Why People Become Attached After Intimacy

after-sex-attachmentYou’re in love?

Oh, really?

It has been widely observed that people in relationships –or, more problematically, people who aren’t in relationships– become attached after physical intimacy. Suddenly, after sex, proclamations of love and living happily ever after become commonplace. Two people become more attached to each other than they ever were before (and one person may become more attached than the other). What is happening? Does sex create love or increase feelings of love? Not exactly, but it can certainly give rise to feelings that mimic true love.

The Biological Reasons

So why do these feelings of “love” and attachment occur? Biologically, a major influence are the release of hormones and neurochemicals, especially oxytocin (also known as “the love or cuddle hormone”), dopamine, and vasopressin.

Oxytocin is released upon intimate touch and greatly increases feelings of love, trust, security, and bonding. It also decreases feelings of stress. When you cuddle, kiss, or engage in other forms of significant physical contact with another person, oxytocin is released and bonding occurs.

In both sexes, oxytocin levels rise dramatically during orgasm. At the same time, the neurotransmitter dopamine is released. Dopamine creates a strong sense of pleasure, excitement, and well-being. Dopamine is addictive — we want more and more of whatever brings us that pleasurable feeling.

The combined effects of oxytocin and dopamine cause you to not only feel attached to your partner, but to associate your sexual partner with a sense of pleasure, trust, and happiness. In men, vasopressin acts similarly to oxytocin to increase feelings of attachment and love.

attached-huggingDo these loving feelings last?

In a word, no.

Oxytocin and dopamine levels drop after orgasm. How steep these drop are and when they happen depends on the person and their unique biochemistry. Oxytocin, however, can be kept at high enough levels to sustain feelings of bonding if two people remain in contact. The problem is with dopamine and an associated hormone called prolactin.

At first, due to the action of oxytocin and dopamine, physical intimacy causes you to want more physical contact — you want that high that comes with the person you are attached to. But with a drop in dopamine levels comes a sense of irritability and depression. Over time, these highs and lows may become associated with your sexual partner.

Prolactin adds to these negative feelings. Prolactin levels increase after orgasm and work to curb sexual desire. But such high levels of prolactin eventually cause moodiness and feelings of anxiety and depression. In combination with the “downs” involved in a decrease in dopamine, you begin to see your “love” for what it is — a biochemical high.

So you’re not in love?

Sex is not love and the feelings created by sex can not sustain a relationship. What you feel post-coital is not love, but a very  strong sense of attachment created by the action of molecules in the body. It would be helpful to keep this in mind before you declare your love for someone you barely know, begin shopping for wedding rings and a new home, or otherwise commit yourself to a sexual partner.

What are your experiences with this phenomenon? Have you ever become attached after physical intimacy?

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43 thoughts on “Why People Become Attached After Intimacy

  1. I have been telling my girlfriends about this ever since I learned about it in my neurobiology class. In other words…a good **** can have you soooooooo emotional, LOL!!

  2. a good **** can have you soooooooo emotional

    Oh I know that. Nothing better than a good hard **** that leaves you shaking.

    Oh hubby don’t get home for another hour :(…

    Well I can’t say that this don’t make sense because it does make sense. I can’t speak so much on one nights stands and such because I haven’t had those. I’ve only had sex with a guy I loved so and theres nothing better than just cuddling up after that.

    I think this might be Alee’s raunchiest post so far. I like it.

  3. Eliss says:

    “a good **** can have you soooooooo emotional”

    Nkosazana says:

    “Oh I know that. Nothing better than a good hard **** that leaves you shaking.”

    LOL. You two just went there, right from the beginning.

    “Well I can’t say that this don’t make sense because it does make sense.”

    It only wouldn’t make sense if you’re currently going through it. Because your brain on dopamine and oxytocin is a very stubborn, reckless brain indeed. :)

    “I think this might be Alee’s raunchiest post so far. I like it.”

    Ha. Nothing raunchy about a little biopsychology. ;)

    Anyway, I tried to make the title as PG-13 as possible (maybe at the sake of clarity…).

  4. Well, if you’ve read my previous blog, you know I.GO.THERE. :)

    We’re all grown…sooooo…yea. We know what’s up, LOL! I think the physiology of sex is fascinating.

  5. Oh you know your readers have dirty minds alee :)

    More raunchy posts from you alee :D

    It’s fun :)

  6. Eliss, I did read your previous blog sometimes, so I know all about your penchant for in-depth intimacy topics. :)

    Nkosazana,

    “Oh you know your readers have dirty minds alee”

    There is a saying that a blog’s readers are a direct reflection of the blogger. If that’s true, then I don’t know what to say!

    “More raunchy posts from you alee”

    Sometimes, sometimes. I have to mix it up. Too much dopamine is never good; you need some prolactin. ;)

  7. What are your experiences with this phenomenon? Have you ever become attached after physical intimacy?

    I have positive experiences with it. And yes, I’ve become attached. It seems to always happen with me.

