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Are Sex and Love Mutually Exclusive?

In most cultures, the urge for sexual adventure is difficult to reconcile with the comforts of companionship and domesticity.

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Presently, there is a lively discussion in both scholarly and popular literature over the origins of gender-linked differences in men and women’s criteria used to select short-term and long-term partners. In spite of, or maybe because of, this discourse, a consensus is emerging that holds that women, in certain contexts, are as open as men to casual sexual encounters. The debate has now shifted to the meaning of "certain contexts." Whatever the eventual outcome of these discussions, it is clear that sexual monogamy does not come easily to humans.

If the pursuit of sexual fulfillment often results in individuals seeking novelty, the love impulse in both its passionate and comfort form engenders an opposite inclination: to find intimacy with familiarity. Unlike sexual gratification, love cannot be bought (or for that matter, arranged, anticipated, or outlawed). If passionate love is bought, it is invalidated. In contrast, sexual release and, thus, satiation, in the absence of a love bond, can result in an immediate disinterest in the other. People in a state of passionate love discover that sexual gratification does not lessen but intensifies interest in the other.

The human sex urge is often about more than simply achieving an orgasm. It can be in the desire for tactile contact and intimate communication with another person. However, even when there is little or no prior interest, sexual orgasm can give rise to stronger feelings of emotional involvement. It is the desire for physical intimacy -- a close physical and emotional relationship -- that brings erotic interests into social relations, thereby linking eroticism with such interpersonal emotions as affection, trust, insecurity, and jealousy. The relationship between passion and sexuality in Mexico repeatedly found couples losing themselves and with it, all rationality as unions dissolved into emotional transcending ecstasies through sexual interactions. In this way the pursuit of a "good risk" (an intense emotional entanglement) may lead to a "bad risk" in sexual behavior (the loss of "safe sexual practice").

The tensions, quandaries, and perplexities in balancing love and sex are evident in the way Nevada prostitutes working in legalized brothels interact with their customers. Research on San Francisco, Stockholm, and Amsterdam prostitutes found a high percent of male customers expected the woman to demonstrate an interest and concern for their well-being. For these customers the illusion of emotional intimacy is just as, and maybe even more important as being sexually satisfied. A similar pattern is apparent amongst some male customers at urban strip clubs. In a setting celebrating the objectification of a woman’s body, regular customers often strove to develop a "relationship" with a particular stripper who, for her part, pretended to care about him. Even the domain of the extramarital tryst can quickly transcend the sexual to include the emotional.

These and other examples reveal that emotional intimacy can and does arise out of a highly sexually charged atmosphere.

Every community must deal with the strong emotional bonds that often result from sex, passionate love, and comfort love. Cultural models are useful in that they provide an explanation of how to integrate the many facets of love and sex into a more unified whole. These models or explanations can be challenged by individuals and interest groups (polyamorists, Christian fundamentalists, libertines, and so forth) who offer alternative models as to the proper relationship between the types of love and sex. But this raises a larger and more vexing issue: Is the dilemma between sexual desire and passionate love? Or is it between passionate love and comfort love? Or are we dealing with a triangular relationship? Certainly there can be one without the other -- a disheartening fact in cultures where the goal is to blend them together.

 
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