Yes to sex, no to commitment: Why do we move faster physically than emotionally?

Sexologist Ana Lombardía and the experts explains the paradox of trusting someone enough to be intimate, but not to introduce them to your social circle or show affection in public

A young couple kissing.
A young couple kissing.getty

Data from the website affirm that December is the month in which the most wedding proposals take place. In 1990, Spain had a marriage rate of 5.64%: women married at an average age of 25.6 and men at 27.8. In contrast, in 2019, before the Covid-19 pandemia (when weddings got a little complicated), the marriage rate was 3.51%, women’s average marriage age was 34.9 and men’s 37.2. Statistics show it’s getting harder and harder for us to commit to our relationships.

One of the key factors in that change is economics, particularly the lack of access to dignified work, which makes it more difficult to consider life plans. But it is also worth questioning whether we also have more trouble committing now. Though there are many ways to formalize a relationship, living together and introducing our new partner to our families are also practices we are putting off more and more.

Other types of couples are also beginning to proliferate, such as the Living Apart Together (LAT) model, which is basically about having a relationship, even if you do not live together. In Spain, around 8% of women do not live with their partner, compared to 14.7% of LAT couples in France, 11.8% in Germany and 4.6% in Romania.

Sexologist Ana Lombardía reflected on this new paradigm in a video posted on social media. She explained the contradiction between having the confidence to perform oral sex on someone, but not to introduce them to your social circle or show affection in public, the so-called “pocketing” phenomenon when your partner does not want to include you in their social life.

As the expert explained to EL PAÍS, “this gap between the emotional and the physical is occurring because we want to protect ourselves on an emotional level. We do so forgetting that the physical is also linked and that they are two things that cannot be separated.” The sexologist also mentions that, in this new, more individualistic environment, many people are not ready for the commitment and responsibility that being in a relationship entails. For this reason, “they look for a way to continue bonding and enjoying human relationships, but avoiding affective responsibility.”

And is it a change for the better? The reality is that psychology consultations seem to show the opposite. “More and more people come to their meetings complaining of difficulties in creating real connections, hurt after a season of Tinder dating or anguished by the low expectations of finding a partner,” adds Lombardy.

Sex without love, but not without emotion

For Ana Lombardia, we have misunderstood the idea of sex without love. “We have the idea that sex is just sex, but even if there is no love, there are other things: intimacy, affection, a bond, good vibes. That requires care in order to turn out well.”

Sexologist Alberto Álamo also reflects on this issue. “Social networks have created a whole conglomerate of new communication codes. And this, of course, is extrapolated to communication related to emotional, affective and erotic connections (and breakups).”

The way we relate emotionally has changed, but perhaps we need to delve a little deeper into whether the way we relate sexually has changed. “The erotic is ceasing to be a taboo, and perhaps there are people who understand the message in a different way,” which can lead to all kinds of interpretations. “If we only pay attention to the functional aspect of erotic pleasure, and leave the emotional plane out of the equation, we will stop taking care of ourselves in relationships, we will stop being interested in the other. In short, our sexual relations would be robotized.”

Breaking sexual taboos and being open to new experiences has its positives. The problem, rather, is in the mismatch of the phases of a relationship, either in a more stable commitment or in a casual relationship, in which there is still plenty of intimacy. “The fact that a part of our life is highly developed and that others aren’t usually brings some discomfort. If a person goes very quickly with sexual experiences with another person, but then is not able to identify what bothers or scares them, the future of that bond is not very optimistic,” says Álamo.

In these cases, according to Ana Lombardía, “it is very important to explain the dynamics that are taking place today in the world of dating, so that they understand that it is a structural problem (and not specific to them).” Of course, “it also helps to understand how Tinder works and the dynamics it generates.”

Although, in general terms, the best remedy for these times is to step into the real world. In the virtual world, the lack of affective responsibility is increasingly problematic. “It is advisable to encourage organic contacts in organic contexts, in which we meet in person, with an environment and a specific context, as that facilitates more natural interactions and responsible treatment,” the sexologist advises.


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