Book Review: Hooked: New Science on How Casual Sex is Affecting Our ChildrenNovember 28th, 2011 by Olivier
About the Authors
Joe McIlhaney, MD is an obstetrician-gynecologist. He previously served on the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS as well as on the Advisory Committee to the Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). He is also founder and chairman of The Medical Institute for Sexual Health. He lives in Austin, Texas and has been married to his wife for 47 years.
Freda McKissic, MD has been a board certified ob-gyn for over 21 years. She currently serves on the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS. She is also on the clinical faculty at the University of Mississippi Medical Center in the Departments of ob-gyn and family practice. She resides in Jackson, Mississippi and is the mother of 4.
Recent advances in neuroscience have enabled professionals to better understand the brain’s role in sex, and to actually examine alterations/activity in the brain as a result of sexual behavior. Consequently, documentation is acquired regarding a third, and often overlooked, risk of premarital sex: psychological consequences. Hooked is a non-religious book which utilizes this groundbreaking, ever-evolving, neuroscience to explain the potential psychological consequences of casual (as well as premarital) sex.
The Largest Sex Organ: The Brain
What is Sex?
When factoring in brain studies, Hooked defines sexual activity as “any intimate contact between two individuals that involves arousal, stimulation, and/or a response by at least one of two partners.”
The three primary neurochemicals involved during sexual activity are dopamine, oxytocin, and vasopressin.
Dopamine is present in both men and women and it can be thought of as the “reward chemical”. It rewards an individual by saturating brain cells with a feeling of exhilaration and well being when that individual engages in exciting behavior (i.e. sex). Dopamine does not discriminate based on positive or negative behavior. Dopamine can reward the brain for a positive thing such as an academic accomplishment or something negative such as speeding. Dopamine plays a significant role in the addictive nature of sex.
Oxytocin is the female bonding chemical. It increases a woman’s desire for more touch and causes her to bond to the man with whom she has been in physical contact with. With sexual intercourse and orgasm, oxytocin floods the woman’s brain, causing her to desire more sex with the male to whom she has bonded. Similarly to dopamine, oxytocin is values neutral. A woman may become bonded to a man with whom she only intended to casually hookup with.
Vasopressin is the male bonding chemical. This chemical is responsible for a male’s bonding/attachment to a woman with whom he has had intimate physical contact with. Just like oxytocin, vasopressin is values neutral.
Poor Decisions and Psychological Consequences
This neuroscientific research sheds light on the poor decisions and the psychological consequences which sometimes accompany premarital and/or casual sex:
1.) Couples remain in a relationship despite a relationship’s blatant toxicity
It’s the sex that keeps a couple together. The bonding effects of the neurochemicals create an attachment when the relationship has no foundation to begin with. Unfortunately, some of these couples end up marrying.
2.) Couples/Individuals jump into sex too quickly
When individuals engage in sexual behavior, brain synapses that regulate sexual decisions are molded in ways which makes it easier to say “yes” to sex. Brain synapses that govern sexual restraint are weakened and deteriorate. Additionally, that person craves the exhilaration provided by dopamine. Therefore, after a breakup, when an individual enters a new relationship, that relationship progresses to sexual contact quickly. Sex is no longer a big deal.
3.) Decreased ability to bond and corresponding decreased marital stability
The ability to bond is critical to sexual health, family development, and marital stability. When an individual engages in patterns of dating, having sex with that partner, breaking up, and having sex with a new partner, that individual jeopardizes his/her ability to bond. For a majority of people, this pattern interferes with neurological circuits crucial for long-term commitment. The brain is molded in a fashion where it becomes “hooked” on sex with little to no emotional investment.
The neurochemical imprints of sexual activity can last years, hampering a person’s ability to be fully emotionally invested in future relationships. The individual only experiences the dopamine effects of sex. “Their inability to bond after multiple liaisons is almost like tape that loses its stickiness after being applied and removed multiple times “.
Hooked also contains much quantitative data, pulled from various sources:
The Heritage Foundation (a conservative think tank) released the following findings in its study “Sexually Active Teenagers are More Likely To Be Depressed and Report Suicide”:
- Sexually active (teen) boys are more than 2x as likely to report depression as boys who are still abstinent
- Sexually active (teen) boys are 7x as likely as non-sexually active boys to have attempted suicide
- Sexually active (teen) girls are 3x as likely to report that they were depressed as compared to girls who are still abstinent
- Sexually active (teen) girls are 3x as likely as non-sexually active girls to have attempted suicide
The National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy (a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization) performed a nationally representative survey of 1,000 young people aged 12-19. 54% were girls and 46% were boys. The findings indicate:
- 70% of female high school students and 55% of male high school students who have had sex reported that they wish they had waited
- Cohabitors are 4x more likely than married individuals to report having been involved in infidelity
- Married couples, when compared to cohabiting couples, have sex more and enjoy it better, both physically and emotionally
Throughout the book are revealing quotes obtained by Lynne Lutz, a clinical psychologist. While each quote is memorable, below are some of the most powerful ones:
The hardest breakup I ever had was with the first person I had sex with. Fifteen years later, I still don’t think I’m over him. I still dream about him and think about him and compare every guy since then to him. I’m married now and I feel like it’s a threesome in my heart. He is still here. It is like he is part of me and I still can’t get over him.
I don’t want my kids to do what I did. I had no idea how my sexual past would affect the rest of my life. I worry my kids won’t listen to my advice since they know I made very different choices, and in their eyes I seem fine.
What is love? I don’t think I ever really knew, although I thought I did. Now I wonder if I have ever really loved or been loved. It all got so tangled with sex. I think it is going to take me a long time to get it all sorted out.
The hardest thing about encouraging my kids to be abstinent is looking in the mirror and knowing that I wasn’t. They wonder why it is such a big deal to me. If they ever found out everything I’ve been through, they would understand.
I had no idea how having sex as a teenager could affect the rest of my life. I didn’t really know what love was. By the time I got married, sex was so confusing for me. It has been a huge issue in our marriage and I don’t know how to fix it.
I see what sex has done to some of my friends and their relationships. I know although I am tempted now, that my choice to say no will protect my heart and my body for the future. I try to remember that as I try to make good choices.
We’re proud of it. We set a goal to be pure for each other on our wedding day and we did it. It wasn’t easy, but it taught us a lot about each other. I’m glad we did it.
After I accepted the challenge to model abstinent behavior for my teenage daughter, I expected to feel different. But I had no idea I would feel so clean.
It was the hardest thing we ever did, but we are so glad we waited. We had to talk through our disagreements. We couldn’t just feel close by having sex- we had to really work things out.
Hooked is a must read for educators, medical professionals, parents, sexually active and unmarried individuals, as well as those practicing abstinence. Hooked possesses a wealth of quantitative and qualitative information while presenting quite possibly the most effective non-religious case for abstinence (even more fascinating is that this research is only the beginning and that the book provides advice for those struggling with these psychological consequences).
Though Hooked suffers from occasional redundancy, the exciting research is delivered in a practical, non judgmental, and strictly scientific fashion. The third risk of premarital and/or casual sex is established in a convincing manner, proving that not all sex outside of marriage can truly be “safe sex”.