When Sex is Just a Drug

“Those who come together in the night time and entwine in swaying delight perform a serious work and gather up sweetness, depth, and strength for the song of some poet that is to be, who will rise to speak of unspeakable bliss.” Rilke

“High on love darling we don’t need to take drugs. Put away my alcohol, kissing got us feeling buzzed.” Rapper Will I Am

“Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth! For your love is better than wine.” Song of Solomon 1:2

Driving near my house the other day, I spotted a cute little boutique coffee shop. Its a drive through place where you can get coffee on the run. And I learned from their signage that they have a really unique specialty and its actually not their coffee. Its baristas in bikinis. Yes, even in middle of winter, I guess. Never mind all the possible painful mishaps one could imagine occurring in a place where extremely hot beverages steep and froth so close to so much skin. I was fascinated with the business model behind combining coffee and sexual arousal. I started recalling all I’ve learned about sex from my work and studies as a therapist. And it hit me that these entrepreneurs are brilliant.

We usually consume coffee to wake us up, to stave off the effects of our sleepless lives. Caffeine is very effective for this task. And chemically speaking, so is sexual arousal. Sex is obviously an intense and euphoric emotional and relational experience. But it releases quite the biochemical cocktail in our bodies too. Endorphins are a part of this process. Endorphins are neurotransmitters that produce the euphoric rush of an orgasm. Its the same chemicals we experience during intense physical exercise. You’ve probably heard of a runners high before. Well, a “high” is not far from the truth. Endorphins are natural opiates. Yes, opiates, as in acting like opium, the drug. Morphine is another opiate if you need another point of reference. Sex literally gets us high.

Can you start to understand why sexual arousal might work well to wake us up? I had a friend in college that used pornography instead of coffee to keep himself up during all nighters. And it worked very well. Now likely, no one who patrons this little coffee shop will ever know they are really getting hard drugs with their coffee. I can just see them driving away sipping their warm drinks, thinking, “WOW! What do they put in this coffee? I feel GREAT!” Another satisfied customer. Sorry Starbucks, its hard to compete with an Opium Latte.

There may be one little problem with the business model though. Its called sex addiction. We know now that it truly is possible to get addicted to sex or sexual arousal. A sex addict is someone who is literally addicted to his own brain chemicals. You can sort of imagine this. If we all have an endless supply of opium naturally occurring in our bodies, ready and waiting for us at our next sexual experience or titillating moment, the temptation starts to make a little more sense. Our little boutique coffee shop is really a front for a drug operation, making its customers sex addicts unaware.

You may be wondering how we don’t all become addicted to sex. It has to do with the other chemical processes at play in our bodies. During arousal, our bodies also release the hormone Oxytocin. Its been nicknamed the “cuddle hormone” because it makes us feel close to others. It bonds us to each other. Its the very same hormone released in mothers and infants during breastfeeding, obviously there to create the deep emotional attachment between mother and child. It does the same for lovers, leading them to feel close, emotionally connected, secure in each others arms.

I believe there is meaning in our makeup. We must read our biochemistry as a metaphor. I think our oxytocin tells us clearly that sex was meant to be a deeply relational experience. a moment of naked vulnerability and connection. Sex must be love making to be sex. Our chemistry compels us to cuddle, to bond, to feel close with the other. To divorce sex from committed relationship is to violate our design. And absolutely our endorphins tell us sex was also meant to be a really good time! Its meant to be an erotic high shared by two people in love. It must involve play to be truly sexual as well. As marriage therapist Sue Johnson says, “Emotional connection creates great sex, and great sex creates deeper emotional connection… Sex becomes intimate play, a safe adventure.” Intimacy and adventure, all choreographed by our endorphins and oxytocin.

Sex becomes dangerous when it ceases to be both adventure and relationship. If you take away the adventure of sex, the playfulness, then a marriage is in danger of boring itself to death. And take away relationship and sex becomes just a drug. Its the love behind sex that makes the opium safe to consume. Relationship keeps us safe from addiction. All 12 step recovery programs know this, by the way. Its why they work to get people sober. Its members support each other, call each other, share with each other. And this love keeps them from their addictions.

There’s a good reason the Bible always talks about sex as knowing the other person. “Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived.” It speaks to the deep intimate knowledge intended for lovers. Adam knew Eve’s body and heart. The man who gets his coffee from a half naked woman, surely will learn a lot about his barista’s body but know nothing of her heart. Same for the man or woman alone with a two dimensional pornographic image. Or the man who takes a woman home from the bar, too drunk to even remember her name the next day. Its also the married couple who have sex but never talk about it, or during it. All of these have made sex a drug. Where there is no intimacy, there is only a high.

Listen to your biochemistry. Let it tell you the truth. God wired you for great sex. You are made for passion, for deep and significant pleasure. And you are meant to share this with a committed lover. Don’t deny your design and end up a junkie.

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