Sex or Love? New Study Shows Women AND Men Prefer Romance to Sex
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“OK. (Sigh.) Let’s go have sex.”
“No?!” (Shock and awe.)
“So what if I’m in my flannels!”
“Well, that’ll be the last time I come on to you!”
Sound familiar? With such a heavy emphasis and expectation on men to be ready and waiting for a chance (any chance) to get sexual attention, it appears that men have adopted a paranormal-like fear of saying “no” in the chance that this may quash any future hope for sexual advances.
Up until now, it’s been easy to say that men simply don’t care about romance. We’ve believed for centuries that men are only focused on the end goal and all that champagne and roses just get in the way of reaching it. Women are frequently reminded not to make the mistake of assuming their partner wants to cuddle and/or confuse sex and love when it comes to a man.
A popular video by Flight of the Concords called Business Time describes a humorous portrayal of one man’s lead-up to sex with his spouse. I think the reason it resonated with so many of us is not only that it’s wildly hysterical, but it is uncomfortably so because of how much truth there is to it. With almost three million views, there is a sense that most of us can relate. Since “Business Time” is written and sung by two men, it begs the question: are men just asking for a little more romance? Do men actually prefer picnics to porn?
My personal experiences point to picnics but first lets review the science.
A recent study, from the University of New Brunswick, that provoked a high-level of attention from mainstream media brought up this exact question and challenged the myth that men prefer sex to romance.
Ashley Thompson is a UNB psychology student who authored the paper, called Gender Differences in Associations of Sexual and Romantic Stimuli: Do Young Men Really Prefer Sex Over Romance? Her testing of subconscious responses from 182 UNB students proved surprising results. By showing study participants both images of couples engaged in various sexual activities as well as images associated with romance, what was discovered is that both men and women were unreservedly drawn to the romantic images over the sexual ones.
Another earlier study conducted by Dr. Helen Fisher, Biological Anthropologist, evaluated the same theory. Fischer, who is also a Research Professor at Rutgers University, put 32 people who were madly in love, into a functional MRI brain scanner: 17 who were madly in love and their love was accepted, and 15 who were madly in love but recently heartbroken.
Fischer describes, in a 2008 TED talk, that while scanning the brains of these 32 test subjects she discovered that the same brain region that becomes active when you feel the rush of cocaine mirrored that of a brain looking at a photo of a romantic love. Fischer began to realize that romantic love is not an emotion but a drive.
She states, “It comes from the motor of the mind, the ‘wanting’ part of the mind, the ‘craving’ part of the mind. The part of the mind, when you’re reaching for that piece of chocolate, when you want to win that promotion at work: the motor of the brain. It’s a drive. And, in fact, I think it’s more powerful than the sex drive.”
She also believes that our sex drive evolved to get us out there to get looking for anything at all, that romantic love developed to focus our mating energy on just one individual and attachment works to tolerate this individual long enough to raise children as a team.
After researching these two studies, I began to draw parallels to my own relationship. My husband, a professional athlete before we got married, had a titanium lacrosse stick in his hand in the early stages of meeting my parents. I recall my dad looking at me with a glimpse of terror during a more physical part of the game and asking me, “You’re going to marry him?”
At first glance, a guy that was nicknamed “The Axe” didn’t really seem like the romantic type. High-level athletes aren’t just a stereotype; physiologically they have way more testosterone than the average male. You would be more likely to assume that “The Axe” is a knuckle-dragging Neanderthal that throws his women over the shoulder on his way to the bedroom. Surprisingly (or not, if you believe in scientific proof), he is quite the opposite.
What many married couples find out shortly after children arrive, or as careers take over, is that distractions dissolve intimacy. Many couples complain that there is little time for friendship, thoughtful and engaged discussion, and uninterrupted sleep. Although this is to be expected, many couples are caught off guard by this sudden shift from having all the alone time in the world, to calendaring date nights on Outlook. Often you witness husbands and wives seeking solace in their friends, who are typically in the same deer-in-headlights state of being. So, instead of gaining kinship with their spouse, isolation persists.
It was in September of 2009 that “The Axe” and I would put this science to the test. After my husband dialed 911 and spent six weeks in the hospital and months of rehab because of a bout of West Nile and, following that, Guillain Barre, we had the benefit of time to evaluate what really matters in life and love. Perspective is a special skill set and one I had yet to master—up until then. Three months earlier, I was grateful to go a day without nausea; now I was grateful that my husband was alive and holding my hand bedside, while I gave birth to our daughter.
Although it wasn’t overnight and we had a long road ahead of us, we eventually started to reassemble. What was revealed to me so many years later was that there was a sense of longing for authentic time together, real presence, romance, and friendship. Don’t get me wrong, sex is always an essential aspect to any healthy relationship, but perspective challenges us to evaluate priorities and friendship, for us, frequently claimed the Title.
Robert Frost, who believed strongly in the endurance of love and marriage, so aptly stated, “Love is the irresistible desire to be irresistibly desired.”
It appears that Robert Frost had it right, proven now with scientific evidence. Love is the motivating factor behind desire. Men are no longer looking to simply procreate and move on; they want more meaningful, lasting relationships. Men are evolving creatures, and it makes sense that they too want romantic love as much as women do. Maybe women just need to take a few minutes to light the candles, shave the legs, break free from the flannels, put in a little effort, and stop expecting men to bark on command—it’s time to recondition Pavlov’s Dog.
So, if you still think this is all bullshit, ask yourself these last three questions: Could your heart feel like it was going to stop beating if it lost a one-night stand? Would you pick up a gun and a vest and go to war for sex? Would you jump in front of train for it? If you answer “no” to these questions, then ask yourself, what would you do for love?