Jesus Creed

Jesus Creed


Hooking Up Culture

posted by Scot McKnight

Hookup.jpgThere are four major reasons given to teenagers at the time of their sexual awakening, for not engaging in sex.

1. It’s wrong — and some just say “Because it’s wrong!” while others reach into their sacred texts, like the Bible, or find some moral arguments against sex before marriage.
2. You can get pregnant or impregnate someone.
3. You can get STDs — sexually transmitted diseases.
4. You can get “hooked” on sex.

This fourth argument, which can be called an emotional and neurochemical argument, has been proposed in a new book which many I suspect will find compelling. It is by Joe McIlhaney and Freda Bush, both MDs and both at work in research and teaching and writing about sexual health in America. Their book is called Hooked: New Science on How Casual Sex is Affecting Our Children
.

What are you hearing about “hook up culture”? And what are you hearing about neurochemicals? (Any MDs out there reading this?)

Let us agree that the first three are used and let us also agree that the “warning” folks need to emphasize, as this book does at times, that sex is given by God and that it is good. Let us agree that this book comes from a conservative angle … But, what are their basic arguments for the neurochemical issues involved in sex?



It works like this, and I’d like to know from MDs or science folks if this is accurate…

1. Dopamine is secreted in the brain and it tells those who are having consensual sex that such activity is pleasurable.
2. Oxytocin is secreted in a female’s brain that bonds the woman to the man.
3. Vasopressin is secreted in a male’s brain that bonds the man to the woman.
4. Therefore, neurochemicals are released that mold the brain through its synapses that tell each of these two people that they are in a bond of pleasure.

Add to this that teenagers’ brains are more than hyped up for molding, and dopamine is desirable and addictive, and you’ve got the makings of potential good and potential disaster. Sexual activity begins to mold the brain in the direction of both pleasure and bonding with that person.

The most alarming feature of this book for me is that sexual activity neurochemically secretes the chemicals of bonding, but the hooking up culture increasingly divorces sexual acitivity from relational commitment. This works against the natural secretions of a body and leads to potential problems for each of the couples. Humans aren’t wired, so the authors are arguing, to hook up. They are wired to love in lasting commitments. Breaking down lasting commitments works against what the brain is telling the person to be and to do. Hooking up can create young folks who break down their potential for connectivity.



Advertisement
Comments read comments(31)
post a comment
Steve S

posted June 29, 2009 at 7:40 am


I hope we can go beyond just those four reasons!



report abuse
 

Gary Feister

posted June 29, 2009 at 7:52 am


While it is important and helpful to understand the medical and scientific dynamics, there are MANY more dynamics involved (spiritual and emotional, to name two of the biggest) that contribute to either the problem of pre-marital sex and to the joy of sex within marriage. As one who was once addicted to pornography and sex, I can tell you that knowledge of scientific research would not have stopped me for a second. It’s good information to have available and I’m sure it’s useful in certain academic/scientific forums, but I can tell you from experience and from counseling others that it will do nothing for a teenager who is “hooked”.
One thing that this information does that’s good is that it gives further evidence from the scientific/medical establishments that we were created and wired for long-lasting commitment and love to one partner.



report abuse
 

RJS

posted June 29, 2009 at 8:02 am


Gary,
But the “other dynamics” are all part of the medical and scientific dynamics. These are not separable spheres. Just as what we eat and how much we eat matters, so does what we do and what we think. We can shape and modify the response of our minds and bodies – with positive or negative result.



report abuse
 

Julie Clawson

posted June 29, 2009 at 9:31 am


A few questions
– what do they mean by bonding? How does that work, how can they even know that scientifically? Do they think bonding only occurs when those chemicals are released during sex? What happens when they are present during non-sexual activities?
– if this is the way sex always chemically works, then why do so many married couples (especially evangelicals) struggle with sex? If the pleasure and “bonding” chemicals are the body’s response, why doesn’t the equation happen every time?
– do they really think that telling people that sex is an addictive legal drug is going to keep them away from it?



