Home Emotional aspects of sexuality Non-sexual intimacy Sexual attraction & commitment to a relationship

Sexual attraction & commitment to a relationship

Especially in the early days of the relationship we can feel an electric thrill from touching, hearing or seeing our lover. We have a desire to be physically close and to hold them. For women this is an emotional thrill but for men, the desire is genitally focused and includes arousal. When we are young the novelty of these new emotions can result in tremendous emotional highs and lows. If we feel overwhelmed by such emotions, confiding in someone we trust may help us keep our feelings in perspective.

We refer to personal chemistry meaning that we naturally feel at ease with someone and we are attracted to them. We identify with the sound of their voice, how they look and how they express themselves. Speed-dating tends to work because we assess people within a few seconds of meeting them. We are attracted to others even when we are just friends. Some people have platonic relationships with the opposite sex. Others lose interest in such friendships unless they become sexual. Some people only want sex with a person they love. Others are motivated by lust. Some people find it easy to demonstrate affection. Others are more reserved about showing feelings.

Sexual attraction describes the male response. Male arousal causes men to feel intimate with someone. A man has no conscious control over his response. He cannot choose not to be aroused. He can only ignore or act on the urge to make a sexual advance. As soon he has an erection, a man has a desire for intimacy. He doesn’t need to know personal details before he can enjoy a sexual encounter. So men don’t usually need a lead into sex. Gay men can agree to have sex, within minutes, of meeting. Straight men do not have the same freedom because women’s responses are emotional.

Men learn that women do not appreciate direct sexual approaches. A man is likely to get his face slapped or be reported for sexual harassment. Men seduce women by admiring them in a platonic way (without revealing their sexual urges), by being an interesting companion, respectful and socially amenable. Specifically, men do not display their bodies or make sexual invitations. Women tend to be wary of any male approach no matter how it is disguised because they learn that men are just looking for sex. A woman needs time to get to know a man and assess him as a potential partner. She only agrees to sex once she feels attracted to him in an emotional sense.

A man is attracted by a woman’s body and her behaviour. Men interpret female timidity as amenability. If a man pays a woman special attention, she may assume that he is attracted to her. This is particularly true as a woman ages because her vanity is flattered, especially from younger men. So men have to be careful not to imply that they are intent on a sexual relationship.

Women value their relationships as an emotional necessity. They hope for a partner who contributes enthusiastically to their intimate time together: sharing a sense of humour, interesting conversation and affection. Most women are attracted to decent men with kind faces and reassuring voices. A woman wants a man to protect her and who is competent enough to support her. She also wants an affectionate companion to share her life with.

One woman can only have a finite number of children. But a man can potentially impregnate a (different) woman with every ejaculation (many hundred times in a lifetime). Men are naturally promiscuous because this maximises their chances of passing on their genes. Monogamy is primarily in a woman’s reproductive interests. Most men are attracted primarily to young women. This is a biological (subconscious) preference that means that fertile women are targeted. Men are rarely attracted to much older women. But women experience platonic love. Emotional factors work the same with older men. Women are attracted to men who will support them. They find men’s greater confidence and robustness emotionally reassuring.

Some couples document their relationship by having a legal marriage ceremony. A core concept within marriage, whether a couple has religious beliefs or not, is that once married the couple is sexually loyal to each other. A wedding can be a way of communicating the new relationship to the wider family. A big celebration (as well as being enjoyable) may emphasise the responsibility involved in making a long-term commitment to each other. Not everyone wants to get married. Some couples decide to have children without getting married. Some couples don’t want to have children. In some cultures, a child may feel embarrassed to have unmarried parents. There is also considerable taboo over a child being the result of an illicit affair.

Splitting up a family home is extremely upsetting and inconvenient. So sometimes adults continue in unhealthy relationships. They may want security and continuity. They may believe their partner can’t help being how they are. They hope the situation will improve. They are afraid of change or of being alone. They may not be able to find alternative accommodation. Many couples, especially if they have children, try to stay together. If a couple is always arguing it is sometimes be better to end a bad marriage. A couple may separate initially and then divorce, which legally ends their marriage. Couples divorce for many reasons. Key reasons are sexual differences and financial problems as well as incompatible personalities.

… there seems to be no single factor which is more important for the maintenance of a marriage than the determination, the will that that marriage shall be maintained. (Alfred Kinsey 1953)