Profound Relationship vs Intense Sex

loversWhich would you choose: a loving and profound lifelong relationship? Or a series of short but intense romantic bonds?

Your answer may depend on which you value more, happiness or meaning, says University of Haifa philosophy professor, Aaron Ben-Zeév.

Oddly, we seem to be happiest when our lives are easy. But a sense of meaning comes from contending with obstacles and learning from them. 

It is often said that if you want to be happy, live in the present. Happiness is short-term, present-oriented and satisfies needs and desires, says Florida State psychologist, Roy Baumeister.

On the other side, he adds, meaning comes from developing our potential and flourishing. It comes as we assemble our past, present and future into a coherent story that expresses and reflects who we are. It is neither temporary nor superficial, and involves contributing to others.

Professor Ben-Zeév adds:

Superficial or hedonic activities — casual sex, gossiping, and watching television — may be enjoyable, even though they do not contribute much to our long-term flourishing and can even be harmful in excess.

As I read the professor’s words in Psychology Today, I wondered: must we choose?

I’m sure that many women enjoy casual sex, and that’s fine if it works for them. But maybe I’m just weird because neither casual sex nor a series of short-term relationships — nor gossiping or watching TV, for that matter — sounds especially happy or particularly fun to me. For one thing, I have a hard time getting into sex unless I feel deeply connected. And I can’t do that with a casual or short-term situation.

Or, I may not be so alone. In researching their book, “Premarital Sex in America,” sociology professors, Mark Regnerus and Jeremy Ueker, found that women often have such a visceral aversion to casual sex that many turn to alcohol to tolerate it. (So why bother hooking up in the first place? I’ll discuss that later.)

But among college students they also found greater satisfaction, and more sex, in longer-term relationships.

Even among the long-married, sex often gets better with age.

Professor Ben-Zeév points out that,

Various studies indicate that profound love that endures for a lifetime does exist — and to a greater degree than many of us believe… The reduction in intensity is not inevitable and for many relationships, it has little impact.

Based on my own experience and conversations with others, intensity can actually increase with a feeling of intimate and committed connectedness. And that may explain so much of the data we find attaching both happiness and meaning to long-term relationships.

But hey, different strokes for different folks. I also know plenty of people who say they need novelty to keep intensity and excitement up. For some, it may depend on where you are in the lifecycle.

If you’d like to add your two cents on the topic, let us know what you think.

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Wanting “X” from Sex, but Doing “Y”

About BroadBlogs

I have a Ph.D. from UCLA in sociology (emphasis: gender, social psych, women's psych). I currently teach sociology and women's studies at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, CA. I have also lectured at San Jose State University. And I have blogged for Ms. Magazine, The Good Men Project and Daily Kos.

Posted on June 2, 2014, in psychology, relationships, sex and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 34 Comments.

  1. I agree – different strokes for different strokes. Interesting about the alcohol to tolerate for some women. I think probably that is linked to the pressure when we are younger to feel like we have to enjoy the casual (even if were are among those who don’t) or else what’s “wrong w/ us? I’m with you about the pleasures of going deeper in connection and intimacy.

  2. A series of short, intense relationships is fine when you are younger, but with age, a long profound relationship makes more sense. From a logical point of view, the availability of suitable partners diminishes.

    Although a lot of people would like a life-long relationship, it frequently does not work out that way anyway. So it is not something that is optional.

  3. I’d definitely prefer a profound relationship…with lots of intense sex.

  4. Well yes profound and long-term relationship is not easy as it needs virtues such as care, trust and respect for each other. Unless there is a meeting of minds sex is not intense nor lasting.

  5. Tiffani Bartlett

    For some people, having a series of short but intense romantic bonds is all they know but I think in the end majority of people want to have that profound life long relationship. According to Florida State psychologist, Roy Baumeister, happiness is a short-term thing that satisfies needs and desires. By having short hook ups makes the people happy in the present but when you take a look at the whole picture you cant primarily rely on short hook ups to satisfy these needs for the rest of your life. Finding a connection with someone on a deeper level than just sex is the main goal to happiness, I feel.

