By Nick BeJeaux
We are living in the epoch of the hookup culture – a time where midnight liaisons are many, and the future of human intimacy may look pretty bleak to some.
Steve Fox is Professional Licensed Counselor at CrossRoads Professional Counseling here in Baton Rouge. Fox gave up a career in engineering to become a counselor for addicts, families, and married couples. Apart from being licensed, Fox has been happily married to his wife for 35 years.
In his line of work, the discussion of sex and its place in a relationship comes up a lot. Fox says that, at its heart, everyone wants sex because of the closeness it brings to another person; the sensations of the act itself are less important.
“There’s physical intimacy, emotional intimacy, and spiritual intimacy,” he said. “That’s what people are actually looking for – the intimacy of sex rather than the act itself. Commitment, trust, and the idea of giving fully to each other are very important to have a healthy intimate relationship.”
As it turns out, a sex life needs to be quite complicated if it has any hope of lasting beyond a night or two.
“If any of those areas get out of sync, and there is a feeling of not being safe, no trust between partners, or a lack of commitment, that will fall apart very quickly,” said Fox. “If there’s a problem in the bedroom, that by itself can cause problems in the other areas of the relationship. But problems in other areas of the relationship can also cause problems in the bedroom. It’s so intertwined that often a counselor is needed to help couples discover from were these problems stem.”
But as messy as the physical end of a relationship can be, Fox says it is absolutely worth the time and energy figuring it out.
“The reason why sex is so important in relationships is because it is a giving ourselves to another person,” he said. “It’s so much more than just a physical act – it’s a joining of two together.
“Over time, the sex life of a relationship can actually become more fulfilling and more pleasurable. Partners begin to relax and trust each other – trusting that the other person is looking out for them, not just themselves.”
Sex sells, and Fox thinks because of that we are left with very few examples of pop culture that emphasize emotional and spiritual connections over sex itself, our ideas of what is intimate has been skewed. For twenty-somethings and teenagers, this creates a tricky situation, since most of their relationships are based in physical attraction.
“They misinterpret that [physical attraction] as love,” said Fox. “When that physical attraction starts to wane, the love is also going to wane.”
Fox has provided counseling for couples all across the age spectrum, from late teens and into the golden years. He says everyone, not just young couples, often struggle to keep the relationship alive after physical attraction goes out the window.
“I’ve worked with couples in their forties, fifties, and even their seventies who run into this as well,” he said. “The problem with young couples is that when they start with the physical, and that remains their focus, there really is no room for the other aspects of intimacy that make it last. They don’t know what they’re missing!”
If partners loose attraction for each other, they break up – or they cheat. Fox handles cases of infidelity all the time and he says that, just like with any relationship, affairs help fulfill a need for intimacy. While Cross Roads is a Christian-based counseling center, Fox rooted many of his assertions on monogamy in the National Marriage Project.
The project was started in 1997 by a Rutgers Sociology professor named David Popenoe. After 18 years of research, the numbers show that its very hard to switch over to monogamy after a sting of heavy relationships.
“There are many secular studies out there that have found if someone has had multiple sex partners before committing to a marriage, their chances of having a fulfilling relationship are much, much less,” said Fox. “The problem of having a sexual relationship with someone without establishing emotional intimacy and commitment first is that can create distrust.”
And that leads to dysfunction. But, again, sex isn’t everything. It’s still a big part of what we’re looking for in a partner, but it all comes down to the emotional connection – if you’re going for distance, that is. Fox says his best advice for younger people interested in finding a lasting relationship is simple. Know yourself, and be honest.
“The danger of the dating scene in America is that we so often create a façade over who we really are,” said Fox. “We think this person is great, and we don’t want them to see all the not-so-attractive parts of us – but they always come out eventually. And remember, the other person is doing exactly the same thing.”
If there’s a lack of commitment, and this time bomb goes off, kiss your relationship good bye. Also, Fox thinks this façade phenomenon is the primary reason why 50 percent of marriages in the U.S. end in divorce.
“What really skews that percentage is the amount of couples that married young – before the age of twenty,” he says. “If you take that out, the number of divorces drops significantly.”
Statistically, Millennials are waiting much longer than their parents did to get married. However, thanks to our ability to find a willing partner at the touch of a button, counselors like Fox fear a healthy idea of intimacy may be eventually lost.
“If you go out expressly to find someone to have sex with, you will slim your possibility of eventually having a stable relationship – it skews the perspective of what intimacy really is.”