Does Sex Bond You to Your Partner? Not Necessarily!

by | Dec 2, 2022 | Sexual Intimacy | 22 comments

Does Sex Bond You
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Were you ever told as a teen that if you have sex with someone, you will bond with them? 

That if you have sex you will feel so bonded that it will be hard to ever bond with anyone else again? And that when we have sex, we release the bonding hormone oxytocin? 

What if it’s not that simple?

I just want to write a super quick post today, because I took a quick trip up to see my youngest daughter Katie, and we’re enjoying a few days of board games and corny Netflix movies. (I recently bought Ark Nova, an awesome board game about building a zoo. Keith and I have been playing it a bit, and then I played it with Rebecca and Connor this week, and then Katie and I went on a binge!). 

And so I’d like to address something I shared on Facebook this week:

 

Ever been told about the “bonding hormone” that you release during sex so that you feel close your partner? Or been taught that sex helps you sleep? And protects against mental health issues, and even cancer

Well, it’s not intercourse that releases that hormone or makes you sleepy or makes you healthier. It’s ORGASM.

When women don’t reach orgasm, we really don’t get all these benefits.

It’s not SEX that helps. It’s mutual, intimate, pleasurable sex.

Let’s get this right.

Sheila Wray Gregoire

on Facebook

It’s orgasm that releases oxytocin, not the act of intercourse itself. 

Yes, when we touch we also release oxytocin, and so there will be some oxytocin when you’re close to someone you have positive feelings for. But the rush of oxytocin is at orgasm. 

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That doesn’t mean that orgasm WILL cause you to bond.

We can have arousal non-concordance, where we physically enjoy sex but we’re upset or feel distant at the person we’re having intercourse with (or worse, if intercourse is being coerced).

And when you do have orgasms with someone that is treating you badly, it often creates almost a hardened attitude towards them, because something which is supposed to feel intimate does not. So bonding is not guaranteed at all.

This is another one of the problems we get into when we equate intercourse with sex.

As we found in our survey for The Great Sex Rescue, we have a huge orgasm gap in the evangelical church between men and women. About 95% of men almost always/always reach orgasm during a sexual encounter (his orgasm often signals the end of that encounter), while only about 48% of women do.

When men, who always orgasm, talk about having sex, orgasm is part of it for them and it’s assumed. And many men don’t think of women’s experiences. 

So often this admonition has been given to teen girls: Having sex will bond you. But many girls have the opposite experience. They have intercourse and it’s bewildering. It’s over quickly; he seems to feel amazing; she feels violated and exposed. It can leave her feeling awkward around him, while simultaneously trying to convince herself that they’re actually really close. It can be so confusing for a teen girl.

Even if sex did physically feel good, it doesn’t necessarily feel bonding if it also feels awkward and strange and not supposed to happen.

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Yes, oxytocin is real. But the relationship isn’t as straightforward as we make it sound.

And we need to stop talking about the benefits of SEX, and start talking instead about the benefits of mutual, intimate, orgasmic sex in a healthy relationship. The latter certainly has benefits. But intercourse alone does not, especially for women who don’t feel any pleasure, and even more so for women who feel awkward, pressured, or coerced.

I wish our language could change around this, because the more we talk about how sex is a gift from God, and sex has all these benefits, and sex helps you bond–when we have a huge orgasm gap–the more we make women feel that their experience must be strange.

It’s orgasm in a healthy relationship that matters. Let’s stop assuming that’s happening everytime a couple has sex. It may feel that way for the guy, but it definitely doesn’t feel that way for most women.

And it’s time we started to talk about what actually is healthy and good, without assuming that’s synonymous with intercourse.

Oxytocin from Orgasm Bonds to Spouse

What do you think? Have you been told that sex makes you bond? What’s your take on that? Let’s talk in the comments!

Sheila Wray Gregoire

Author at Bare Marriage

Sheila is determined to help Christians find biblical, healthy, evidence-based help for their marriages. And in doing so, she's turning the evangelical world on its head, challenging many of the toxic teachings, especially in her newest book The Great Sex Rescue. She’s an award-winning author of 8 books and a sought-after speaker. With her humorous, no-nonsense approach, Sheila works with her husband Keith and daughter Rebecca to create podcasts and courses to help couples find true intimacy. Plus she knits. All the time. ENTJ, straight 8

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22 Comments

  1. Angharad

    This reminds me of the ‘soul ties’ garbage that was doing the rounds when I was in my teens and 20s. Basically, if you even kiss a guy, never mind have sex with him, he has a little piece of your soul. I have a friend in her 40s who is still convinced that she isn’t ‘wholly’ her husband’s (which is ‘her fault’), because she kissed other boyfriends before she married him… So she’s married, with a houseful of kids, and she’s still convinced a bit of her ‘belongs’ to some guy she kissed once when she was 15 and hasn’t seen since…Beyond weird.