  6. I don’t know if dating the same person for 5 years can compare to a 50 year marriage, but I can already attest to the idea that sex gets better over time – especially if you’re both open to trying new things ^_^ I’ll take that over a short-term, sex-based relationship any day.

  7. I think sex is definitely nicer when there is some connection. I would prefer to be in a relationship, but as that is proving impossible to find, I’d prefer casual sex over no sex at all. That said, I at least have to have some connection with the guy, I think my days of going to a bar and going home with a random for the night are behind me, it doesn’t interest me (unless he is famous or I am on holiday).
    Over the last few years the guys I have slept with have been people I have been dating, we might night have been madly in love but there was mutual like and respect and affection even if we both knew we weren’t in it for the long term.
    That said, sex is a totally individual thing and if two consenting adults are happy to have a night of crazy sex after knowing each other for half an hour only to never see each other again, no one should be judging that.

    • Well, it’s been great fun hearing about your escapades. I hope I don’t come across as sounding judgmental, I’m just talking about my own experience — which has had a heavy dose of repression, making anything but close connection pretty unappealing for me. And I know that a lot of women share that background. And of course, there are those who enjoy both — but who might enjoy one more than the other.

  8. noellekeshmiri@gmail.com

    I like this post a lot because I often wonder if 2 people can actually be just together instead of sleeping around…. If i had a choice it would profound relationship instead of short intense romantic bonds. Yes everyone is different and yes sex does get better over time especially when your with someone your connected with and as a short intense romantic bonds seem fun but you can’t be as open or comfortable and I’m saying that with experience. I’m a lot more comfortable with my boyfriend now then i was and with more of a connection. everyones own opinion but i also think it depends on the age, like age 17 or 18 i think men want to experience more of short intense bonds

  9. For me, it is the best if you could find one and the only partner for the lifelong relationship. But at the same time, once we grow up and became adult, the opportunity to meet someone new is getting less, which means we can have more experience during the time of young age. Therefore, I won’t disagree with people who have series of short term and intense relationship with several others as far as they have responsibility for what they are doing. Having had sex with many people in the past might make a bad impression, but at the same time I think it’s a good thing because not every one of them get along well with each other as for both relationship in general and sex. However couples in lifelong relationship can help each other to make their sex life better simply because they love each other so much and can’t think of anyone. I think these are all depends on the way we think of relationship, age and gender.

  10. That’s interesting that with short term relationship we’re more happy. Being that in today’s society I find myself finding a lot of people not being able to commit or willing to commit to long term relationships. All they seek for is some short intense love yet it works perfectly for them. However I think it’s different base on different people. I think that people can find happiness in both shortterm or long term relationship. It all depends on the type of person they are and the type of person they’re with. I think certain people is only fitted to be a short term partner with and is not good for the long term. I think that’s why hookups and casual dating is so common because often time people like to be with people who they know aren’t good for long term but are fine for short term.

  11. For me a long term profound relationship means more to me than multiple hot and heavy intense sex relationships. I enjoy feeling cared for an intimate with someone, which I can only seem to do if I have been with that person for a long time. And yes I do agree that sex gets better the longer you’ve been together and the more comfortable you are with that person. I have nothing against casual sex, and have even participated in it, but I just enjoy meaningful sex more. Its nice to be loved in that way.

  12. Although intense sex and romantic bonds can be good experiences when we are young, it would be better to have profound relationship as we get older. The more intense the love with somebody, the shorter your love will end in general. I think this is because as we love somebody very intensively, we are more likely to expect or anticipate something great from our lovers. And when our lovers are not able to show something great, we are disappointed a lot more, and our love ends either so fast or easily. On the other hand, profound relationship can help us to have deeper connection with our lovers since we need to be serious to the relationships.

