How to have casual sex without getting emotionally attached, according to science
Ever hook up with someone whose personality you can’t stand just so that you won’t end up falling for them? Ever end up falling for them after a night of casual sex anyway? We feel you. That post coital afterglow is often followed by days of checking your phone to see if you got a follow-up text. But don’t worry it’s not romantic attachment, it’s just the chemicals. The same chemicals responsible for convincing you that you have feelings that defy all logic. Or so the scientists observing the mating rituals of prairie voles at Emory University would have you believe.
But what do a couple of lab lovesick rats have to do with you losing sleep pining over a casual hook-up? It turns out voles are part of the 3% of mammals that are monogamous, your ex along with the majority of the animal kingdom don’t make the cut. Prairie voles specifically will choose to spend all their time with their significant other after mating, exclusively grooming and nesting with one another. The love potion? Oxytocin —the same hormone released during labour, delivery, and breastfeeding in humans and that promotes mother-infant bonding— is released during sex in a female vole creating a lifelong bonding with her partner. A related hormone, vasopressin, causes the male prairie vole to cling to the female with whom he has just had sex, in love sickness and in health.
“There’s a cocktail of chemicals going on in the [female vole’s] brain, and one of them is oxytocin,” Young explains to Broadly. “It makes the brain absorb the social cues of the sexual partner—things like their face, their smell, how they sound.” This massive dump of dopamine can heighten your sense of pleasure and the cocktail of the chemicals forms attachment. “It’s where the bonding comes from,” explains Young. “It takes place in the part of your brain that’s involved with addiction, as well.”
For better or for worse, we humans aren’t so different from the prairie vole. The human brain, too, contains both oxytocin and vasopressin receptors. And like the rodents, when stimulated, our body releases massive amounts of oxytocin. According to Dr. Young, breast and cervical stimulation release large amounts of oxytocin which is compounded post-orgasm. But the difference between us and prairie voles is that we don’t have to become slaves to the chemicals.
How to kick your post-sex attachment:
Dr. Young’s self-preservation programme consists of avoiding eye contact. “When you’re having sex with someone,” Young explains, “you’re making an intimate connection with their face and eyes particularly. This is going into your brain, and it’s inherently rewarding. Love and attachment are very much like addiction. They have a lot of the same chemicals. So if you can divert that information from coming in by not having that eye contact, that will help.” Who are we to argue with the Professor of Psychiatry at Emory, no eye contact it is.
But while you’re trying to manipulate the chemicals, other chemicals could manipulate you. Apparently, having sex on drugs could help in avoiding an emotional bond. “Cocaine and methamphetamine increase dopamine secretion, and dopamine is what is involved in creating pair bonds in the first place. If you exogenously increase this dopamine prior to an intimate moment, then it won’t have the same impact later,” Young explains. “The specialness of the sex, and the differential caused by the dopamine release won’t be so high.” That is to say that you’ll associate the immediate rush of oxytocin with the substance instead of your partner. This isn’t a green light to drugs, it’s only science.
And while science is out there justifying Charlie Sheen’s Friday night, it’s also explaining why you sent that drunk “You up?” text. Sadly, alcohol has varying effects on female and male voles which may seem relatable to any human nightclub setting. “Normally, if the male vole mated with a female, the next day when we put him in a three-chambered cage containing three female voles, he’ll opt to sit with the vole he previously mated with.” However if the male vole was drunk at the time of mating he would opt to be with the new females. Typical. Unfortunately for females, alcohol increases the likelihood that they will bond prematurely. So maybe avoid that tequila shot before a casual hook-up.
You could also adopt the age-old trick of picturing someone else. Hrithik Roshan or Brad Pitt have seemed to work for many a female in the past, but really, it’s whatever floats your boat. “You’re forcing your brain to associate the pleasure you’re feeling with someone else,” Young explains. “It could be a movie star or someone you’re never going to really see. By doing that, you divert the brain’s attention onto someone that’s not there.”
Broadly also suggests avoiding anything in the nipple region. Yes, we know that’s part of the fun. But Young makes a compelling point, “Humans are the only species where men have adopted the strategy of breast stimulation during sex to stimulate oxytocin release. The breast has become a point of sexual attraction and foreplay. It’s a way to activate the oxytocin system, coaxing the female’s brain to become attached to the sexual partner.”
If you’ve tried all this and he’s still, in the words of Drake, “in my feelings”, then you could take a step back and simply observe the situation. If there is no promise of furthering the relationship, you may want to put an end to it as continuing will only intensify the feelings. Or you could monopolise on your feeling and release a double platinum album. Either way, hang in there, you’ll find your prairie vole eventually.