report abuse
 

Scot McKnight

posted June 29, 2009 at 9:53 am


Julie,
Some of your questions were mine when I read this book, so I looked also into a few other sources, including Laura Sessions Stepp’s Unhooked and did some reading on neurochemicals (like oxytocin), and I think the basics of this book are confirmed by others. Unless I find someone who disproves this, I will be assuming there are neurochemicals connected to sex that lead to bonding instincts.
Now, as for “bonding.” I can’t say they define it with rigor but they speak of these neurochemicals being secreted to create pleasure (dopamine) that lead to wanting to do this more, and they say other chemicals are connected to desires to protect and care for and be with the other person. In other words, bonding and addictive behaviors are connected. That’s fascinating to me. Look up Wikipedia on oxytocin; there is lots about oxytocin and the major study on vasopressin was done on voles with significant results.
These neurochemicals are released in skin to skin contact primarily, but I suspect — scientists can probably tell us more — they are generated also through the mind and imagination and images of the other person.
Married couples question… sexual connections are more than neurochemical. They are also connected to our emotions, etc., but the point of these brain studies is that the emotions themselves are connected to the neurochemicals. It is more than physical but it includes the physical.
Your last question is unfair to the book: they don’t say it like that. Their point is that knowing that sexual behaviors, touching, etc., generate neurochemicals that say “more” or “let’s stay together” are serious matters. So, they want to add to the need for wisdom and serious moral choice in entering in sexual behaviors.



report abuse
 

Matt Dabbs

posted June 29, 2009 at 10:01 am


1. Dopamine is secreted in the brain and it tells those who are having consensual sex that such activity is pleasurable.
This is not just true of consensual sex. I hope this is not too blunt to say here but some rape victims get confused because of the release of dopamine and orgasm during an attack. It is the natural way our body responds to stimulation and is very confusing because such an awful, violating and hurting experience gets mixed in with pleasure that is not wanted but still felt.



report abuse
 

RJS

posted June 29, 2009 at 10:24 am


Matt (#6),
I think that you make an important point here – and this may in fact be the most important point.
There are very real chemical responses and separating these responses from a real relationship has serious consequences. Gary points to some of this as well.



report abuse
 

cas

posted June 29, 2009 at 10:41 am


Julie,
Is there ever a topic about which you don’t find a negative generalization to make about evangelicals?



report abuse
 

dopderbeck

posted June 29, 2009 at 10:45 am


I’m not expert on the medical issues. In general, the thesis seems reasonable to me. I’d get a little nervous about pushing it too far, though. I mean, I’m not sure we need neuroscience to tell us that sex produces powerful “bonding” emotions and that casual “hook up” sex can mess with those emotions. It’s interesting that neuroscience has identified some of the brain chemicals involved in those emotions, but I wonder if that adds much more than a “scientific” gloss to what we already know. Still, if it gets young people to think more carefully about what the “hook up” culture really does to a person, and adds some more depth to holistic Christian perspectives on sexuality, great.



report abuse
 

Scot McKnight

posted June 29, 2009 at 10:51 am


dopderbeck,
I’m not so sure. Yes, it confirms but it confirms in a new way: from the “soft” science of emotions or psychology to the hard sciences of neurochemicals. So, I don’t think I’d call it a “gloss” so much as unraveling some of the mystery of emotions and then, once we add the synaptic brain molding to this, it becomes more than just emotions. It becomes more serious.



report abuse
 

RJS

posted June 29, 2009 at 11:36 am


Scot,
It becomes more serious and changes the focus – I also think that it means that the effects can differ from person to person on some level.



report abuse
 

T

posted June 29, 2009 at 12:04 pm


This (the claims about the chemical workings in the brain) seems in step with the limited reading I’ve done on addiction generally. That said, from everything else I know about addiction, I doubt if making people (including teens) familiar with the chemical reactions involved with sexual activity would help prevent or get them out of that kind of addiction.
The controlling narrative of seeking pleasure and avoiding pain (life in/according to the flesh) has to be usurped.



