Sex is love’s fast-forward button.
“We’re just fuckbuddies, John; it’s casual. You know, friends with benefits.”—that’s what my 19-year-old student said to me, with the endearing confidence of a kid who’s just gone to the corner store by himself for the first time. Two weeks later he was crying in my office. Heartbroken. Devastated.
I’ve seen the same thing a thousand times. And there’s a simple reason for it: sex is love’s fast-forward button. If you’re normal, you’re going to fall in love with the person you’re sleeping with, or they’re going to fall in love with you, sooner or later, whether you like it or not.
As Aristotle well knew, it takes awhile to get close to a new friend, even if the two of you hit it off like crazy the first time you meet. My guess is that it takes, on average, about a year for genuine intimacy and closeness to develop between new friends, unless the two of you share some sort of extreme experience (e.g., getting kidnapped together at gun-point by terrorists, getting trapped in an elevator for hours during an earthquake, fighting side-by-side in the trenches of a faraway war, talking on ecstasy for ten hours straight at a Baltimore rave, etc.). By contrast, if you’re sleeping with the same person, you can attain the same level of intimacy in less than two weeks!
That’s why I tell students in my “Love and Friendship” class that sex is love’s fast-forward button. Whether you like it or not, the two of you are going to get very close, very fast: it’s inevitable and irresistible (if you’re normal), only the sociopathic seem capable of resisting its siren song.
The feelings we develop for someone we’re sleeping with are real and powerful and intense, as is the attachment, the craving, and the newfound neediness. One day you wake up and realize, perhaps to your horror, that your connection to this person has, seemingly overnight, come to constitute a kind of natural fact, like gravity, climate change, tropical hurricanes, and the Montreal winter. And, like all natural facts, it can’t be explained away by simplistic Sex-and-the-City sophistry. We forget this at our peril.
Montreal was in the middle of an HIV epidemic when I was a kid: AIDS was no longer an exclusively gay problem. What’s more, teen pregnancy was on the rise in the province and sexually transmitted infections like gonorrhea, syphilis, and chlamydiae were growing resistant to the antibiotics used to treat them. It was a public health disaster and the provincial government treated it as such. They embarked upon an amazingly ambitious program of sexual education aimed at elementary schools not high schools. The idea was to get to the kids in Grade 5 and Grade 6: well before puberty, well before they became sexually active. And it worked: STI rates plummeted in the 1990s, as did rates of teen pregnancy.
My friends and I were the guinea pigs. We were in Grade 5 when the new Sex Ed program was first implemented. Did we giggle a whole lot? You better believe it. Did some parents freak out? You better believe it. But the schools stuck to their guns. And I’m so glad they did! Imagine how much senseless human suffering these wise bureaucrats and courageous educators prevented. Seriously, it boggles the mind. They should be sainted.
We learned that sex is risky. And we learned that sex has consequences. But they failed to mention that some of those risks and consequences are emotional. We learned a whole lot about sex but practically nothing about love. They taught us how to deal with a broken condom. But they didn’t teach us how to deal with a broken heart. Don’t get me wrong though, I get it: they had to sanitize and medicalize Sex Ed to make it palatable and respectable. But this decision had consequences. Not all of them good. Look at the soulless way in which Sex Ed is taught in our schools today: we seem to have taken the “human” out of human sexuality.
—John Faithful Hamer, The Myth of the Fuckbuddy (2017)