The Exhausting Heartache of Teenage Dating, Part 2

a colorful mosaic of two people kissing, the scene represents the kiss in its essence between a white woman and a black man and demonstrates that love knows no ethnic differences
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The Original Love Triangle

Sometimes the best way to define what something is is to see or study what it is not. The story of Jacob ans Rachel is a beautiful story that shows very clearly what true love is. It’s also a sad story of what lust is and the dangers of getting involved in a love triangle. Let’s read it and see what we can learn from it. The story is found in Genesis 29:14-30. Take a moment and read it for yourself.

Wow! What a story and remember, it’s all true. Let’s see what lessons we can learn and how they apply to distinguishing true love versus lust:

  1. Rachel had a nice figure and also had good looks. She was beautiful (v.17) and, there’s nothing wrong with recognizing and appreciating the obvious, but you must be careful and not focus on this as the only reason why you’re going out with somebody or like them.
  2. Jacob said that he would wait for seven years…yeah right! A lot of people make promises, but do they follow-through? Jacob did (v.18). Remember what we said: true love will continue growing and blossoming throughout a long period of time.
  3. “. . . [S]o Jacob served seven years, but they seemed like only a few days to him because he loved her” (v. 20). If I’m making a presentation, this is usually when all the ladies would have said “AAAWWWWW!” some of them probably would have put their hands over their hearts and their mouths, and their hearts would have skipped a beat! O.K., I’ve even got to admit that this is a pretty incredibly sweet thing to do!
  4. Even after being cheated out of his rightful wife—Rachel, Jacob loved her enough to sacrifice his time, energy, and resources and worked for another seven years for his wife—a total of 14 years (v. 27, 28). Again we see the selflessness and long-lasting nature of Jacob’s true love versus a typical short “attention span” of lust.

There are three life application lessons, which can be learned from this story:

  1. Talk is cheap! Don’t tell somebody you truly love them. Show them!
  2. Don’t settle for anything less than true love! Don’t lower your standards. You wait as long as it takes. God will honor your patience with a love that you could of never have imagined!
  3. Time is the best—and only true indicator of true love. True love is patient and true love will only grow stronger with time, not weaker.

Attraction, Attachment & Bonding[1]

Now that we’ve talked about dating and relationships, connection and intimacy and love versus lust, let’s turn our attention to how attraction, attachment and bonding happen and why and how sex is such a powerful glue.

Research shows that the part of the brain that controls the ability to make fully mature judgment decisions is not physically mature until an individual reaches his mid-20s. In other words, the part of a brain that is responsible for complex assessments about future consequences and responsibility is still growing throughout the teen years into the mid-20s.

Young people can develop early bonding to someone they find attractive. If they feel that “this is the one for them,” they can enter into progressive physical contact with that person until they have had sexual intercourse, and are then even more closely bonded to the person and “addicted” to having sex. Research has shown that these relationships eventually break apart far more often than they succeed.

Bonding = Attachment

When a couple has sex, even if they only go out for a short time, research indicates that bonding does occur, even when a couple has only had sex one time! Further, there is evidence that when this sex/bonding/breaking-up cycle is repeated a few or many times—even when the bonding was short-lived—damage is done to the important, built-in ability to develop significant and meaningful connection to other human beings.

Another negative consequence is that as teens experience these sexual relationships it affects their brains, molding them not only to damage their attachment ability but to become desensitized to the risk of short-term sexual relationships, eventually believing that this behavior is harmless and acceptable, and does not involve the psychological and mental health part of themselves.

In contrast, the relationship that continues long-term experiences a bonding that, in a sense, glues the two people together for life. This bonding is due in part to the oxytocin and vasopressin secreted into woman and man’s brains as a result of their contact with each other.

The healthy progression of relationship that strengthens the brain cell connections associated with “attachment” of one person to another, helping to ensure the permanence of the relationship that finds its healthiest expression with the sexual act in marriage.