report abuse
 

Julie Clawson

posted June 29, 2009 at 12:35 pm


cas – well, thanks for that negative generalization of me. My statement wasn’t a dig in any way for evangelicals, but simply acknowledging a well known issue since this is a blog for evangelicals. There is a lot of discussion as to what causes those problems, and I was wanting to know how these author’s theories apply to that issue. To heal and help people, it kinda requires admitting there is a problem.
Scot – I have no issue with the chemical stuff or am I trying to argue with the book, I was just wondering how they define this stuff as working. The whole bonding language is just sort of vague. Seriously,what prevents us from bonding with anything that gives us pleasure. Just wondering how it works. And with my last question, I simple saw that as one possible conclusion people could get from the book and wondered if they had addressed people coming to that unintended conclusion. Most people don’t see pleasure as a negative thing and so will pursue something more, not less, if they are told about pleasure chemicals. So I’m honestly curious if there are any scientists discussing these chemicals and sex and emotions without the faith based overlay. I have to admit, most of the guilt-heavy youth group sex talks I experienced growing up were done by Joe McIlhaney, so I know a bit of where he is coming from, and that there is no way this is unbiased science (not that its not true, just that it has a point to prove). So like you asked, are there any other doctors or scientists talking about this stuff?



report abuse
 

Jamie Arpin-Ricci

posted June 29, 2009 at 1:11 pm


A better understanding of neurology and it’s interconnection to the full human experience is so very critical. In respect to this issue, the dynamics are exaggerated by the fact that, from birth through to about 20-23 years old, the human brain is still in massive formational shifts. These experiences during this time can have drastic impact on development. Not irreversible damage, but further hurdles in “rewiring” and relearning, etc.
As I counsel young men with strong pornography & masturbation addictions, the understanding of neurology plays a very helpful role in moving towards healing.
Peace,
Jamie



report abuse
 

T

posted June 29, 2009 at 1:24 pm


Jamie,
Has the understanding of neurology been really helpful to you in the counselling process, or to the guys you’re counselling or both?



report abuse
 

Pat

posted June 29, 2009 at 3:23 pm


I would suspect that this getting “hooked on sex” is what we in some religious circles refer to as soul ties. The fact that you can find yourself emotionally tied to someone in a very unhealthy way.



report abuse
 

AprilK

posted June 29, 2009 at 3:58 pm


The same bonding occurs when mother’s breastfeed their babies. Oxytocin, among other hormones, is released the baby nurses and I’ve read it contributes significantly to mother/infant bonding.
I’m sure there’s a lot of truth to the chemical element of sexual bonding.
It’s interesting to hear a scientific explanation behind the emotional claim I heard growing up that whenever you had sex with another person you were emotionally/spiritually bonded to that person for life.



report abuse
 

Brian from NZ

posted June 29, 2009 at 4:06 pm


I’m curious. Does anyone think that casual sex can be simply a fun, pass-time activity, without emotional baggage getting attached? It seems to me that this is the prevailing view of our youth today, as portrayed (and encouraged) on TV, movies etc. If there is no intention for emotional involvement by either party, does the bonding still happen?
Soul-ties. Now there is an interesting (non-biblical) phrase. I’ve heard it preached that there is a ‘soul tie’ to every sexual partner. I don’t know – I’ve only had one, so can’t comment.
What if the injunction to refrain from sexual activity outside the domain of marriage was originally established to ensure that children were raised within an established family environment. There was no contraception then, so the natural outcome of having sex was children. Now there is contraception, so this natural order is broken, and sex has moved into the domain of recreation, not re-creation.
I would be interested in the results of a survey that investigated whether the high divorce rate was related to multiple sexual partners prior to the relationship, or other factors such as our general unwillingness to live with difficulty, inconvenience, changing body types, aging, etc. It seems to me that our society today is so materialistic and ‘hooked’ on immediate gratification, that it is acceptable to give up on marriage as soon as it becomes uncomfortable or inconvenient.



