Sex & Relationships

Can Women Separate Love and Sex?

Sex, like eating, is a biological drive, and you will lose your mind if you repress it for too long. But some women stave off the need much longer than others.
Canvas my works in the SirensMag archives, and you will discover a theme: I enjoy the male form, and I have a healthy sex drive. I also live in New York City, which has a notorious-yet-accurate reputation for wringing the romance right out of life. (Normal-people life, not Nora Ephron-scripted life.) Happily, New York also has a lot of people in it, many of whom are attractive and sex-starved. Do the math, and there you have it: I exist in a world where sex is easy, love is hard, and either way, I still crave sex.

So yes, it's true: I have had sex minus the love, or the promise thereof. And here's the kicker: I am absolutely fine with that. Not "fine" like passive-aggressively not-really-fine. Not "fine" like totally-defensive-about-it fine. Just totally okay with the situation. Not over the moon, naturally, more like caught between the moon and New York City, as it were. I mean, who wouldn't prefer to be having mind-blowing sex regularly with their soulmate? (And if all I've done here is make some kind of sense of that lyric, I'm pretty satisfied.)

I'm a crazy hopeless lunatic romantic, I swear to you. I am, no exaggeration, always in some form of love -- coming out of it, going into it, somewhere in the middle of it. I will swear under interrogation that that's not true, of course; I will not tell you, for instance, whom I could currently claim to be in any stage of love with. But I am. Don't let me tell you otherwise. The point being that I loooove love. And despite reams of missteps in the name of romance, I'm willing to go at it again and again, quite like the trusty definition of insanity about trying the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.

However, often I'm busy. Other times I'm exhausted. Most of the time there simply aren't any soulmates in the offing. (Which is to say that whomever I claim to love at the moment has a girlfriend or lives in another state or is busy touring the country to promote his smash album "FutureSex/LoveSounds.") So I find myself with a potential partner I like well enough, but do not and will not ever love. Maybe we had an instant connection over our love of books, or maybe he was just too freaking yummy to pass up. A real, live man is just better than a vibrator. I don't care what kind of technological advances are coming out of Toys in Babeland.

Many of my girlfriends gasp in wonder at my apparently superhuman ability to transcend the sex-love connection. "I just can't do it," one single one says. "I don't think I could handle that if I were still out there," the married one says. What I say is I don't see any choice. If we're going to do this putting-off-marriage thing we're now officially doing, according to last year's breathlessly reported census results, and we're going to focus on careers instead of kids, and we're going to wait until we find the Big Love before settling down, well, how is it that we're not going to act like nut jobs in the meantime? How are we going to quell that desperate look in our eyes when we meet a prospect? And how are we going to stop ourselves from being blinded by lush lips or a six pack? Girls, there's only one answer: We have to break the ironclad love-sex bond. It's simply the only way to survive all this without going mad.

Heck, one of my friends goes as far as saying she wishes she could have gotten around to a little recreational sex as an adult -- but life had other plans, and she spent all of her 20s in love with the man she's now about to marry. "I did have that kind of sex when I was too young to enjoy it," she says. She learned most of the ropes from her current beau -- who also happens to be The One. Which some of us might say is lucky -- but "I don't see it as luck," she says. "I love him, of course, but I feel like I missed out on an experience."

Another friend says unapologetically that she absolutely can separate sex and love. (She has some stories to prove it, trust me.) But she's currently in one of those mid-20s in-flux relationships -- i.e. she's still in love with her boyfriend, but they're on a break to figure out their lives -- so she says, "I can't right now because I'll feel guilty about being a slut."

Myself, I came into all this the hard way. I'd been with my boyfriend for more than 10 years, and then I'd broken our engagement and left him. I was, essentially, primed to have the college-type experience I'd given up to be with only him. And I was in New York, the perfect place for a 30-year-old to act like a coed. So I experimented -- made out with a lot of guys in bars right after meeting them, made out some more in taxis and on street corners. I purposely went after guys I wouldn't have considered before: everything from stuffy lawyers to flashy businessmen to too-young actor/bartenders. At one point, I was actively avoiding anyone I could possibly fall for (no offense, guys from that time in my life!). I needed some experience -- I didn't want to feel like I'd missed out on anything by the time I met the genuine next Love of My Life.

It was during that time that I learned that what you get in the standard, responsible, very much warranted sex talk from Mom in adolescence isn't necessarily true in modern adulthood: Sex isn't just something two people do to show they love each other very much. Sex is a biological drive, and you will lose your mind if you repress it for too long. We're all a little different on this score; some women can go much longer than others. But in a dating era when not looking crazy is half the battle, showing up to the party sexually satisfied goes a long way. Then you're not clinging to Mr. Good Prospect because he can handle that for you; you're flirting with him because you see him for what he is, and you like it. Imagine how loony you'd act if you literally depended on some guy to satisfy another basic biological need, like eating. Yep, that's about how you look when you come at the right guy with your libido on overdrive.

This doesn't mean we should all go on sexual rampages, mind you. It's like eating and drinking: Listen to your body, and do it in moderation. You will know when you're satiated, and then you will stop. You won't go after anything that's blatantly bad for you. You will use your best judgment. (P.S. A good tip from a friend's ex-lover: If you're going to have recreational sex multiple times with the same person, "You can only cash in three times." After that, a little static cling is bound to develop, no matter how evolved you think you are.)

These days, I'm truly, honestly ready -- and hoping -- to meet the man who will bring it all back together for me. I want soulmate sex, or at least potential-soulmate sex. And in the meantime, I do have a vibrator -- and the reassurance that I live in a city full of eligible males.

Jennifer Armstrong is the co-founder/editorial director of