Superglue of the Heart

Author: Mary Beth Bonacci


By Mary Beth Bonacci

"Does sex have really complicated emotions with it?"

Yeah, does it? How often do you see a sex education take on this question? Not often, I'll bet.

Everyone loves to talk about how sex works, or how to "protect" yourself, but no one ever wants to talk about how sex affects us on the emotional level. People seem to think that sex is something that you can just "do" with your body, and leave your brain at the door. But that's not true. Sexual activity is powerful, and it has profound emotional consequences.

Psychologists have known for years that sex has an emotional element. It causes a bond to form. I'm sure you're all familiar with the concept of bonding. Mothers bond with babies after birth. Guys experience "male bonding" when they play sports together or sit around complaining about women. Dogs bond with their owners and follow them everywhere.

A bond is a strong emotional attachment with no logical explanation. Babies aren't even capable of being logical, yet they love their mothers. A mother doesn't have much of a logical reason to love this tiny creature who will eat up all of her time, money and energy for the next 30 years. But that bond is eternal and virtually impossible to break.

I recently discovered that, for women, this bond actually has a biological basis. Oxytosin. Oxytosin is a hormone which a woman's body produces in two different situations -- sexual arousal and nursing a baby. When her body produces that oxytosin, it works on her brain to create a strong emotional attachment -- to either the baby or to her sexual partner. (Don't believe that a hormone can affect a woman's emotions? Pick any woman. Watch her for 28 days or so. Then tell me hormones don't affect her emotions).

So oxytosin is the bonding hormone. It's what causes women to feel so strongly attached to their babies and their husbands. Does this mean that sexual activity doesn't cause bonding for men? No. I've talked to too many guys who have experienced it to believe that. We just don't know the chemical basis.

So why did God create oxytosin? Why is there such a powerful bond in sexual activity? Simple -- God knew married people would need some help staying married. He knows that people have a natural tendency to get on each other's nerves. (Ever spend a week with your best friend?) Think about marriage for a minute. You're promising to spend the rest of your life with someone. That's a really long time. My grandparents were married for 68 years. If your best friend got on your nerves after a week, or your college roommate after a month, how long is it going to take for this spouse to start to bug you? Probably not long.

But God has a lot of reasons to want to help them to stay together. There's a family to think about. There are children who need to be taken care of. There's the promise they made to be there for each other. But without some help, marriages probably couldn't even survive petty irritations like dirty laundry on the floor or scratches on the car.

So He built in some help. The same act that creates their family -- sexual intercourse -- also creates a strong bond between to help them live out their commitment. It "blurs their vision" a little bit so that they don't quite see the petty irritations so clearly. It's like the "superglue of the heart," bonding their hearts together so that they can weather the minor as well as the major problems of life -- together. In "giving themselves to each other", they become even more united. The two really do become one. It's beautiful.

It's a great system for marriage, isn't it? God clearly know exactly what He was doing. But what about outside of marriage? Does the bond still form? How does it affect us? Questions, questions. Come back next time.

This article appeared in the July 13, 1995 issue of "The Arlington Catholic Herald."

Courtesy of the "Arlington Catholic Herald" diocesan newspaper of the Arlington (VA) diocese. For subscription information, call 1-800-377-0511 or write 200 North Glebe Road, Suite 607 Arlington, VA 22203.