Q&A from "Sex & The (Happily) Single Girl"

Wise Readers,

Friends With Benefits—why does that so often fail in practice—and why don’t honest discussions prevent the train wreck?  Can condoms harm emotional attachment in a long-term relationship?  Does social science affirm many religions’ sexual teachings?  Was virginity ‘til marriage ever the norm?  Read on!




From Barbara: —Not playing a game!—

 Thanks for all the research, schooling, time and effort that goes into your column. I now have somewhere to point to when I’m trying to explain to a past lover why I cannot “go there” anymore. Guys do not seem to understand the words “feelings” and “too emotional” when they have sex on the brain. They just think I’m “being mean”, “playing games” or “withholding sex as some kind of power trip” when I don’t give them “what they need.” The deal is I’m a single mother with a toddler and I cannot afford to let myself be affected by a guy who “needs” to be out every night proving his masculinity to himself and the world. I don’t think I’ll ever find someone who was as dedicated as my father was. He was a single dad who was home every night for over 15 years give or take the two or three times he needed to let off steam. Maybe that’s why I’m single today. I’m busy looking for Superman or I’m in some weird Freudian cycle. I’ll leave that diagnosis for the experts.

It hurts me that I cannot find a suitable partner to share some physical time with but it hurts me more when I give in and end up an emotional wreck while Sparky has gotten what he needed to be “The Ladies Man.”

I guess I owe my vibrator a candlelit dinner for helping to keep my sanity intact.


Duana’s response: —It’s A Mating Ritual, Not A Game—

Barbara, Thank you, and I feel for you in your situation with your old flame and your toddler. Unfortunately, because each sex has different strategies to get optimal reproductive success (aka babies that survive and thrive), there is a real battle of the sexes—and you’re caught in the cross-hairs right now. Our mating psychology is designed to be unconscious. So your ex is likely unaware at any conscious level of why he wants what he wants—he just Wants It, and because we all have the tendency towards what I call Mating-Centrism (seeing the other sex’s mating psychology as being like ours), he gets put out when you won’t.

But you’re right— what you are doing is not a game; what he’s doing isn’t, either. It is a mating ritual, though, and you are acting in your and your child’s best interest by holding the line.

Want to know the single-biggest predictor of sexual, emotional, and physical abuse and death in children? The presence of *any* biologically unrelated adult male in the home. I did not just say that all stepdads/boyfriends are child molesters, but I did just say that almost all the child molesters are stepdads/boyfriends; it’s a statistical fact. You are therefore wise to protect yourself and your child from contact with anyone you’ve not thoroughly vetted— and wise to protect your emotions from attachment before you know a man could be Right for you and your baby.

Kudos, then, to you and your vibrator :). I hope the candlelight dinner is forthcoming and you can celebrate being a dedicated mom who is also doing right by herself.


From Gillian: —Do Condoms Prevent Emotional Attachment?— 



I love this article!

I have a question to clarify the Condom Thing: Using condoms inhibits the attachment of a woman to a man? …. Is this true even in committed, married relationships?

Also, I like the way you linked us in this article to previous, related columns.


Duana’s response: —Yes…And No…— 



Gillian, glad you like the links; I hope they are helping everyone get the most from the information, so thank you for telling me. Great question, btway.

The answer is: Sex without a condom is more bonding, but sex with a condom does not entirely prevent the bond from occurring, particularly in very long relationships such as a marriage. If you are married and using condoms, you are missing out on the Love Drugs found in your husband’s semen (they are not absorbed well by other forms of sex). But you are still bonded with him on many levels, sexual and otherwise. Your own body produces increasing amounts of oxytocin to emotionally tie you to him; even his saliva contains testosterone that turns you on, which is one reason kissing can be a literal high. 

Another way to say it could be this: With the prevention of unwanted pregnancy and disease, condoms are considered “safer sex” rather than “safe sex”…they’re not fail-safe, and the only really Safe Sex is sex with oneself (Woody Allen famously referred to masturbation as “Sex with someone you love”). It’s the same with emotional attachment; a condom will help a woman in a short-term relationship to avoid total emotional melding, but as time and experience go by, if things go well, she will become deeply attached even if condoms are used virtually forever.

Thanks again for the astute question.




From Quinn: —Holding Patterns Don’t Hold; Benefits-Only Doesn’t Stay That Way— 



As a single male living in the world of single ladies I do see this defined Single girl out there often. The bizarre reality it is it is often THEM who offer the criteria of what this is…or isn’t. Usually (from my experience) it’s their way of managing expectations. If they don’t offer too much expectation then it won’t scare me away.