    A) Can I have a Bible chapter and verse for this? No? I thought not! So why are we teaching it like it’s Scripture?!!! B) How come the guys don’t lose a piece of their soul to the girl? Because I have NEVER heard of a guy who went into marriage without his whole soul because he’d kissed other girls. It’s ALWAYS the women who have these ‘soul ties’. Double standards or what?!

    Reply
    • Cara

      This actually makes me sad as I struggle to reach orgasm. It can be really difficult, even if I am enjoying the encounter. 😔

      Reply
    • Tim

      I remember as a teen being shown an illustration of two pieces of paper glued together that you can’t then separate without damaging both. Used as an illustration of promiscuity. The point was to encourage a bunch of single young adults to wait until marriage for sex. Well intentioned, but arguably a bit of a scare tactic even in that context (though I didn’t see it that way at the time)

      Never occurred to me that people who didn’t wait would then carry that idea into their adult lives though. Your friend’s story is so sad!

      Reply
      • Sheila Wray Gregoire

        That was an exercise I was supposed to do with Rebecca when I told her about sex (I used FamilyLife’s Passport to Purity). Needless to say, I read about the exercise and didn’t do it!

        Reply
  2. April

    I agree with your post Sheila. I was taught at a young age that having sex itself was going to bond you. But it never made sense to me. And the church teaches that as well. They do not speak of intimate and pleasurable sex that is mutual and in a healthy relationship. I’m glad your speaking up on all this. Thanks for your hard work. It has open doors for my relationship with my boyfriend as we continue to dive into this series and learn.

    Reply
  3. Laura

    It was not until I was in my 30’s that I first heard about “soul ties” and “soul ties” was not limited to sex. Soul ties could also relate to emotional attachments to anyone and did not have to be only a romantic partner or object of affection. Soul ties could be bonds with family members and friends as well. I learned this concept when I started attending healing of the heart classes (deliverance ministry) through my church. Then I would think that the reason I had difficulty in finding the right man was due to a previous marriage, crushes on guys that never went anywhere, and other unhealthy relationships that were nonromantic. Through this ministry, I was told that having emotional attachments to someone you were not married to or unhealthy emotional attachments to family members, friends, and romantic partners hindered spiritual growth and made it difficult to be in a healthy relationship. I went to a week-long healing counseling session out-of-state to get free from my junk. At that time, I thought it was an awesome thing and I learned some wonderful stuff, but as I look back on this, I think it sounds weird to renounce “soul ties” to people when there really is nothing in the Bible that talks about this.

    Now that I’m in my mid-40’s with a broken engagement and an almost relationship with a narcissist under my belt, I don’t think I really formed “soul ties” with them and I never had sex with them.

    This idea of “soul ties” really puts pressure on me to feel that I have to perform for God and if I’ve experienced unhealthy attachments to people, then it feels like I failed and must repent. I can only repent for my wrongdoings, not for what others have done to me.

    I cannot say whether sex bonded me with my ex-husband. What I do remember feeling was that when we started having sex after getting engaged, I felt like I was obligated to go through with the wedding. We had a wedding date set before we started having sex. So, in my experience, bonding could equal obligation-obligation to marry him because we supposedly “bonded” through one-sided, non-orgasmic sex on my part. I was so young back then and didn’t even know what an orgasm was.

    Reply
  4. Jen

    Yep, I was told that you give a piece of your heart to whoever you have sex with, and that you’d never be able to give your whole heart to your husband if you’d already given pieces of it to someone else.

    I’ve had bonding, good sex with my husband and I’ve had sex where I hated him afterwards. That was the coercive stuff. I did it because I felt I had to. You know how people say you have to say three positive things to a person to “make up” for saying one negative thing? I wonder how much positive sex you have to have to outweigh the negative, especially if you’ve experienced a lot of negative with the same person you’ve had some positive with.

    Reply
    • Lisa

      That is a very interesting question.

