at Therapy by Leigh. Reprinted with permission from the author.