    However, I’ve noticed these feeling stay, at least in my case. They stay long enough.

    But what I find (potentially) problematic is the fact, at least in my case, this feeling of attachment can’t exist pre-sex. No matter how much I’m interested or how much I like the guy. As if I can’t fall in love without it.

    I mean, I’ve heard stories about people bonding for months, even years (without sex), and it doesn’t seem to work for me.

    Actually, I don’t think I was even interested in boys before I was ready to have sex. All of my friends were dating (holding hands, kissing and hugging) when we were about 15-16, and I was, like: boys? Boooring! And then it just… hit me. :P And when it hit me, holding hands just didn’t seem enough. As if I jumped straight from the “ewww, boys!” phase into “let’s go all the way” phase.

    Now, my experience is quite limited (because what I wanted and how I felt wasn’t always materialized in reality), so I might not be the perfect person to talk about this issue, but all I know is that I can’t fell in love (seriously) before sex. That’s why the whole: “if you love me, you’ll sleep with me” (male speech), and all the whole “if you love me, you’ll wait” (female speech) seems rather confusing to me- how can they love each other if they never had sex?

    I understand it’s not how (most?) other people feel. But it’s something I’ve observed with myself.

  8. Mira,

    “However, I’ve noticed these feeling stay, at least in my case. They stay long enough.”

    These feelings? Not these ones. :)

    We know these feelings can’t last. Having high levels of dopamine in your brain all the time is the equivalent of being high on cocaine 24/7 (in fact, cocaine works by keeping dopamine levels in the brain high). That is not healthy, to say the least.

    But, as mentioned in the post, if you continue to have physical contact with a person in the form of cuddling, kissing, etc., that can keep oxytocin levels high enough that you keep those fond feelings.

    “But what I find (potentially) problematic is the fact, at least in my case, this feeling of attachment can’t exist pre-sex. No matter how much I’m interested or how much I like the guy. As if I can’t fall in love without it.”

    I do think there is some connection between love and sex. But ideally love would occur before sex. Actually, the bonds created by oxytocin will not occur, or won’t be as effective, unless there is some sort of attachment already there. Clearly, or else people would be falling in love with prostitutes and rapists…

  9. I was listening to a discussion about this yesterday. A lot of people say and think that sex is a physical act and you don’t have to have feelings in order to participate in casual sexual acts. If that were the case, then why is it that people who have been molested have their lives forever tainted by what happened to them no matter how long ago it was?? What about rape victims??((I agree with Alee) Sexual acts were committed against them and if sex is a physical act, then they should get over it right?? WRONG
    Whether people want to admit it or not, that stuff catches up with you after a while and it can cause problems for when you do want to settle down and be with one person for the rest of your life. If a guy that I planned on being with long-term told me that he had a history of cheating on girlfriends, but somehow he’s changed and he would “never do that to me”, I’d run in the other direction. A lot of women ignore that and think that they are different, but they end up just like the other women this guy has hurt.
    After a while, you become de-sensitized to the whole thing and you can’t have a true connection with anyone because we all carry this baggage with us in every relationship. For me, I know that my past behavior is a reflection of having been molested at 8 and having been assaulted a few times through out HS. For me, the need was to have someone pay attention to me, to give me the love that I never had and that sense that the only way to get attention is to sexually act out to prove my “worth.” It’s hard to live that stuff down and it makes itself at home in each relationship. Sorry if I sound like a therapist…

  10. Hi madamesiamese,

    “A lot of people say and think that sex is a physical act and you don’t have to have feelings in order to participate in casual sexual acts. “

    I think it’s different for everyone. Some people can do the casual, 100+ partners thing with no (apparent) ill effects, but for most people, the feelings will get to them. I think of it as a bell curve/normal distribution — a few people will be greatly affected by casual sex, most people will be moderately affected, and a few people will not be noticeably affected. That’s in my experience.

    “After a while, you become de-sensitized to the whole thing and you can’t have a true connection with anyone”

    There are some researchers who make that claim: people who do the casual sex thing may become desensitized and no longer be able to form attachments over a longer period. But it’s a little of a chicken-egg situation — which came first, serial casual sex or the inability to form long-term attachments?

    “For me, I know that my past behavior is a reflection of having been molested at 8 and having been assaulted a few times through out HS.”

    Oh, sorry to hear that. :(

    It’s good that you seem proactive in seeking out healthier relationships with others, and yourself.

  11. Hi Madamesiamese,

    Babee girl, I was a counselor for a rape crisis center for 10 years, and alas your pain sounds familiar to me. Seeking expert help with your past is POWERFUL. There are low cost options out there. Get the support that you deserve.

