The emotional toll of using sex to fill a void.
Maybe you’re newly single and feeling uncomfortable without your ex partner, maybe you’ve been single for a long time and are needing validation of your attractiveness or value. Heck, maybe you’re in a relationship and your partner isn’t either emotionally or physically available and you’re feeling alone. Whatever your current story is, if you have found yourself looking to sex to fill an emptiness you are feeling, know that you are not alone.
As human beings we share a need for connection and intimacy, both of which come in multiple forms. Sex can feel like a great instant gratification way to feel less alone in the world, more connected, more wanted and needed.
The problem is that, as a therapist, I have not yet had lonely person who has had a one night stand or has a habitual non-romantic sexual partner answer yes to the following question, “So did you feel better, satisfied, or happier after that sexual encounter?”
Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with casual sex (when emotional and physical safety are all taken into account), and I strongly believe that meeting new people and having sex in general is a wonderful thing. I can share plenty of stories of sexual adventures outside of a committed relationship that were taken for what they were and thoroughly enjoyed by the participants in all ways.
Sex for the sake of sex is a different thing than sex in search of intimacy. If you have a casual sexual encounter, be honest with yourself as to what it is. Never lie to yourself that this is any more than what it is at face value. Please resist the urge to set yourself up for disappointment, guilt, shame, hurt, even a sense of betrayal, by pretending this is the beginning of something emotionally intimate.
What we’re talking about here is replacing true connection and real intimacy with a band-aid. Loneliness is very uncomfortable, even painful. We begin to doubt ourselves in loneliness. We begin to catastrophize our situation and begin to believe that we will die alone. All kinds of distorted thoughts start flooding your brain when you are lonely – especially in the middle of the night. When you are in this vulnerable place and someone shows sexual interest in you, it is easy to be drawn toward the mirage of connection that sex provides.
When we have sex with partners who are not committed to us or interested in more than sex we enter a dangerous area that can lead to connecting the amazing experience of sex with negative emotions instead of connection and intimacy.
We can start to question our own value when we see that people will spend an hour or even a night with us, but nothing more. Sex itself can even become distasteful, and it is far too important to the human emotional experience to tarnish it with such things. Also, you are too important to risk your emotional health and sense of self-esteem and confidence for a mirage.
At this point you may be asking me, “Okay, so, what? Am I supposed to just spend the rest of my life alone and sexless?” Not at all.
I ask you to be patient. Engage in your life. Do the things you enjoy. Spend time with people you feel good around. Set and work toward goals. And, while you’re doing all of that, be open to the possibility of a new partner coming into your life. If you truly know that you have a sexual need that requires meeting with something more than masturbation go ahead and have a casual experience, just remember to see it for what it is and get yourself back on track to finding what you are really looking for – someone to love, who will love you in return.