      Reply
  5. Phil

    Just ordered that Game Sheila. I decided before your latest podcast to let my wife lead or sex life next year. I havent told her nor do I intend to. In addition, I took an old idea you had for date night and modified it. I came up with a list for the next 12 months for themes for dates that we should do 3-4 times per month. One of the months is game board month. The pandemic really screwed up a lot of things. One additional is Grace and I bascialy stopped dating each other. We are looking forward to it. Sex makes you bond? Yes and while I agree with the orgasm bonding I think its the entire act INCLUDING the connection of emotional and spiritual. Have a great weekend.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Oh, I hope you love the game, Phil! Keith and I do a lot of board game nights together!

      Reply
  6. Jane Eyre

    I have thought this for a while (since, I dunno, the second month of marriage). There is no hormonal rush. Sleeping is a lot harder. It is alienating to watch someone use my body for pleasure I have never experienced.

    I wonder if people get all “tee hee” about sex and therefore do not bother to think through how intercourse manifests. Or they do not like using precise words and therefore use “sex” in imprecise ways, meaning “intercourse” sometimes and “orgasm” at other times. Sometimes I think that people who write and talk about sex should be banned from using the words “sex” or “intimacy.” Talk about intercourse, oral stimulation, orgasm, etc., but be clear with your language. (This does not apply to the Bare Marriage team, who do not equivocate when using the word “sex.”)

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Yes, I agree. That’s what we called for in The Great Sex Rescue, too. when it’s merely one-sided I think we should say “intercourse”, personally. I think we should save “sex” (or come up with a better word–making love?) for when it’s mutual and pleasurable for both.

      Reply
  7. Anonymous

    Several things should be happening before sex. Like lust, attraction, love, and bonding. Without these physical and mental things, sex isn’t going to bond anyone to another person. If i love someone i will overlook unsatisfying sex but no one is over looking bad sex if they can’t stand the person. You can’t fake love with sex. If there is no racing heart, dilated pupils, sweaty hands, fluttery heart, or excitement, sex isn’t going to fix this and force love, much to men who think their magic penis is the cure all. Otherwise, women would fall in love with their dildos.

    Ive heard the whole soul ties argument and theres no real science to back this up. If this is true, none of my exs would move on and most of them i don’t even think about myself so no bond stayed there.

    The Bible talks about sex outside of marriage breaking the marriage bond, that is the only sexual activity described in the Bible that hinders any marriage bond period. Therefore, soul ties makes no biblical sense.

    To get technical, several chemical reactions do fire off during sex like oxytocin but that same hormone happens while hugging or staring deeply into someone’s eyes. But I honestly don’t think every sexual encounter is firing off this chemical.

    Reply
  8. Codec

    Very interesting. I have heard a lot of talk about what is called “pair bonding” and I would love to learn more about what it actually does and how it actually works. There is a lot of crazy stuff out there on the internet when it comes to relationships, psychology, biology, sociology, and how men and women interact out there and if I can learn what really goes into healthy relationships I figure it would only do me good.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      That may be a good idea for a post! What are the actual hormonal and chemical effects of orgasm?

      Reply
  9. Cynthia

    Looking at this and some of the Facebook comments, maybe a more detailed dive into what oxytocin does and does not do might be a good idea?

    IME it does cause contractions, and you can get a feeling of sleepy contentment afterward. I get puzzled though, as someone who never experienced the Christian purity culture teachings, at the notion that it works like some sort of magic love potion. Sure, I guess if I was already inclined to love someone it would help to also have a good feeling at the same time, but I never bonded with a breast pump and I loved my kids even before nursing them for the first time.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Yes, I think that may be a good idea for a much longer post of the biochemistry of orgasm!

      Reply
  10. Estelle

    Is the term ‘soul ties’ not superspiritual christianese for normal emotional baggage from human interaction, especially human interaction deemed taboo, to make one feel guilty?

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I think so! I have a whole series on soul ties.

      Reply
  11. Jo R

    Let’s rephrase the question slightly:

    “Would a husband whose wife always stopped PIV before he orgasmed feel like sex is bonding?”

    The answer is obvious when we flip the script.

    Reply
    • Nathan

      Just tell that husband that God created women with a need that he simply doesn’t understand, then God created men to serve that need, so as long as the wife gets what she wants, he’s not allowed to complain or even consider his own happiness.

      Reply
      • Jo R

        I have no doubt he’ll find it a very bonding experience that makes him emotionally closer to his wife.

        Why would he find it annoying, frustrating, or minimizing to his personhood, especially when his wife REALLY enjoys it by orgasming virtually every time?

        Reply

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