report abuse
 

Scot McKnight

posted June 29, 2009 at 4:20 pm


Brian from NZ,
I’m reading Stepp’s book today (Unhooked) and she emphasizes once again that this stuff isn’t just for fun; there is almost no way for sexual behaviors to occur without the release of desires for commitment. That’s one of the major conclusions of those who studying the hooked-up culture. But, the longer one does pursue this form of sexuality the harder it becomes to find lasting, permanent relationships. Which is to say that the hook up culture begins to break down the natural response of the brain to sexual relations.



report abuse
 

Bob Smallman

posted June 29, 2009 at 4:33 pm


This discussion brought to mind a book that Dr. Donald Joy (a psychologist at Asbury Seminary at the time) wrote back in 1986: “Re-Bonding: Preventing and Restoring Damaged Relationships.” (Word Books) Obviously, he didn’t have all the current chemical info back then, but his thesis was basically the same — that sex creates an emotional “glue” between people. And so casual sex with multiple partners repeatedly pulls apart this natural bond, creating confusion and pain.



report abuse
 

Christine A. Scheller

posted June 29, 2009 at 4:34 pm


cas here.
Julie,
Please forgive me if I mischaracterized your intent. I have observed a theme re. evangelicals in your comments over time and in various venues. If my perception is inaccurate I apologize.
Having said that, I am unaware of any research indicating that married evangelicals “struggle with sex” more than other couples. The only research I am familiar with indicates just the opposite, but again that is simple recall.
It has also been my experience that marital sex is infintely more satisfying and pleasurable than it was outside of marriage.
I recently wrote about this topic for Her.meneutics @ChristianityToday.com. A firey debate ensued. Here’s the link:
http://blog.christianitytoday.com/women/2009/06/the_downside_of_hooking_up.html
I may follow that post up with a more personal one next week. In the meantime, Ross Douthat wrote what I think is his best post yet at the NY Times on a related topic. Here’s that link:
http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/29/opinion/29douthat.html?ref=opinion



report abuse
 

Matt Dabbs

posted June 29, 2009 at 4:35 pm


It is vital to counseling, especially premarital counseling that we give people information on biochemistry. It explains a lot. People need to know that an initial attraction is formed from different processes than what they need to make it as a couple for the next 50 years. They also need to know that when they combine premarital sex into trying to understand what is going on in the relationship that it is nearly impossible to be logical about it due to much of what Dr. McKnight mentioned in the initial post. Sex outside of marriage confuses everything and 90% of that confusion is based on biochemistry.



report abuse
 

Scott Morizot

posted June 29, 2009 at 5:14 pm


I don’t have an opinion about how to use this information in speaking with children/teens about sexuality. However, some of the posts above reminded me of actual people I know for whom childhood incestuous abuse was actually pleasurable and how that fed into their perception of complicity and even longing for the acts. Human sexuality is complicated. There are rarely simple answers.



report abuse
 

Jim Martin

posted June 29, 2009 at 5:26 pm


Scot,
I really like the last paragraph of your post. I like what you said regarding the conflicting nature of the chemicals released during sex, while the context is not commitment but a casual moment. It would seem that the chemical reactions just serve to complicate matters for anyone who would participate in casual sex for years and then get married. That is not always a seamless transition.
Anyway, this is interesting and a very good point to make regarding this issue.



report abuse
 

John M.

posted June 29, 2009 at 10:30 pm


Dr. Patrick Carnes is a pioneer in the study of sexual addiction. He has written numerous books and been involved in clinical research that would confirm the science that is being discussed here. He emphasizes the importance of “spirituality” in a healthy understanding of sexuality, but he is not coming from a specifically biblical or Christian set of presuppositions.
It’s important to tell adolescents about the “science of sex” because the prevailing view of casual, recreational sex before marriage, does not take it into account. Most of them have no clue that they may be messing with the way their biochemical, emotional, spiritual selves are wired. Whether it will change their behavior is ultimately up to their decisions, but at least they will have some objective, scientifically based data that support and confirm the subjective experience of many who have wrestled with the fallout that comes with these issues.



