Like many Millennials around the world, I learned a significant amount of information about sex from health and fitness instructors while I was in high school (sex education was actually required in my school district). My mother was grateful that the school system made an effort to teach me and my classmates about safe sex practices and sexually transmitted diseases. I spent most of my sex ed classes reading about the long-term consequences of unintended pregnancies and staring at photos of disease-stricken genitalia.
At best, I learned how to apply a condom to a penis. At worst, I learned that all of my school administrators thought that their students were having reckless sex behind closed doors. At 17, I remember leaving one of those early morning classes feeling like I was the only virgin left in town, and that I needed to hurry to catch up to my more-experienced peers.
What I do not remember discussing during those painfully awkward sex education classes was the subject of love. So much of the lesson was based on the assumption (no, the expectation!) that all of the students were going to engage in careless, casual sex sooner or later. Sure, my teachers covered basic bodily functions and taught us about the insemination process, but none of the adults discussed the importance of being emotionally connected to a partner before deciding to have sex.
At no point did any of the instructors discuss the fact that humans are wired for long-lasting love, not just casual sex. In fact, we have evolved three distinctly different brain systems specifically for love. Helen Fisher is a Rutgers University biological anthropologist and the chief scientific advisor to Chemistry.com who says that casual sex cannot exist because of our brain functionality. She states:
What happens in the brain is, a tiny little factory near the base of the brain called the ventral tegmental area become active, and in some particular cells, called the A10 cells, they begin to make dopamine. Dopamine is a natural stimulant. And from the ventral tegmental area it’s sent too many brain regions, particularly the reward system; the brain system for wanting, for craving, for seeking, for addiction, for motivation and in this case, the motivation to win life’s greatest prize, which is a good mating partner.
Any kind of sexual stimulation of the genitals triggers the dopamine system in the brain and can push you over that threshold into falling in love with that person. And in fact, with orgasm, there’s a real flood of oxytocin and vasopressin, other chemicals in the brain associated with the feeling of deep attachment. So, casual sex is really never casual unless you’re so drunk you can’t remember it; something happens. …So, casual sex is just plain old not casual. Something can happen. You can either fall madly in love with this person, or you can begin a deep sense of attachment to them.
I had forgotten about my sexual education classes completely until my mother stopped by to give me a bag of condoms and flyers she collected at a health conference. There was a flyer in the bag that championed the benefits of pledging abstinence until marriage. If only I had stumbled upon a flyer like that 15 years sooner, when I was in middle school. I’m sharing notes from the flyer:
Why We Are Waiting Until We Are Married to Have Sex…
What Does it Mean to Wait?
- Saying no to sex until you are married
- Refusing to participate in sex games in groups or at parties
- Staying away from oral sex or other kinds of sexual activity
Did You Know?
- Many teenagers like you are waiting until they are married to have sex
- Many women who had sex before they were married wish they had waited
- Every time you have sex you could get a sexually transmitted disease and get pregnant
But I Feel Like I Am Ready to Have Sex…
You might feel as if you are ready to have sex. But are you really sure? Consider all the things that could happen if you have sex before you are married:
- You will probably disappoint your parents
- You could get pregnant
- You could get a sexually transmitted infection
- You could get your feelings hurt
- You may have to put your life on hold
All great advice. Unfortunately, like many woman my own age, I learned about the value of waiting to have sex by having poor experiences and witnessing the heartache my friends faced from engaging in casual sex. Now as an adult, I know that casual sex is a terrible idea, especially for vulnerable young women. Why would a rational woman risk pregnancy, HIV, genital warts, loneliness or humiliation from a sex partner they barely know?
If I could talk to a young woman today, I would tout the benefits of abstaining from sex. Or at the very least, I would encourage a young woman to first acknowledge that humans are wired to get attached to their sexual partners and to recognize that casual sex is very risky behavior for women. I’d also tell them to wait to have sex until they feel certain that they know their spouse’s character, motivations, goals, trustworthiness and intentions. Forget about arbitrary third date rules; think instead about how well you know your partner’s character. Are they trustworthy and genuine? Obviously, you can’t figure out a person’s true character by just knowing them for a few dates, or a even a few months. Take your time dating them.
Additionally, it is also a great idea to know your partner’s health status (i.e., do they have Herpes, etc.?). No condom or birth control method offers 100% protection against STDs or pregnancy. Don’t risk your health for someone you barely know. Let’s not also forget that premarital sex takes away an incentive for men to get married or commit to you.
As a society, I think we have had enough of the misguided notion that casual sex is normal, healthy behavior. It is time for ladies to take the time to wait for love, not sex.