Mindfulness, Sex and Self-Restraint

(re-blog from Oct 29, 2010)


Portland’s a pretty liberal town on the whole, and the dating scene reflects it. What’s the average number of dates before a couple gets into bed? Probably about 4.

Even as people are “chill” about sex, they seem to suffer a great deal from relationships that don’t work out, or which work out badly. People flirt, date, have sex, and THEN get to know the person they’ve slept with. Then they scratch their heads wondering why their relationship life is so troubled.

As much as we may want to think that sex and love are separate, biologically speaking, they aren’t. Nature has seen to it that bonding and attachment hormones flow when we have sex. Why would it be otherwise? And why would we want to become bonded and attached to someone whom we barely know?

Practicing mindfulness sometimes can mean self-restraint in the interest of our emotional health. Countless individuals have suffered unnecessarily simply because they jumped into bed too soon with a prospective partner, often leading to a premature relationship with someone inappropriate. There’s an opportunity cost–all the other people out there who could have been a much better fit. Of course at some point one takes the plunge, but too many people coming to therapy have the habit of having sex much too soon. When you’re very attracted to someone, it’s hard to delay gratification. But what if doing so would be the key to a happier relationship life? Wouldn’t that be worth it?

You don’t have to be a social conservative to buy this argument. It’s just practical reasoning. If you want to have satisfying relationships, look carefully at what happens when you date, and what results in happiness versus unhappiness for both parties. While it’s not the case that sex early in dating always ruins things (as perhaps some conservatives might claim), it does appear to be the case that deferring sex until one really knows something about the other person has a positive impact on one’s dating life.

Much has been written on this topic, for example this column by psychologist and sex therapist Aline P. Zoldbrod, Ph.D. If commentators keep sending the message that sex early in relationships on average does not work well, why do we keep doing things that way?

Here are a few myths that keep folks jumping into the sack with strangers:

1. You can keep sex separate from attachment.

2. You need to sleep with someone to get to know them.

3. Holding off on sex will frustrate others so much they’ll dump you and move on.

4. Holding off on sex makes you a prude.

5. Holding off on sex makes you a conservative.

6. It’s too hard and not worth the feelings of tension and impatience to wait.

7. If you have sex with a lot of people you’ll be “more of a Man/Woman”

8. Masturbation is sinful, shameful, or otherwise unacceptable as a means of satisfaction.

9. Holding off on sex makes you a tease.

10. Having sex with someone new will improve your self-esteem.



Filed under Dating and Sex

2 responses to “Mindfulness, Sex and Self-Restraint

  1. Anonymous

    People don’t know or understand how to have a relationship.
    It’s something you’re just supposed to “get” but no one does.
    There is no way of knowing if you’re even in a relationship, let alone whether it’s working or not. There is no set definition, nothing is taught, and there’s no school to learn.
    I visited a therapist for over a year, who did nothing except to keep telling me to just get out there. A year later and I still had no friends. I don’t want to do better in relationships, I want to know how to do them at all.
    People have sex because it’s the only quantifiable way for two people to know that anything is actually happening.

    • I really like this comment and I’m sad it took me 2.5 years to get to it!! I hope things have gone well for you in the interim. The blog has moved to portlandmindful – dot – com, so I’ve not been monitoring this old blog… catching up on responding to comments! 🙂 By way of encouragement, I think slowly, very slowly, we are as a civilization getting a better ‘grip’ on our sexuality and its role, and how to feel “something has happened” without necessarily having had sex… that said, we remain very concrete thinkers. Here’s hoping for a more evolved Human species!

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