  12. Very interesting posts, that are valuable to all readers. Thank you all for sharing.

  13. Ps….to share with you, I am in a long distance relationship with only one woman whom I love, adore & am very faithful to even when I am working inside a nightclub full of women. I also know it works both ways in a long distance relationship. I do remember in my last marriage, I am divorced now for past 2 yrs, that I was accused of being in love with being in love with her. If thats a crime, I am willing to do the time, lol. Thank you all all for listening.

  14. Hi JerseyBouncer,

    Thanks for stopping by and glad you found the post valuable.

    “I am in a long distance relationship with only one woman whom I love, adore & am very faithful to even when I am working inside a nightclub full of women.”

    Well, that’s good to hear. :)

  15. Hey, this is an interesting post. Thanks for bringing it to the top of the recent comments stack, JerseyBouncer.
    I think most women cannot fall in love without first having sex and guys cannot fall in love without first having a period of time waiting. I think the waiting thing for guys is mostly about respect but I think it may also be biology. Something like a requirement of increased commitment triggers higher levels of commitment. I know many people say the wait for sex has no impact on the guys ability to fall in love, but I don’t believe it.

  16. Tim,

    “I think most women cannot fall in love without first having sex and guys cannot fall in love without first having a period of time waiting.”

    Hmmm, that might be something to study. I guess it would depend on the person viewing love and intimacy as one, but some people separate the two.

  17. I disagree with this article. What is a woman is of the “Dismissive Attachment Style”? It is my understanding these types AVOID intimacy. So, even if you have sex with a woman of this style, she probably never really falls in love with her man.

  18. leverageit,

    People become attached to varying degrees and times. Even people with the avoidant/dismissive attachment become more attached but probably to a lesser degree.

    Also, just becomes someone becomes attached doesn’t mean they are in love or that they will stay that way. Remember, these feelings don’t last.

  19. I totally agree, for the first time in my life I got sex on my first and second date .yeah sure It wasn’t love was something that until now I could wait for more than a month , but with this guy ,since the first time that we talk and touch faces and hands ,I even told him before- no it wont happend !!, but it hapend and only has been a week and I feel someting that I can’t explain like a feeling of attachment and in the other hand just wanna run from him because this high level of physical atraction is not normal. so I ‘m giving a week of no contact with him , even I will go out to dinner with another guy(this might help) to get a level of normality in my feelings help !! this wasn’t supposed to hapend to me .and I wonder how he ‘s feeling maybe expericiencing the same confusion, he was so in to me in sex but after we were both acting weird like trying to avoid pillow talk , i just jump put my clothes and say lets end to see the movie that we were watching .and talk about other stupid stuff .

  20. In order to have your body tricked you first have to trick your own brain. I try not to do that. I’ll pick someone I really like and feel compatible with and before I consider having sex with them.

    Is the purpose of the article, to push past these feelings of mistakes to make things more difficult and repeat this pattern over and over? I don’t think so. I want to feel integrated and know what I’m doing. Then i’ll do it with purpose. It would feel better.

    Can these love feelings last? In a word, yes. With the right person, the feeling morphs and grows into something better. Or at least it has the potential. It’s a natural starting point. The elements that make up the whole are crucial in deciding which way it’s going to go.

  21. I’ve noticed this phenomena and have been discussing it with friends and family for a few years. I think it’s important in a marriage, or committed relationship, it seems to keep the love and bonding flowing. But if you don’t feel those loving feelings in between nights of intimacy…does that mean you are not truly in love? Marriage can get boring, point blank. Just when you think you could live without the whole deal, you have sex and you are floating on cloud nine again and he’s the most wonderful person in the world. Lol. So, that could be a good thing…helping you keep your bond going in a committed relationship…or a bad thing if it is causing you to stay in a bad relationship.

  22. Reki,

    Ideally, yes, there would be some loving feelings outside of the bedroom. It doesn’t have to be the sparks and fireworks, especially after a long time together. But there should be something there.

  23. That is why you’re not supposed to say I love you just after having mindboggling sex. Wait until daytime and see if you feel the same!

    Other than that, it’s a great feeling that does not harm anyone. Look for it and enjoy it when you can. Add the fact that guys can’t really focus on the actual relationship unless they sleep with their woman and you have the whole picture…. Sex it’s a win-win situation!