Orrrr, they have come to expect so little from men they want it known they go into it understanding the inevitable. Sad, but true. This is rarely a first night thing, even on a series of several dates that build to potential intimacy I have gotten the “pre-game speech” if you will. “I don’t want you to think I’m trying to find a husband.” or “I’m perfectly okay with just having a good time.”

Now truth is, some of them may be looking for just that. But usually, even if defined as “benefits” it escalates to something more. But rarely can it ever be. It was mismanaged from the start.

Things progress or digress. I think it’s impossible to just stay in a holding pattern with a person no matter how low the altitude. I respect the woman who trumps alone versus the alternative. Most want more and will hold out until then. I wouldn’t take just any job nor live just in any neighborhood so why would I be with just any woman???

Great window into the everyday world.


Duana’s response:

Quinn, thank you for giving us the Other Side of the story. You sound disenchanted with women who will give themselves up for not much; most men of quality want a woman who is high-status and who treats herself (and insists upon being treated as) a person of worth. I think your perspective on that coincides pretty well with what is happening for a lot of men, emotionally. Also on-target is your observation that things do not remain in a holding pattern—in any relationship.


From Monica: —Do Women Even Have A Choice?!—

Who is this “Quinn”?? Have I missed you here before? I’ll have to reread the older articles and start paying better attention because you say some really good stuff.

“It was mismanaged from the start.” How pithy and poignant. And what a wake-up call to us women! You know, in trying to be true to ourselves and avoid getting attached too quickly we often say silly things up front that reinforce our clear lack of power in the budding relationship (or lack thereof). And you guys know exactly what our deal is, and what we’re either trying to cover up (or prove), don’t you? Even the Bible says, “For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh”…we reveal our true selves so much more often than we ever intend.

So what’s a girl to do if she’s longing for a mate? Certainly she tries to hide her ultimate intent in male/female interactions, but we all know how often this fails miserably. So now what. ?? What if we can’t actually embrace the idea that we are wonderful and want to date until we find a suitable match? What, then? Do we inflict our damaged selves upon the male public to “practice”, when we know, full well, that we will likely fail? Do we NOT date because we’re not yet even remotely rehabilitated? If everything within us tries to bond, at some point, (as a population), do we even have a choice?



Don’t get me wrong — we Do have choices — that’s what these columns are about. And there are hordes of savvy women out there making sophisticated decisions about this, But if (at our core) we want to bond, then really all we’re doing is fighting our raw selves to make the smartest decision? How is that truly “choice” as opposed to survival?

Evolutionarily speaking, if some of us are drawn to lower-status men and don’t actually hold ourselves out to be the prize we’d like to think we are, then aren’t we just, um, kind of on the path that one would expect in Survival of the Fittest?


Duana’s Response:   —We Do Have A Choice…Once We’re Aware Of Our Unconscious Mating Psychology—

Monica, Quinn’s contribution was great, wasn’t it? Yours was as well; loved all your questions. 

As far as an element of choice goes, you’re correct that sometimes there isn’t much of one. Our inherited mating psychology is unconscious—until we become aware of it, it Runs The Show to achieve its own selfish ends. One thing I hope Love Science helps with is making that mating psych conscious so that our choices expand. We cannot deal with what we aren’t even aware of.

I actually think the evidence points to our fighting each other and the opposite sex more than ourselves, although our Love Science posts haven’t yet reflected sexual competition much…they could, if someone would ask the question, hint hint ;).

But in general, all evidence shows that the vast majority of women try to get the highest-status mate they can, as do men—they compete within their own sex to achieve this, and they try to offer what their desired gender wants. Women know men want beauty, for instance, and they advertise that in many ways. Men know women want resources, and they show those off as well.  Likewise, gay men tend to offer youth and beauty since they are attracting a man; and lesbian women often offer resources, as they are attracting another woman. 

Sometimes, though, people over-reach, as when a man with few resources tries to obtain an unusually beautiful woman—or a plain Jane nabs an atypically successful man. Science shows that a mismatch like this often results in cheating and defection (divorce) by the higher-status mate, and a lot of jealousy and mate-guarding from the lower-status spouse. Best, then, to find our match.

I think you might also be pointing to the good girl/bad boy scenario a bit. ??? That’s real. I’d like to cover it in a future column. For now, let me say that it’s a real phenomenon, and seems to be yet another “trick” foisted upon us by those conniving Genes.


