Conventional wisdom tells us that elegant, desirable ladies—long-term investment pieces—never do sex on the first date, no matter how much they want to. Not that they do want to, because "wanting to" is a male domain, while the female domain is mainly parasol twirling, nose powdering, and not putting out. Oh, but the men—as much as they sit around feverishly "wanting to" all day long—don't actually like it when a woman does put out, because it means she's one of those no-good putter-outers and not a real woman at all. Certainly not relationship material. Because look at her! She discarded these arbitrary social mores somebody made up and did the thing that both of us really really wanted to do! Boo, you whore.
Now, obviously this is some antiquated shit, but it's clinging to our modern dating scene with all its might. I know a number of liberal feminists who wouldn't dream of having sex on the first date (or even the second or third) because of the message it would send. As though sex somehow devalues you as a person. It taints the entirety of the date that came before. It makes a long-term relationship impossible. Lust can never become love. Well, bullshit, says this study. Love and lust aren't so far apart as traditionalists would have us believe.
The study mapped the areas of the brain stimulated by feelings of love and by feelings of sexual arousal:
What they discovered was a bit surprising — love and sexual desire both activate the striatum, showing a continuum from sexual desire to love. Each feeling impacts a different area of the striatum.
Sexual desire activates the ventral striatum, the brain's reward system. When someone enjoys a great dessert or an orgasm, it's the ventral striatum that flickers with life. Love sparks activity in the dorsal striatum, which is associated with drug addiction.
...The areas of overlap indicate that sexual desire transitions into love in many cases, and the feelings aren't separate.
"Even love at first sight, can it happen? Of course it can happen," says Pfaus. "And when it does happen, do you want to play Scrabble with each other? When it happens, you normally want to consummate it."
So there—love can grow out of a sweaty one-night stand. I've seen it happen plenty of times; I don't know many young people who would admit to being morally opposed to casual sex; and yet the idea that, in general, waiting as long as possible is just nebulously better still completely pervades our culture. (Obviously if you don't want to have sex—if you have concerns about STIs or intimacy or you're just not sure you like this dum-dum—then you absolutely should not have sex. The sex-having isn't the issue. The point is that if you do want to have sex, and he wants to have sex too, then what the fuck is stopping you? Objectively? What is it? Some made-up rules about the purity of your vagina? Please.) Which got me thinking—who invented this system, who benefits from it, and who perpetuates it?
The answers are men, men, and everybody. First of all, this paradigm is hella old. It was probably invented by, like, the 4th dude. This is basic stuff. The idea that a woman is property that can be "soiled" and then lose its value once it becomes "used" is the basis for the majority of the subtle patriarchal oppression that still crushes women all over the place. And nowadays, the dude gets to have sex with as many women as he wants and, thanks to our primordially ingrained double standard, still maintain the moral high ground—he's better than her because she gave it up "too soon" (according to some arbitrary Gregorian boner calendar). "Eeeeew, gross, lady! You're a terrible person for doing that thing that I was literally begging you to do five minutes ago!"
Dearest readers: I get that you don't do this. And your friends don't do this. And everyone you know has evolved beyond this square old stuff. It's not the way I live my life either. But you must understand that people do do this all the time. And plenty of us have subtle biases about when and how to do sex "right" that we use to calculate both our own self-worth and the worthiness of others. It's a broken system, and we all perpetuate it.
I swear to god, women—do we all have Stockholm Syndrome or something? It's like we spent so many millennia getting this paradigm literally beaten into our brains that now we honestly think we believe it. Because historically, non-conformity hasn't ended too well for us (best case scenario, we get nothing; worst case scenario, we get dead). And so we conform! "No no no, we like sublimating our desires and artificially withholding sex in some dumb puritanical chess game! It's the best! And, to be fair, we deserve it! We are pretty gross and whorish."
Come on, everyone. Just do what you want to do with your parts and stop telling other people what to do with theirs. You know it's stupid, your sex partners know it's stupid, and now brain science says it's stupid too.
Image via Jim Cooke