  24. This is the first blog I’ve ever commented on and I have to reply because I’m finishing a paper for my philosophy class and this blog is perfect for my research. I had to choose a question to ask and it’s so interesting the different perspectives people have on this topic. My question: “Is it possible for you to maintain clarity in a sexual relationship or do your emotions detain your true intent?” For me personally, after some years of experience, I have found it’s much easier to control my emotions and resist the confusion and disappointments that can be caused from sex. I must be able to have emotions that match my intentions of the relationship with or without sex, with duration nor future desires not being a factor. Of course, this doesn’t work all the time, seeing as I think sometimes letting your emotions run free is half the passionate experience

  25. I’ve never replied to something like this before, but I just had to comment on this one. I was on Google, looking up if it was normal to have feelings after having slept with someone. What happened to me a few weeks ago has left me driving myself crazy because I started to feel a kind of attachment after sleeping with this guy. (It was my first casual thing) I went to visit my best friend and his roommate & I had been texting for a few wks prior. We knew we were both attracted and there was a lot of talk of us hooking up. Needless to say, it happened – a few times. Once I had to go back home, my emotions went nuts. He was all I could think about and I kept replaying everything in my head and wishing that it could happen again. It’s been almost 3 weeks since I’ve slept with him and I’m just now starting to feel “stable” again. The part that bugs me is that even after all of this feeling down/confused, etc. I would probably STILL do it again, if I had the chance! I’m thinking it’s just because he was AMAZING in bed. Best I’ve ever had.. which kinda contributes to it all! Haha.. just thought I’d share. :)

  26. I really like the way you have addressed this topic, it’s something I intend to write about myself, would you mind taking a look at my blog? I deal with similar issues and would be interested in getting some feedback. Thanks!

  27. Hi lewis, your blog looks good! Not saying I necessarily agree with all your posts but your writing is perfectly fine.

  28. Wow! Thats great. Such a relief to know that it will not last.
    Is there away to get out of the attachment faster? I think I’m feeling that for someone that I think is not the best match for me. My conscious mind knows that he is wrong for me but I feel these feeling that are like emotional attacks. How do l get out of this situation? Do l ignore him?

  29. hi . can you please help me out? my age is 17years old..i’m in a relationship with a guy since past four months.and i love him more then anything.i think he also loves me.. but in past i was in a relationship with a guy ,but he always forced me to have sex with him..but me i was not ready for such things and my age was 15years old at that time.. but now at present i’m in a relationship he also talks about the same but he’d never asked me for having sex and all..but according to him the love only increases after having sexual relationship..i am damn serious with him and i am afraid lose him.i am totally confused does he really loves me? or what is wrong!! or may be his attraction towards me.

  30. Hi alisha,

    You’re quite young. If you’re not ready to be intimate, then that’s your choice. You don’t have to do it, or feel pressured to. If he leaves because of this, then I’d think he wasn’t worth your love anyway.

  31. Alisha,

    I think you should take to heart Alee’s advice. It is excellent advice. One way to tell if this fellow really loves you is if he is willing to wait until you are ready for sex. Sex may do something to increase intimacy and love but it is not the only way to establish a strong bond between two people. Do what is best for you and what you feel most comfortable with.

  32. My tip Alisha is skip the boys all together and focus on school. Boys that age don’t ‘love you’ whatever they might say. they want to get into your pants and nothing else.

  33. Well nothing more than her mother should have told her and made her do. Girls her age have no business messing around with boys, they should be home studying. You don’t become a doctor by kissing boys. Dating should come after you’re done with school.

    I don’t know her relationship with her mother but I’d tell her if I was Alisha and if someone forced my baby girl to have sex things would not be pretty. Oh no they wouldn’t. Not at all.

  34. Hi , I met this guy and we been friends that moved to the fwb factor , however he tells me not to get attached to him and I told him the same thing but he says he won’t … He is the one that texts me and tells me that he feels good when he talks to me… So I made a joke and said you see? Careful lol, and he says when or if he does get attached he will tell me and we will stop… That he doesn’t want me to get hurt, why can’t it be the other way around? And why do guys say this? Is it possible for guys to develop stronger feelings?

  35. Hi “Me”,

    It’s possible for anyone to become attached! But if you all wanted FWB then that’s what you should stick with unless you both want more.

  36. My personal theory is this: the same way that bears, lions and a few other mammals can only conceive if the sexual activity is rigorous and sustained for a long period, women can only fall in love if the sex is very good. Judging from what I have been reading here I have noticed that many of the women have strong emotional reactions only when the sex is good. This is what women really respond to. They respond to good sex. This is why men who are good lovers are never short of sexual companions. Women are attracted to sexual confidence. A man develops sexual confidence if he is good in bed. As a result a man who is good in bed becomes very skilful in seducing women. But the catch is, in order for a man to become proficient at this he must at the same time develop the ability to resist emotional connections as this would mess up his game. In other words he must develop the habit of indifference, and reading many of these posts I now understand how the combination of good sex and indifference can really mess with a woman’s head, thereby leading to a spiral of increasing sexual/emotional dependence in an otherwise indifferent partner. If the sex is not good enough to trigger that strong emotional response in a woman, she merely tolerates the guy, and the relationship is eventually doomed. maybe this is why women try to work things out with jerks who are supreme lovers, while really great guys who don’t really trigger that intense emotional response in bed are generally hurriedly disposed of.

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