I am a baby boomer. This means I grew up during the ‘60s and during the free love revolution. At that time, amongst people my age, it became popular to believe that it was a good idea to try out a potential life partner the same way you might try on a new pair of shoes before buying it. Many people found any moral concerns outdated in view of the advent of antibiotics for treating venereal diseases and contraceptives for preventing pregnancy. I even read a novel where the author pointed out that the Catholic Church had traditionally regarded premarital sex as a venal sin.
More recently there have been studies showing that people who cohabited prior to marriage, even for a couple of weeks, tended to be less happy in their marriages than people who waited until they were married before cohabiting, and therefore presumably also waited to have sex until they were married.
With the advent of AIDS, of course people are being more cautious about premarital sex; and others have begun to talk more loudly about morality and sex. I would like to see people study more about the biology of this situation.
I came to think more about the biology of sexual stimulation when I had natural childbirth. I came to believe that the combination of:
o the powerful stimulation of the vaginal area during childbirth— which medical science now knows leads to the production of the hormone occitocin, the cuddle hormone;
o the midwife’s immediately putting the baby in my arms in a well lit room; and
o the fact that I was not at all drugged and therefore fully sensible to what was going on my mind;
led directly to an incredibly powerful emotional surge that caused me to bond very strongly with my baby right away.
By contrast, with my second child, I had natural childbirth, but the child was born outdoors in the dark and got cold shock. Therefore the child was put in a warmer for an extended period of time immediately after birth and was out of my sight for a quite a while after the vaginal stimulation. It took much longer for me to bond with the second child — though nursing the child, which also produces occitocin, did come to lead to a very strong bond as well.
When I think back on the first person who I had sex with, I realize that I had something of similar bonding experience with him. The sexual stimulation he gave me led to very powerful emotions toward him and also a very heightened state of sexual arousal in other situations, such as in my classes (because I was student.) When I look back on the relationship, realize that I came to establish a preference for this man’s particular style of making love as well. Since everyone else’s style was a bit different, I always felt a certain nostalgia for the first man’s sexual style in later relationships. When I mentioned this idea of imprinting to this man, back then, he commented that he too felt a certain nostalgia for the first woman he had had sex with. Men too produce occitocin in response to genital stimulation.
This causes me to think that we all are just a little bit like goslings hatching from an egg when we first have sex. When the gosling hatches, it imprints on the first thing that moves. If that first thing is the gosling’s mother, all will be well. The mother will protect the gosling and help it to find food and teach it what it needs to know as an adult to survive in nature. If the first thing that moves is not the gosling’s mother, the gosling will probably not survive.
I think that the imprinting we receive the first time we have sex is not so strong is that of the gosling. We can take on later mates. However, the imprinting is enough that if we are not with a person who has made a commitment to us that first time we will be in some kind of trouble. At the very least, we are likely to get hurt emotionally. Also, we are very likely not to find later sexual relationships as satisfying as the first.
A person is really not like a pair of shoes. You cannot really try people on and find out what they are like. There are many reasons for this:
o There is a psychological effect on a person, based on how committed they feel in a relationship. We will treat a spouse differently, possibly better or worse, than a lover.
o People change.
o I married a postdoc who would not wear anything remotely resembling business attire. Now, even though his office purports to have “business casual,” he likes to wear a dress shirt and necktie into work. Perhaps he got sick of casual clothing, or perhaps he just got older.
o Men’s sex drives are said to peak at age 18, while women’s are said to peak at age 35. For a young couple, it may seem that the man is always asking for sex and the woman is often trying to find an excuse to get out of it. When this same couple gets into their 40s, the situation may reverse.
o As people age they develop medical conditions which may put stresses on a relationship.
o You cannot foresee everything.
o You may have found that you were perfectly compatible in your living styles and religious beliefs, but then when children arrive you may find that you have tremendous conflicts about how to approach situations with the children. Before you have children, you may not really truly understand what your own child-rearing philosophies are.
o Other life experiences may cause you to change your opinions and behaviors.
The only thing that really works in making a relationship last is making a commitment to make it last. This means a commitment to try to work through conflicts even if they are very bad. And, I suspect, the most common thing which gives people the level of commitment necessary to maintain a relationship for their entire lives is religious faith.
Many current day Americans have questioned cultures that put such emphasis on the importance of virginity until marriage. "What's the big deal about virginity?" I've often heard people ask. I suspect that this explosion of sexuality may be part of the appeal of virgins.
Also there has been research showing that whether a relationship survives is entirely due to how the members of the couple treat each other. Again, it's not like trying on a shoe. It's something you build. I met a person with a 40 year successful marriage, who said that his marriage started going well when both he and his wife decided that they were going to do more than half of the work in the marriage.