From Rob: —Haven’t Seen Friends-With Benefits Work Out Much— 



This is a good post. I have known of some folks that have had that arrangement. Friends with fringe benefits. I don’t think it worked out for them…they are no longer friends. At first it starts out as casual sex then it ends up being more.. The magic wand thing kills me..LOL.

Duana’s response:






glad you enjoyed the Magic Wand reference (I knew a lawyer who swore it had only two speeds: Low and Who Needs A Man)… Aside from Townsend’s research, I’m not aware of much research that specifically has examined the Friends With Benefits arrangement; quite a bit of the research looks at one-nighters and illicit affairs rather than something more on-going. But what you’ve observed seems to go along with the data—things don’t stay in a holding pattern, as Quinn said above, and the Friendships often end.


From Joan: —Does Science Support Mainstream Religious Views Of Sexuality?—


The science behind this is fascinating - love that you are writing about it!! I know of no other place I can find such laserbeam love articles that get right to the scientific truth —and are written in such an enjoyable way!

As a Catholic convert (but let’s not get into that….) I can’t help but observe how the science you present in this article and others exactly tracks the church’s position: abstinence before marriage, fidelity during marriage, and use of only natural birth control methods (e.g., no condoms), all with the goal of keeping couples bonded together, ultimately to the economic and social benefit of the children and family.


All this time, I sorta thought (without really thinking it through) that these rules were somehow arbitrarily pontificated by an authority, or at least only morally and not scientifically-based. However, according to the science quoted in your articles, following these practices actually does get one to the goal, assuming that goal is a long-term committed relationship.




Duana’s response: —Social Science Findings Don’t Fit Any One Religious Or Political System—

Joan, You are too kind. Thank you for your very, very interesting contributions here and elsewhere to the comments about Love Science.

Although the Church (Catholic and otherwise) has some rules that fall outside of the bounds of science, it seems that our evolved mating psychology has resulted in some rules that have served marriage and the family unit over centuries. For example, divorce, which your faith is very much against, does turn out to be truly devastating to adults and children in about 2/3 of the cases (on the other hand, 1/3 are situations where people truly need to get away from one another, sometimes for their very survival). Also, rules exist against affairs precisely because humans have evolved in an often unfaithful (pardon the pun!) manner. Our religious rules are one window into our deepest mating psychology.

Yet scientific findings do not reliably support any one religious or political agenda, and it’s my hypothesis that some upcoming articles are going to rock the boat a bit. For instance, many scientific studies on homosexuality reveal a picture quite contrary to that painted by religion and politics; upcoming articles will address those points.

And religion-imposed rules are often stricter than what science would support. For example, abstinence until marriage is not required for a happy lifetime union—from a science perspective. And historically, total pre-marital abstinence has been quite unusual. But a lengthy period of abstinence during the courtship is an excellent way to create a port in the storm of life. And divorce, although usually a bad deal for everyone involved, is necessary much more often than a blanket doctrine could comprehend.

Science has often changed my view of things, although like everyone else I’ve had my preconceptions. It has as often shocked as affirmed my own views. I hope you’ll enjoy sticking with this column even when things are not as others might have them seem.


From Joan: —Aren’t Women Usually Virgins ‘Til Marriage?  (Or Didn’t They Used To Be?)—




Thanks for your thorough response to my post. Your articles continue to unearth so many emotions in me! I love the way you take my musings, many of them unformed, and match them with the science/evolutionary psychology to put it all into clarity.

I am wondering about the paranthetical comment you made above:

“… Historically, total pre-marital abstinence has been quite unusual.”

Sure, I can understand that for the guys (no offense, fellows) but how about the gals? Wouldn’t it be the norm for females to remain virgins until marriage because a virgin bride is the prize? And only the virgins get to marry the most powerful men?

For example, in Tudor England (and even in the case of Princess Diana) great care and inquiry was made to insure the Crown Prince/King’s prospective wife was a virgin. And in many cultures it seems that the non-virgins are ostracized …. or worse.


