As I had my morning coffee, the “Dear Abby” column caught my eye. A reader wrote in with a dating dilemma and ended her letter with that often-heard stereotype that “Women use sex to get love, and men use love to get sex.” This is a great summation of the “Sex Trap.”
The Sex Trap is similar to the Love Trap, where singles interpret good sex as love. But those who fall into the Sex Trap go even farther, because for these singles, having sex carries immense meaning and consequences.
Singles fall into the Sex Trap in one (or both) of two ways:
- They believe sex is a necessary test of compatibility, (if the sex is good then the relationship will be good as well)
- More commonly, all consciousness goes out the window, and one or both formerly level-headed singles consider themselves a committed couple as soon as they have sex.
So, rather than looking at whether this other person might be a match on levels other than physical attraction — such as long-term requirements, needs, and wants — they are blind-sided by the chemistry under the covers.
No doubt, it can be challenging to keep in touch with reality when all those hormones are running wild. Our body reacts to someone we are attracted to by producing hormones such as PEA or phenylethylamine (natural amphetamine), dopamine and norepinephrine (natural mood enhancers), and testosterone (increases sexual desire), which makes the opportunity to have sex with someone we are attracted to extremely hard to resist. Then, after orgasm, we produce oxytocin (which acts on the hypothalamus to produce emotions), which makes us feel very close to and bonded with our sex partner.
These chemical reactions are involuntary and strong, leading to powerful feelings of attraction, excitement, love, closeness, and well-being. But when problems arise, those who fall into the Sex Trap often rationalize by thinking, “Well, we’ve got problems, but the sex is great!” They most likely wouldn’t admit it, but they prioritize physical intimacy and regard the rest as optional. Their main scouting tools are sexual attraction and physical compatibility.
Barry North, an RCI coach who works primarily with gay men, says that many of his clients have fallen into the Sex Trap.
“For gay men especially in metropolitan areas, sex is readily available, and that in itself is a trap,” North says. “In addition, the culture, with its emphasis on physical appearance, encourages sexual activity. Many gay men want to find out from the beginning if a potential partner is going to be sexually compatible. Why waste your time if the sex isn’t going to be good?”
Nonetheless, North adds, “I suspect this is a ‘guy’ thing rather than a ‘gay’ thing.” I do want to point out that chemistry is important. Yet, chemistry is a given that we can’t control in a relationship; it is either there or not there, and it must be there for the partnership to work. If not there, we can’t “make” chemistry happen, though sometimes it can grow over time. Singles who pursue a relationship based upon sexual chemistry risk relationship failure when the hormone-induced intoxication wears off and reality hits.
To avoid the Sex Trap, you must balance your heart (and hormones) with your head. This means combining chemistry with common sense. While good sex is important for a sustainable relationship, you need to make your partner choices by paying full attention to your vision, values, goals and requirements — while feeling all those exciting sparks!