World Congress of Families IX: There’s nothing casual about a hook-up

Miriam Grossman, M.D., tells young adults about the dangers of the hook-up culture Thursday at the World Congress of Families. (Allie Hamilton)

The normalization of casual sex in contemporary culture has a dark downside that very few people are willing to speak publicly about, but young adults gathered Thursday to learn about those dangers.

Miriam Grossman, M.D., told a group of young people she would “tell you what they’re not telling you.”

Grossman worked as a staff member at UCLA’s Student Counseling Services. After 12 years of hearing and seeing the harmful effects of America’s hook-up culture, she decided to better educate people about the science behind attraction and sexual intercourse.

She now is a successful author and speaks to a variety of audiences. She shared her expertise with the Emerging Leaders group at the World Congress of Families IX in Salt Lake City.

Grossman addressed a variety of topics, from the benefits of being involved in a religious community to the science of “beer googles,” or how alcohol consumption can cause one to see others as more attractive than they really are.

Hook-ups can mean regret

Grossman focused on how hook-ups, or unplanned sexual encounters with no intention of further interaction, can often lead to regret, especially for women.

“The many emotional and biological effects make hook-ups anything but casual,”  Grossman said.

Grossman cited a study that shows before a casual sexual interaction, 30 percent of the women wanted a relationship with the person they hooked up with, and afterwards, 80 percent of those women wanted a relationship.

Grossman shared the story of one of her students, who said she initially was not interested in the man she was hooking up with, but said, “Now I can’t stop thinking about him. I wait for him to text me, and I don’t think he even cares about me.”

She described the regret and lack of self-worth felt by men and women who engage in casual sexual activity, as well as the adverse health effects. She said it’s important to know a partner’s sexual history.

Grossman debunked the myth that as soon as a person becomes sexually active, he or she will get an STD. Instead of chancing it, she said, these risks can be avoided by waiting for marriage and living monogamously.

“It is the healthiest relationship for you emotionally and biologically, and people are just not told that,” Grossman said. Several scientific studies — some of them highlighted in other conference presentations — show when couples defer sex until marriage, they are happier and report higher martial quality.

Miriam Grossman told young adults that the “cuddle hormone” oxytocin helps couples bond. (Allie Hamilton)

The biochemistry of attachment

Grossman also spoke on the biochemistry of attachment, a new field of science based on the hormone called oxytocin.

Oxytocin is a primarily female hormone and shapes the neural circuitry of trust and trust adaptation in humans. Oxytocin is historically known as the hormone released during childbirth and nursing, which creates a bond of trust between mother and child.

However, according to Grossman, recent studies show oxytocin is also released in men and women during intimate behavior. When two people have sex, cuddle, hold hands, or even share a loving gaze, it releases amounts of oxytocin that cause them to feel attachment, trust and love, Grossman said. It also causes them to minimize the other’s shortcomings and be less aware of things that might bother them otherwise.

“All these things are wonderful if you’re with someone that you know is good person and you want to be attached to them,” Grossman said. “But when it’s a one time thing, that’s when you start getting into trouble.”

Differences between men and women

Grossman detailed the various physiological differences between men and women. “Eight weeks after conception, you can already tell the difference between a male and a female brain,” Grossman said. She refuted the belief that the differences between men and women are largely caused by social and cultural factors. She said the differences stem from genetic and hormonal components.

She cited LouAnn Brizeldine, M.D., when she said, “The female brain is so deeply affected by hormones that their influence can be said to create a woman’s reality.”

Grossman then shared several studies that show a woman will appear more attractive, be likely to take better care of herself, buy nicer clothes, walk differently, talk differently, feel more confident, and even emit a more attractive smell when she is ovulating during her menstrual cycle.

“We are made in a wondrous way, and none of this is being told to you,” Grossman said.

She concluded by describing how humans are distinctly made to love and to be attracted to one another. She urged the audience to go against the status quo of a “hyper-sexualized world” and take into consideration the scientifically proven health benefits of a monogamous and trusted relationship.

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