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By Sex therapist and relationship counselor
TODAY contributor
updated 2/19/2009 3:27:00 PM ET 2009-02-19T20:27:00

In “Sex and the City,” Carrie Bradshaw asks one of the great questions of our time:

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“In an age where women enjoy the same money and successes as men, why shouldn’t women be able to enjoy sex like a man?”

If men are capable of having sex without any meaning or attachment, why can’t women as well? After all, you broke the glass ceiling, you have your own basketball league and you pretty much run the world (or you ought to). But having orgasms is just one aspect of sex. There's also that pesky emotional component that women seem to have the capacity for, too ... and in greater measure, I might add. As Charlotte of “Sex and the City” shouts after a guy she just hooked up with behaves particularly badly, “Did the last four-and-a-half hours mean nothing to you?”

Nobel Prize winner Doris Lessing writes on the subject of sexual freedom in her book “The Golden Notebook”: “Free, we say, yet the truth is they get erections when they’re with a woman they don’t give a damn about, but we don’t have an orgasm unless we love him. What’s free about that?”

Though it was written in the early 1960s, Lessing’s complaint describes a dilemma that many women still face in the new millennium: You may be free to pursue sex like men, but the deeper pleasures require some level of emotional attachment. In biological terms, the female orgasm releases a burst of oxytocin, also known as the cuddle hormone. It’s what makes you feel warm and fuzzy and what facilitates a sense of attachment. But if there’s nothing to attach to, if there’s no deeper emotional content or meaningfulness, orgasm becomes a regretful reminder of the hollowness of the sex that preceded it. This is called “post-orgasm regret,” and it typically manifests itself in the form of sadness or anger, sometimes to the extreme.

In a recent editorial in The New York Times entitled “Sex and Depression,” Dr. Richard A. Friedman, M.D., sites a female patientwho experienced a four- to six-hour period of intense depression and irritability after an orgasm, either alone or with a partner. It was so unpleasant that she was starting to avoid sex.”

With the knowledge that a casual sex encounter is less likely to bring deeper emotional benefits, and perhaps even depression and regret, what do you get out of it? Are the costs of hooking up greater than the benefits? Do the booty-call math and determine for yourself.

For some women, a casual hook-up can be a place where they “practice” for the real thing. Unburdened by any concern over whether the guy will like them in the future, such women use hook-ups as a preseason warm-up. Others claim that the anonymity allows them to be more wild and carefree than they normally would be.

One of the potential costs of a casual hook-up, however, is that it can be deceiving. What you may view as casual and meaningless can give rise to a sense of attachment, placing you on the roller coaster of emotional involvement. We can treat sex lightly, but sex doesn’t always treat us lightly back in return. We humans don’t require all that much to begin to believe that another person cares about us or finds us special. Even women who go into a situation fully aware that there is no commitment, that it’s just “no strings attached” sex, may come out on the other side with genuine feelings for the guy.

So can you have sex like a man? Of course. Should you? Well, that’s up to you. In the end:

  • It’s your call: You can have sex like a man, but just know that the more casual the situation, the less likely it is you’ll achieve orgasm or any emotional state of happiness.
  • Trust what sex tells you: If you feel angry or regretful after a sexual encounter, listen to it. Conversely, if you feel a sense of warmth, you might be onto something.
  • The means or the end? Can you compartmentalize between the pleasures of sex and its emotional qualities? If you’re having casual sex as a means to an end (the pleasure of a flesh-on-flesh orgasm), navigating the “means” may be trickier than expected.
  • Define yourself: Some sex acts carry more weight than others for a whole variety of reasons — rational and irrational. Even if something seems irrational, trust your instincts.
  • Don’t internalize: Social judgments and your own moral compass may make you feel like what you’re doing is wrong. If so, change your behavior, but don’t internalize the judgments of others.

     

Ian Kerner is a sex therapist, relationship counselor and New York Times best-selling author of numerous books, including “She Comes First” and the soon-to-be-published “Love in the Time of Colic: The New Parents’ Guide to Getting It On Again.” He was born and raised in New York City, where he lives with his wife and two sons. He can be reached at www.IanKerner.com

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