But this natural process can be short-circuited. During the intense early romantic period a couple wants to be together. This togetherness can obviously include physical closeness. The physical closeness will normally produce sexual interest. If individuals in this early phase of their relationship spend time with intimate skin-to-skin closeness and then become sexually involved, it will activate the oxytocin and vasopressin-induced bonding.

Damaging Effects of Breaking Up

However, when a short-term relationship breaks up—and certainly when a relationship that is in an early intense romantic relationship breaks up—it is felt in the same brain centers that feel physical pain and can actually be seen on brain scans. Like any other powerful experience, an intense romantic relationship molds the mind. The bonding process can also be short-circuited by a couple progressing immediately to sex.

Thus, unconscious damage also occurs because it violates the integrity of personhood, because anything we do involves the whole person, even if we don’t realize it. Finally, the finding that the brain centers that produce feelings of romance and love are different and separate from the brain centers responsible for lust is a huge warning to adolescents and young adults.

A selfish and manipulative person may have an intense desire to have sex with another person. To accomplish that goal, they may lie about being in love. It is impossible to know the desire someone has for sex can exist without any feelings of caring, love or romance. This is something that takes some life experience to recognize.

Studies show that the primary desire of teen girls in romantic relationships is intimacy. When a survey published in Seventeen magazine asked thousands of teen readers on sexual issues, 40% of participating teens reported that they had assured a potential love interest that they would consent to just a “hook-up” when what they really wanted was a relationship.

The Sex Connection

In short, sex is an intense experience of connectedness.  As we have previously noted, when people have sex, the act triggers the release of endorphins or pleasure chemicals like dopamine in their brains, thus rewarding them for engaging in such an exciting and pleasurable act.

Oxytocin is released in the female as this behavior persists, bonding her to her sexual partner and creating a greater desire to repeat the activity with him. However, when a male engages in sex, vasopressin is released, bonding him to his partner and also stimulating the desire for more sex. Most important, both the male and female brain are strengthened in ways that will make them choose sex in the future, while parts of their brain that govern sexual restraint will become weaker. In short, engaging in sex creates a chain reaction of brain activities that lead to the desire for more sex and greater levels of attachment between two people.

It may sound blunt, but if we try to eliminate this connectedness from sex, we remove the uniquely human aspect of it, and the sexual act becomes nothing more than raw animal behavior. However, when this connectedness is allowed to mature in the context of a lifelong committed relationship, sex is a wonderful, sustaining expression of love.

God’s Way is Best Way!

Sex is an incredible gift that God has given us, but it is meant to be used responsibly within the confines of a lifelong, committed, monogamous (only one male with only one female) relationship (marriage). Sex is a powerful bonder and motivator and can “glue” or connect two people together for life! Sex is, in many respects, a stronger drug than cocaine or heroine. If sex is used either before or outside of marriage, it can do a lot of damage both to emotions, characters, and to relationships.

God says that the marriage bed should remain undefiled (Hebrews 13:4). The best way for that to happen is for teens to refrain from having sex until they get married. If they have already had sex, they can confess their sin to God and repent and the marriage bed can still be undefiled! Teens, it’s all up to you now. I hope you’ll make the right decision.  God wants you to have happiness, joy and peace of mind. As someone who is a recovering sex and pornography addict, trust me, it’s not worth it. The only way to do life—and especially love, sex, dating, and relationships, is God’s way.

Additional Resources

“The Neglected Heart: The Emotional Dangers of Premature Sexual Involvement” By: THOMAS LICKONA – 

“The New Rules for Love, Sex & Relationships” by Andy Stanley

“Love, Sex & Lasting Relationships” by Chip Ingram

 

 

[1] Information on attraction, attachment, bonding, sex, and sexuality adapted from Engage: The Journal of Youth Culture from the Center for Parent and Youth Understanding. Fall 2008 pp. 6-11 article entitled The Developing Teen Brain and Sex by Joe S. McIlhaney & Freda McKissic Bush

 

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