Duana’s response:  —A Brief History Of Female Virginity—

Joan, This inference regarding premarital abstinence comes from sociology focusing on the UK and the USA, although I’ve done other reading based on a variety of cultures. In America and the UK, it appears that in the past for which there were any records kept (such as birth and marriage certificates), most women were virgins until engagement; or were sexually active with an intended fiance’ with the family’s tacit knowledge (as with “bundling” among the Puritans); or were having sex pending engagement (they were expected to be pregnant so a marriage could go forward. No pregnancy, no marriage.). But they were not usually virgins at marriage, the major exception being during Queen Victoria’s reign. And members of the UK Crown have had some rules that differ a bit from rules of the everyday—in both directions. They were expected to be chaste prior to the marriage (well, the women were), faithful until the first son’s birth, and then all bets were off…Yes, The Rich Are Different. 

(And…things are changing even there.  Kate, Prince William’s bride as of Summer 2011, lived with him prior to the marriage and was not required to be a virgin.) 

Today’s figures put premarital chastity at under 10%.

That’s not to say that historical sexual behavior was then as it is now. Whereas many brides have multiple sexual partners prior to American and Western marriage now—often knowing that several are not good marriage prospects—, historically in most cultures, brides would have had perhaps only their fiance’ as a sex partner then, although this varied widely by culture. Also, some cultures even today will not consider a couple as being married until a child results; clearly, though, that is the exception and is not a large part of our American heritage.

Interesting, huh?


From Jimmy Joe: —Just Be Honest About What You Want From The Start—

Staying clear in one’s thinking and remaining aware of one’s goals is what I think matters most here. I advise one to remain in control of the arrangement and stay focused on either having wild pleasure seeking fun or actually making an effort to connect intimately with a quality candidate that could have greater potential. The hardest part to both options relies on being able to communicate, understand each other’s motives and desires, and accept terms you both can agree on. I think in either case communication and knowing where the other person is coming from so an accurate picture is made of the situation only stands to enhance the sexiness of the moment. No one man or woman likes being with someone under false pretenses in either a casual sense or committed sense; I think everything works as long as no one is lying to the other and there isn’t risk for anyone left feeling used and disrespected afterwards. Also stay true to your original standards, don’t develop cognitive dissonance towards sex just because a decision was made to explore casual sex on a trial basis and somehow the experience jeopardizes what one strives for ESSENTIALLY for the long-haul.

Goal Commitment + Mutual Understanding + Mutual Acceptance of Conditions + Creating a Safe Space for Both to Share = Total Satisfaction.


Vincent’s response:

I think the “staying clear” and “remaining in control” is very accurate from a guy’s perspective. I suspect for most women too in the beginning. From what I read it sounds like the difference that men don’t get, including myself before reading this, is that the clarity and purpose is lost when one or both are on drugs. Although not the street stuff, the “hormonal cocktail” certainly explains why women end up having such a hard time with this type of relationship.

Duana’s response: —Honesty Is Not Enough, Because…—

Vincent: Perfectly said: “clarity and purpose is lost when one or both are on drugs”. Women, being on a greater amount of the drugs, are hard-pressed to maintain emotional distance. 

JimmyJoe: You’ve definitely got the right idea re: communication and honesty. Unfortunately, though, that is usually not enough to offer on-going emotional protection to women in a casual-sex scenario. Women who may seriously believe themselves capable of remaining casual, and who are able to express that casual desire, can rarely live it in reality.

Dr. J.M. Townsend’s research dealt with women who were very clear about wanting casual sex.  Yet he found these women were rarely able to maintain a feeling of distance, and commonly wound up caring more than they wanted to about a Friend With Benefits. Men, on the other hand, were usually  though not always able to maintain emotional distance, and as men had more and more casual sex, they became less and less likely to become emotionally attached to partners~no matter what their intentions going in (so to speak).

So the sexes each commonly wind up with unwanted issues from casual sex: Women can rarely keep casual and they instead feel lonely and ever more desirous of real connection as they have more casual sex partners; and men may find their ability to bond compromised as they rack up increasing bedpost notches.


From Chiron: —Women & Men’s Bodies Designed To Enslave One Another—

Very accurate post. My research indicates that nature engineered men’s ejaculate to virtually enslave women by whoremonal mechanism. Women’s pheromone product affects the same result in men. Men and women’s bodies are DESIGNED to ensnare each other and it is for this reason that there is no such thing as “casual sex”. Each time we indulge in relations with another, our bodies conspire to chemically and subsequently emotionally bond….REGARDLESS of whether we wish to continue the connection. Those who have MORE sex, develop immunity, with the consequence being that the depth of their chemical connections with another are diminished. 
Ultimately, the old saying does apply. “We all pay to play.” (but we still HAVE to “play to win” ; )

Kudos for good information.


