Men and Sex: Hold off to hold on

Dear Duana, 

I recently ended a 10-year relationship, and shortly after that I started dating Robert.  I like him a lot, and I am afraid of moving too fast.  I’m afraid I might run him off.  It seems like he really likes me, but he also just broke up with his boyfriend, so I’m nervous about that.  I just don’t want to get my feelings hurt.  Any advice?  I’ve only been talking to him for three weeks, and I just cannot stop thinking about him.  We have not had sex and both agreed not to, so we don’t mess anything up.  Looking forward to your response.



Dear Clark,

I don’t know a lot about rebound relationships, other than that a) they happen, and b) you’re wise to take things slow so they’re less likely to happen to you.

But I do know what psychs men sexually.  And you are onto something with holding off.  Let’s start by explaining how this works with straight guys.

Straight men need dopamine, a biochemical that floods reward centers of the brain, in order to fall deeply in love.  Men who have sex straight out of the gate tend to experience a surge in dopamine just before—but a huge drop just after.  Meaning, men who get sex really early in a relationship tend to lose interest in the person they just had sex with. 

Sometimes, straight women write to me wondering: What the hell just happened?!  He asked for sex, I gave it, and he was gone!  I thought he was into me!

Well, he literally *was* into them, but only for a moment.  He may actually have meant it when he said he wanted them, and not just for sex.  But men’s dopamine drop appears to be a mechanism to protect men from committing to women who might cheat on them and put the guy’s genetic line at risk. 

Women know the baby’s theirs, but human psychology comes from an ancient time when paternity tests didn’t exist.  And as it happens, even today, women who say Yes to sex very easily, very soon, or with very many partners are slightly more likely to keep their sexual options open even after commitment.  As you might imagine, the line of men who want to unwittingly raise someone else’s kids?  Is short. 

Upshot?  Ancestral men who preferred hard-to-get partners were likelier to leave behind more children that were actually theirs—not a competitor’s.  Thus, lots of psychological adaptations have arisen to protect men from becoming part of human history…but not part of human ancestry.

One of those adaptations is what I call Ninja Sperm.  Turns out, most sperm aren’t actually there to fertilize anything; they exist to wage war on another guy’s sperm, strangling them to death.  Men are fighting a battle to cast their own genes forward, and some men are fighting it in their partner’s hoohoo.  They’re not consciously aware of that, of course.  Evolutionary psychology is non-conscious.  But it’s happening nevertheless, and it only happens in species that aren’t 100% monogamous.  Like ours.

Another adaptation that helps protect a guy’s certainty that The Kids Are His Own is Love Junk.  About 97% of what’s in semen isn’t sperm at all; it’s love chemicals, including dopamine.  These chemicals are absorbed into a woman’s vaginal walls.  Impact?  They make women feel like being faithful to the Guy Who Shagged Me. 

And a third adaptation is what I started this response with: Dopamine Drops.  Straight men simply lose interest in She Who Was Oh-So-Easy-To-Get, because guys can’t fall in love without dopamine.  And dopamine falls with easy access.


What does this have to do with you, as a gay man?  A lot.  Even though you are into men, you share those same emotional and physical qualities that protect straight men from making a bad genetic bet.  Just like them, you require dopamine to fall in love. 

And just like them, your dopamine levels probably won’t rise enough for love to form if you have sex too soon. 


But your situation as a gay man is a lot different from straight guys’ in some ways.  For instance, straight guys are usually used to waiting for sex.  Because women usually say No, at least for a while.  Historically and today, women were often abandoned or ignored  or even killed (in cultures with ‘honor killings’, for instance) for being easy-to-get; predictably, this means a lot of women are somewhat hard-to-get.  They put on the brakes, because moving full steam ahead didn’t always work out so well.

Contrast that with research on gay men, who usually have sex very quickly in a new relationship.  Let’s put it this way: In straight relationships, there’s usually one person saying Wait.  In gay male relationships, that number often drops to zero.  So sayeth the science. 

It’s not so much that gay men are “oversexed” as that when you’ve got two men, you’ve got two people who have a Spread The Seed Creed-type psychology, instead of one woman whose inherited psychology (and probably her parents, culture, etc.) says to Hold Off for a while.


