“Like many young women, I wanted more than anything to attract men. I tried to fill the space inside of me with flirtations and flings and, truth be told, <sex>. I felt sure that if I persuaded a man to love me, I would feel complete, worthy. Of course, like many young women do, I equated sex with love, yet the second I slept with someone, he inevitably lost interest. And like many young women, this never stopped failing to surprise me.”
Almost Somewhere: Twenty-Eight Days on the John Muir Trail by Suzanne Roberts
I’d heard this many times from women before I read it in this book; it’s apparently a common outcome. Out of curiosity, I Google’d “Man Leaves Relationship After First Sex,” and got 56 million returns. Seriously, 56 million. Some were clinical, some crude, but they mostly say the same thing: men tend to lose interest after the initial sexual encounter, when sex is outside a marriage commitment.
One male blogger writes: “As a man, I get asked a lot of questions by women regarding other men. An abnormal amount of these questions happen to come right after a woman sleeps with a man and his behavior has changed.” As in, he doesn’t return texts or calls, he has no interest in a continuing relationship. The woman is thinking that since they slept together, they just advanced the relationship to the next level, but the man is thinking… well, what is the man thinking?
With 56 million posts on the subject, it’s certainly not obvious to women what the man is thinking. Now, theology of the body has a clear answer. But I thought I’d check the secular explanations first… how do people without an adequate Christian anthropology explain this behavior?
The most common explanation is that men thrive on “the chase,” the way some animals will ferociously pursue moving prey but lose interest once it’s dead. The cat-n-mouse game.
But this reduces men to much less than they are. It’s not a full explanation.
“How come everything was going so well before we had sex and now when I want to be with him, he’s nowhere to be found?” women ask.
A man answers: “What she didn’t know is that in his moment of clarity (immediately following sex) he realized he, in fact, wasn’t that into her. (Sex) finally took out the cloudiness of his judgment and allowed him to see her for who she really is. Unfortunately, for whatever reason, he didn’t like what he saw and instead of just saying so, he decided to get ghost.”
One online “dating coach” recommends: “You want to find out if a man is serious about you? Wait to have sex with him. If you don’t – because you’re a liberated woman who can have sex whenever you damn well please – don’t be too surprised if a decent percentage of those men never call again.”
Ah ha. This guy has named the disease: it’s political. Many women now engage in sex as a political act, an assertion of their liberation. Even if they don’t particularly want to, and even if they’ve noticed that it’s not leading to happy relationships, they will continue to have uncommitted sex as an expression of their freedom and autonomy.
Uncovering this fact (backed up by testimony after testimony) so depressed me that I’ve found this post impossible to complete for the last month. I’m old enough to remember “women’s liberation”; the realization that women have thrown away our hard-won gains and natural gifts in order to live joyless, loveless, political lives of mutual use with men is terribly sad.
Here’s what it looks like:
“I told myself that I was a feminist, despite subjecting myself to unfulfilling, emotionally damaging sexual experiences. And I believed it, too. It wasn’t just the social pressure that drove me to buy into the commitment-free hookup lifestyle, but my own identity as a feminist. Feminists, I believed, not only wanted, but also thrived on emotionless, non-committal sexual engagements.”
After a thoroughly dispiriting review of the secular answers as to why so many men abandon a relationship after the first sexual encounter, I find this:
- In general, men are sexually attracted to women before knowing them as persons.
- Modern women engage in sex as an act of power, without knowing their partners as whole persons, resulting in mutual use.
- The sexual encounter unveils the mystery of the woman and gives the man a clearer view of her. Now he notices that there is not actually a strong personal connection between them.
- He leaves.
Here is the theology of the body overlay, which gives insight into precisely why this happens.
As St. John Paul writes, the opposite of love is use. “A person’s rightful due is to be treated as an object of love, not as an object for use.” And no one likes to be used. It’s an insult.
I have seen, over and over, situations in which a man is in a sexual relationship with one woman, breaks up with her and then rather quickly marries another woman not nearly as beautiful or sexy than the first. The first girlfriend can’t understand why this other, less sexy woman got a commitment out of him, when she couldn’t. That’s a key scene in the movie, “When Harry Met Sally.”
Men are looking for something, and when they find it, they grab it. It’s not recreational sex; it’s the acceptance and cherishing of their whole person. Contrary to popular belief, a man is more than his sexual organ. The ancient proverb 31 tells what men really want:
A wife of noble character who can find?
She is worth far more than rubies.
Her husband has full confidence in her
and lacks nothing of value.
She brings him good, not harm,
all the days of her life.
A man is looking for goodness and virtue, for a woman who will prize him and hold him in esteem, a woman with whom he is safe, a woman who doesn’t use him.
In our culture, men are held in a permanent state of boyhood by the incessant chatter of sexual noise, but when a man manages to mature despite that, he longs to give his whole spiritual, emotional and physical self to someone who will do him “good and not evil all the days of their lives.”
Men, as well as women, are built for the one-flesh union. We are hardwired for full, free, faithful, fruitful love, because that describes God’s nature. Casual sex deforms our nature.
Now I don’t kid myself that the majority of my contemporaries believe that. Plenty of people will loudly assert that they are perfectly fine, thank you very much, with all the casual, uncommitted sex they can possibly stand. We live in an addicted culture, mostly empty of value, in which people crave escape, and sex looks like a pretty darn good escape; at least it’s not fattening or illegal.
“An intoxicated and undisciplined eros is not an ascent in ectasy but a fall, a degradation of man. Evidently, eros needs to be disciplined and purified if it is to provide not just a fleeting pleasure, but also a certain foretaste of the pinnacle of our existence, that happiness for which our whole human being yearns.” (Pope Benedict, XVI, God Is Love, 4)
People have to see that there is something more before they will be willing to inconvenience themselves for it. That is the value of good marriages, solid families, joyful faith. Those living the theology of the body are a beacon, causing others to ask, “How are they still married? How did they survive the storm? What makes their life different from mine?”
In the same way that a bulimic doesn’t really enjoy food, someone who uses another for casual sex doesn’t ever fully encounter the other person. A bulimic uses food then discharges it when the urge is satisfied. Bulimics report that they often do not even taste the food on which they binge. People who use each other never really “taste” the other before discarding them. They kid themselves that it’s harmless because it’s mutual.
Is it any wonder that scientists have named a new condition PCD (post-coital dysphoria)… a feeling of profound sadness and emptiness following sexual intercourse?
Men don’t always skedaddle after first sex, by any means. Many stick around, but still in less-than-fully-committed sexual relationships, and to a degree, still participate in the fallout from mutual use.
Finally, whenever we consider recreational sex, we are also implicitly considering contraception, with all its complications. Only artificial birth control enables casual sex. See one of my prior blog posts for descriptions of the many harmful side effects of contraception, especially for women. A massive, recently released study of over one million people has concluded that the use of the powerful hormones in the contraceptive pill is closely linked to depression, especially in teens. So if you were already a bit depressed about being used, the chemicals you ingest on a daily basis will complete the job.
The secular world might shake its head in bewilderment, but it makes perfect sense to the person who understands human nature according to the theology of the body.
We are made for love; we are not made for use.
Sheryl Collmer, MTS, is Director of Outreach for TOBET, a ministry devoted to the dignity of the human person.