Duana’s response:

Chiron, thank you for the kind words. I’m not aware of research showing that women’s biochemistry causes men to fall in love during casual sex, but I am interested in learning more about that if you’ve found some. Educate me :).  I’m always learning from all of you!




Enjoy this article? Please click “Share Article” below and share it with your favorite social media website.


Related Love Science articles:

How sex affects/effects commitment is one of the top things I’m asked, so there are many Love Science articles dealing with it.  Here you go!


How women respond to casual sex/Friends With Benefits:


How men respond to casual sex:


What if a woman already had sex too soon?


How to become high-status as a woman if you’ve already lost it:


Why not to be easy, ladies:


The author thanks the scientists and sources named in the article.  


Do you have a question for Duana? Contact her at


All material copyrighted by Duana C. Welch, Ph.D., 2011


*Note: This article has been fully updated during my recovering from surgery.  I’m doing well, thanks in part to your many letters of support, and I anticipate returning with a brand-new post next week.  In the meantime, I welcome your comments and queries.  

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Reader Comments (6)

Brilliantly illuminating as always, Duana! Keep it up and we will too!

July 13, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterBry

In almost every species, males must compete for the right to reproduce. Females usually get their choice of mates. If you are a bird, you must look better and dance better than the other guys. If you are a frog, you must sing louder. If you are a mammal, some sort of combat is typically involved. The winner in these competitions is most often the alpha male.

Over the past 30 years or so we have been bombarded with the message that all alpha males are jerks. This flies in the face of millions of years of natural selection. Could nature really be that far off base? Do alpha males have no redeeming qualities?

July 13, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterTim

Hi, Bry~ thank you! So glad we'll all be keeping it, er, up. lol

And Tim ~ hello there, and how good to hear from you...I believe you're a new voice here. Welcome.

I think I'd like to take your interesting comment from the top, with the idea that females get their choice of mates. In the short-term mating world, you are correct; from birds to bison to blondes and brunettes, if you're a creature of the girl-type persuasion, and you seek a creature of the boy-type persuasion, odds are excellent you'll get the guy to pony up some gametes.

However, things change when it comes to long-term mating; in that scenario, relatively few women get their top mating pick. Women are competing for the best mates (those who provide and protect and devote heart and soul and credit line), and women's primary competition is Other Women. In general, women with more youth and beauty win these contests, although it's still important to have a winning set of personal and interpersonal characteristics and values to back those up.

July 13, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDuana C. Welch, Ph.D.

Now, Tim, for your questions: Are alpha males really jerks? Don't they have any redeeming qualities?

Well, I'd have to start by asking another question: What's the alpha male, in your view?

Is he the guy who takes what he wants without compassion, remorse or insight into how his actions affect others? If so, he's lacking the two qualities that must be present to create and sustain a happy relationship -- kindness and respect. And research asserts that although he may eventually command enough resources to get a long-term mate (and he can definitely play the field), whether he will keep that mate (or whether he'll keep her at all happy) is much less certain.

On the other hand, there *is* an alpha male who tends to have happy, stable and loving relationships, including a long-term mateship with someone he loves. This man is kind, respectful, resourceful, intelligent, diligent, focused, socially engaged, careful of how his actions affect others, desirous and capable of making a full commitment... I think this guy gets called Alpha Male less often, and is more frequently seen simply as The Brass Ring. Or gold. Or maybe platinum, with a smattering of diamonds. :)

Ultimately, then, you're right: The alpha male is a highly desirable man. However, research shows he's a lot more like Man B in my description than Man A. Just as men strongly prefer a youthful, beautiful partner, but character still counts, women also take many vital characteristics other than money and education into account when seeking a man. The guy who has it all? Isn't a jerk. It's just a shame that jerks have sometimes gotten labeled alphas while the *real* catches haven't.


July 13, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDuana C. Welch, Ph.D.

Is monogamy a natural state or a social convention?

July 14, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterTim

Tim, serial monogamy appears to be a natural state, quite common across diverse cultures.

Other natural sexual/partner arrangements include having a primary mate and fooling around a bit on the side, having several mates (for men, a long-known and still-practiced arrangement), and still others.

Lifelong, one-partner-only monogamy appears to be quite rare among over 97% of species on the planet...including our own. A very few mammals engage in it, but they don't require rules to keep at it--another hint that although monogamy offers many benefits to us bipedal types, it's not "natural" as in without effort and flaws and mistakes.

July 14, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDuana C. Welch, Ph.D.
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