For all our warnings of teen pregnancy and STD’s, we often overlook that the risks of sexual contact for adolescents also include emotional trauma and long-term problems in future relationships. Such is the conclusion of a fantastic book I recently read. With clear and engaging prose, Dr. Joe S. MciIlhaney and Dr. Freda McKissic Bush report on years of neuroscience research on sexuality and the brain. The results of numerous studies are compiled inHooked: New Science on How Casual Sex is Affecting Our Children, a fascinating work that skillfully explains complex information in an easy-to-understand manner, never losing sight of the important real-world implications of its research.
The central premise is that, even if people take precautions to avoid sexually-transmitted diseases and unwanted pregnancies, there are still serious, often unconsidered consequences of casual sexuality. The authors explain that sex, through oxytocin and vasopressin hormones released in the brain, naturally creates strong emotional bonds between partners. These bonds facilitate lifelong pairing.
When a relationship dissolves (often because sex has created an illusion of actual intimacy which fades with time), the rupturing of these emotional bonds can cause intense depression, much more so than if sex were never part of the relationship. The more this cycle is repeated, with bonds made and broken time after time, the less the brain releases bonding hormones during sex (in order to reduce the emotional trauma of breaking up). In other words, the more sexual partners a person has, the less that person’s brain associates sex with commitment and emotional closeness. This can impede that person’s ability to bond with a long-term partner and stay faithful to him or her.
Hooked also explains the science behind sexual addiction and explains the potentially lifelong consequences of sexual involvement on the still-forming adolescent brain. It also explores how to reverse the processes by forming new psychological associations between sex and commitment. For those looking to have a frank talk with youth about sex, I recommend Hooked: New Science on How Casual Sex is Affecting Our Children, which you can buy here.
Jonathan Decker is the clinical director of Your Family Expert. He is a licensed marriage and family therapist, husband, and father of five. Jonathan earned a masters degree in family therapy from Auburn University as well as a bachelor’s degree in clinical psychology from Brigham Young University. He is an actor, author, and television personality.