Sunday, March 27, 2016
By Kenneth Dormer, Ph.D. and James Davis, OMS I
“I love you” are words many of us grew up hearing from family, friends, and others. For those of us who heard, they provided a sense of belonging, being wanted and valued. Some seldom heard such words and their absence has unseen lingering effects deep into the adult psyche. Regardless of whether we hear these words or not, being loved is a fundamental need of all humans. The Oxford English Dictionary defines love first as a noun: “A feeling or disposition of deep affection or fondness for someone, typically arising from a recognition of attractive qualities, from natural affinity, or from sympathy and manifesting itself in concern for the other’s welfare and pleasure in his or her presence.” [“Love”, OED.com]. Love meets a very basic need of being seen and recognized intimately, of being valued and desired in totality despite one’s flaws. It is based upon this need and perception of intimate knowing and desire, that intimacy and oneness, as described in the Bible, are brought into being.
Is intimacy, that state of very personal relationship, closeness, affinity, commitment, devotedness, and faithfulness, a part of the love that everyone is looking for? It seems that being able to “share our inner world” with the person we love is not only sought, but is part of the joy and “glue” that binds lifetime relationships. Achieving intimacy, however is not always easy. It takes time to build it up and it is often confused with the physical act of sex. Intimacy, more than mere physicality or emotions, is a composite of those two factors, cemented by openness and a deep biological need.
In today’s culture of expecting “instant gratification” in all things, there is a problem with intimacy that is clarified, as we will present, by understanding some physiology. Multiple sexual encounters with different persons, data show, are not satisfying—something is missing. Two self-centered people seeking self-satisfaction wake up in the morning-dissatisfied. Why is that? Of five significant parts of our lives that are meant to work in harmony, physical, emotional, mental, social, and spiritual, the intimacy part is not instantly found. Intimacy means total life sharing and for real intimacy one has to first know what it is to be truly loved and the best kind of love to have first experienced is God’s unconditional love.
Considering some physiology, oxytocin is a neurohormone, synthesized in the hypothalamus and released from the pituitary gland in response to intimate touch and sexual orgasm. Known as the “love or cuddle” or “bonding” hormone, oxytocin, with some accompanying chemicals, produces powerful feelings of intimacy, mutual love, trust, security, and bonding. Women are especially sensitive to oxytocin “intimacy-bonding”, as it is also necessarily released when nursing infants. Oxytocin is good and mysteriously wonderful in strengthening bonds of marriage but can be destructive if multiple “bondings” have occurred with multiple sexual partners. Hence, the problem of confusing sex with love. Mistaking the euphoria of orgasm while searching for true love greatly impairs the formation of a lifetime bond.
To give an allegory, place a large piece of duct tape on your upper arm. Now, pull it off. It’s painful. Place it on again and pull it off. It bonded less and was less painful upon separation. The more this is repeated, the less the bonding and less the pain of separation.
Data confirm multiple sex partners are less satisfying, and intimacy is lessened. Some feel symptoms of hormonal withdrawal, helplessness, and dejection. This negative effect is not seen when that intimacy-bonding is between one man and one woman for life.
We all desire to be so close to another person as to feel love and oneness. However, today we have been deceived to believe that love = sex and are confused by the euphoric high and intimacy-oneness-feelings effect of oxytocin. How can “oneness” be truly distributed among multiple sex partners? It cannot. Love is not like a box of chocolates, where one samples the pieces, shops around, to see which one emotes the best feelings of intimacy. Feelings and emotions wax and wane. So, if feelings wane does that mean that love has gone?
We’ve become a culture that craves feelings instead of truth and that craving is pathological for seeking true and lasting love, oneness and lifetime commitment. Sadly, this lack of understanding love and how to find it, along with the “substance abuse” of oxytocin, may be a contributor to the highest rates of failed marriages and divorces ever seen before in our culture.
Scripturally, love is an action verb, not an emotion (feeling). Love’s actions should rule feelings, actions such as unselfish giving, sacrificing your preferences for another’s, protecting, comforting, etc. Jesus first presented the oneness concept to His followers in John 17:22. Oneness in relationship is freely available with the bridegroom Jesus Christ as one experiences unconditional love when seeking Him. Furthermore, mutual oneness with Christ can strengthen the oneness, intimacy and love between husband and wife. Indeed, husbands are called to love their wives as Christ does the church.
It is in part for the sake of oneness that Jesus described marriage as a man leaving his father and mother and cleaving to his wife, the magnificent mystery of becoming one flesh (Matthew 19:5). God designed marriage to exist in intimacy and oneness and, in designing such, He included oxytocin to assist in inducing intimacy during perhaps the most vulnerable and intimate of actions. So, then, if sex helps in the God-designed process of building intimacy, let us consider it with the awesome seriousness it is due and reserve ourselves for our spouses, in mutual delight.