Interestingly, I’ve gotten several letters from gay men who want to fall in love, but can’t.  When I ask them how long they wait to have sex in a new relationship, they say they aren’t waiting at all.  By not waiting, their dopamine system is rising, falling, rising, falling—but not holding and sustaining to create love.

It is a human need to find and keep love.  That’s why they’re writing to me.  And I’ve now heard back from some who have found it, by leveraging this advice.


The advice?  Keep holding off if you want to hold on.  For men, building something real usually means *not* getting sex until you’ve fallen deeply in love.  So you’re making a very Wise choice, and I encourage you to continue making it for at least a few weeks more.  Hold off on sex, either until you lose interest in each other, or until you mutually fall in love. 

If you need to actually say this to him, or show him this letter, that’s fine.  You’re in a great position since both of you realize you want to wait a while.  But even if he wasn’t crazy about the idea, here’s something else about male mating psych: Not liking something and not liking you are two different things.  A man who loves you, waits.  And waiting is likely to make him love you more. 

Taking time gives both of you the chance to see where your dopamine takes you.  I hope it takes you to new heights, and you each find the love of your lives with each other. 




I have written about dopamine, male mating psychology, and the timing of sex in many places at LoveScience.  If you would like to read more, and see the sources, please see these articles:

Straight men who wait for sex:

Why straight women who want a Friend With Benefits might want to use a vibrator instead:



All material copyrighted by Duana C. Welch, Ph.D., and LoveScience Media, 2014.

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Reader Comments (2)

Hello Dr. Welch & Clark,

Recently, I have been trying to understand how young adults are sometimes certain and then other times uncertain about their preference between heterosexuality and homosexuality. The high intensity of a dopamine rush during a fast sexual romp, and immediate crash thereafter says a lot.

I think, at least with young males up to 25, it's safe to advise that they should make a concerted effort to hold off and wait before rushing into a sexual encounter. I think younger males with undetermined sexual identity preferences would be benefitted to wait and see if their attraction stays repeatedly steady and true by having less sex. Otherwise, sex decisions made in haste only seem to wreak havoc on the emotions after every casual sexcapade.

Currently, I am trying to develop a support group for young college aged adults with sexual identity questions and concerns. I like knowing that dopamine levels stay high if a man waits for intercourse until he is more certain whether he values a potential mate selection. Otherwise, I can see how a young male who experiments with quick bi-sexual encounters only stands to remain confused about their true sexual orientation.

I enjoyed how male dopamine levels were considered for a homosexual pairing in this interaction. Two men together takes either twice the fun out of sex if it comes too soon, or it adds twice the fun if both male partners hold off and keep their guns holstered for a while. The lesson behind male lust is to keep them holding off until they want to hold on and fall madly in love.

With true sincerity, may we all be enthralled in the passions of a long term committed love that sends dopamine levels through the roof!

February 19, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJames Horrigan

Dear James,
It is great hearing from you, and also finding out about the support group you are starting! I understand there are many young people who struggle with their sexual identity.

The various lines of research I've read lead up to the conclusion that Lady Gaga was right: Baby, you were born that way. Literally, whatever your orientation is, if you're a guy, that orientation was part of you at birth.

Having sex or not having sex does not change a person's orientation. Having sex with men does not change a man's orientation; having sex with women doesn't, either.

Straight guys are rarely confused as to their orientation. But gay males, especially during adolescence or even young adulthood, can be. Apparently, it's not usually really because they don't have same-sex sexual feelings--but because they have been taught that those feelings make *them* a bad human being. A gay psychologist in my family informs me that the top reason for teen homelessness is parents' rejection when the child comes out as being homosexual. With those kinds of stakes, and that kind of hate, no wonder some young men struggle with coming out.

In other words, I doubt if dopamine has much to do with a man acknowledging his sexual orientation. I think cultural acceptance or rejection--which creates fear and shame in the emerging gay man--is more to blame. Shame can keep someone confused and at a stalemate for a long, long time. (I love Dr. Brene' Brown's work on shame and Wholeheartedness, by the way.)

I wrote an article about why men hide from their own sexual identity, and you can read more about it here if you'd like:

Either way, though, your support group sounds wonderful. And I can definitely agree that Waiting for sexual release with a new partner is a path towards greater intimacy--for both genders and all orientations!


February 20, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterDuana C. Welch, Ph.D.
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