report abuse
 

David R Vinson, MD

posted June 29, 2009 at 10:50 pm


Great recommendation, Scot. As you know, the neurosciences are advancing at a considerable pace in discovering the neural correlates of human behavior. What we do, how we think, and what we experience alters how are brains are wired and contributes to who we are, or better, to who we are becoming. I?ve been pleased to see this fascinating science brought to a wider audience by scientifically reputable and accessible popular-level books. From a cursory review, this piece by McIlhaney and Bush may well be counted among them. I just placed my amazon order. As both physician and pastor, I have several reasons to promote healthy lifestyles and fruitful relationships. And the more informed I can be?adding neuroscientific explanations to those psychological, social, cultural, and spiritual?the better equipped I?ll be for the task. Thanks for bringing this to my attention. I?ll let you know what I think.



report abuse
 

Charles Cosimano

posted June 29, 2009 at 11:10 pm


Does anyone really think that an adolescent with the juices of youth flowing will pay any attention to those four reasons the article starts with?



report abuse
 

Fred Hughes

posted June 29, 2009 at 11:53 pm


Charles, I’m sure there are kids that won’t pay attention to it. But there are others that will. We have to reach out and help those that we can until the others are ready.



report abuse
 

Jamie Arpin-Ricci

posted June 30, 2009 at 11:45 am


T, it has been helpful both for myself in giving counsel and in the recipient in their own process of facing their addictions.



report abuse
 

Mark Baker-Wright

posted June 30, 2009 at 12:37 pm


Fred in #28,
Thanks for that. I really don’t get why people have to keep bringing up the “kids will do it anyway” excuse, as if we expect to somehow eradicate teenage sexual activity with each new finding/argument/discussion on the issue.
No one’s that naive. But that doesn’t mean that no one will listen. And for those that do, they will (we argue, at least) be that much better off.
It’s worth the effort.



report abuse
 

Pingback: Sex, the Church, and Miss California: Law vs. Story, Part 2 | One In Jesus

Post a Comment

By submitting these comments, I agree to the beliefnet.com terms of service, rules of conduct and privacy policy (the "agreements"). I understand and agree that any content I post is licensed to beliefnet.com and may be used by beliefnet.com in accordance with the agreements.



Previous Posts

More Blogs To Enjoy!!!
Thank you for visiting Jesus Creed. This blog is no longer being updated. Please enjoy the archives. Here are some other blogs you may also enjoy: Red Letters with Tom Davis Recent prayer post on Prayables Most Recent Inspiration blog post Happy Reading!  

posted 11:15:58am Aug. 16, 2012 | read full post »

Our Common Prayerbook 30 - 3
Psalm 30 thanks God (vv. 1-3, 11-12) and exhorts others to thank God (vv. 4-5). Both emerge from the concrete reality of David's own experience. Here is what that experience looks like:Step one: David was set on high and was flourishing at the hand of God's bounty (v. 7a).Step two: David became too

posted 12:15:30pm Aug. 31, 2010 | read full post »

Theology After Darwin 1 (RJS)
One of the more important and more difficult pieces of the puzzle as we feel our way forward at the interface of science and faith is the theological implications of discoveries in modern science. A comment on my post Evolution in the Key of D: Deity or Deism noted: ...this reminds me of why I get a

posted 6:01:52am Aug. 31, 2010 | read full post »

Almost Christian 4
Who does well when it comes to passing on the faith to the youth? Studies show two groups do really well: conservative Protestants and Mormons; two groups that don't do well are mainline Protestants and Roman Catholics. Kenda Dean's new book is called Almost Christian: What the Faith of Ou

posted 12:01:53am Aug. 31, 2010 | read full post »

Let's Get Neanderthal!
The Cave Man Diet, or Paleo Diet, is getting attention. (Nothing is said about Culver's at all.) The big omission, I have to admit, is that those folks were hunters -- using spears or smacking some rabbit upside the conk or grabbing a fish or two with their hands ... but that's what makes this diet

posted 2:05:48pm Aug. 30, 2010 | read full post »




Report as Inappropriate

You are reporting this content because it violates the Terms of Service.

All reported content is logged for investigation.