  13. DeAnna Hooker

    I feel that this post is somewhat true but on the other hand wrong. All people have their different feelings. Some girls do like casual sex, some don’t, and some guys like casual sex and some don’t. In this category, I think both men and women are the same because everyone is different. As for the sex gets better with age, I feel that people can also differ in that too. Some people don’t enjoy sex as they get older, some do. But I don’t think it’s about the age that makes people turned off I think it’s who you are planning on being with. Many people have different views on relationships.

  14. Hayley Epstein

    I find it interesting that someone would relate meaning to multiple short term relationships, and happiness to long term ones. I really feel that “meaning” is in the eye of the beholder and each individual finds meaning in their own unique experiences. Although I understand the idea of testing your potential and seeing what’s out there, I think that,often times, people end up finding meaning in whatever situation they end up in. With that being said, I also agree that a bunch of short term relationships and casual sex doesn’t sound too fun and certainly isn’t the ideal. It’s funny how alcohol has become a way for people to tolerate this type of lifestyle. People feel so much pressure at a young age to live a certain way because “everyone else is doing it” when in reality no one else likes it either! It seems ironic to me!

  15. Hooking up has never been my thing, and I don’t think I’d ever be able to. My personal belief on sex is that it has been reduced to nothing more than pleasure. And I mean, who knows. Maybe its always been like that, there will always be those who seek pleasure and right on for looking and getting just that, but I would have to agree that to have sex, I’d like to feel an emotional connection beyond physical attraction. We are, after all the only mammals to face each other during sex to feel that intimacy and connection by looking into our lover’s eyes. I’d choose that intimacy and love any day over a one night stand with a stranger. I’d like to be an outlet of love and not one of satisfaction.

    • And then there are people like me who can’t even find it pleasurable when it’s completely meaningless — probably due to fairly severe repression. Maybe I’ll write about it sometime.

  16. Nancy Johnson

    A loving and profound lifelong relationship is what appeals to me the most because I believe that after a while it will get boring having small or not so major connections/ hook ups with people. Rather than having someone there that you can have that strong bond with that every human being craves for. Hook ups only satisfy a person for so long, it doesn’t necessarily have the same impact on a person when their in love and in a relationship where as flings don’t impact many people.

  17. Women that turn to alcohol to tolerate casual sex is no surprise. Women are generally more emotional than men. They tend to look for “the one”. And giving themselves to a guy they just hooked up with is disgusting for them.
    I also personnaly think that a long term relationship is far better than casual sex. Casual sex will stop after s short time or it will loose what made it special but when feelings are involved, even if the sex doesn’t get better, the relationship is still special

  18. For me, long term relationships are more preferable. I dont believe into a short term relationship or a fling or a casual sex as when it comes to emotions, I cant forget things easily and if I am with someone, it means I am serious for him. So long term relationships is what I believe.

  19. well i would rather choose the long term relationship. however, at the end of the article, it sounds like couple should know how to warm their relationship and i think it’s true. i agree because after a longtime someone might gett bored, or think that the other person is boring. Many people expect that new relationship excitement to last forever, and it rarely does. Some people want it again so they think their partner does not care about them like they used to, so they go looking for someone who they think might be more exciting.
    in my opinion, i think Every relationship is a learning experience. love is as deep as we want it to be. Always remember it’s the little things that make a relationship and love fun and exciting. Don’t ever take those little things for granted. Cherish each moment, because you’ll never know when there won’t be a tomorrow. that’s how i warm my relationship

  20. Intense Sex vs Profound relationship? I guess both are interconnected for some people.
    As you pointed out some people can’t have good sex unless they feel connected to their partner. I have a lot of friends that would agree with you and such as every time i talk about it with them , I always end up being the one who looks like an asshole because I don’t share the same view on this. I think intensity in sex decreases as time goes by. And there’s actually studies that proves that chemistry in our brain, the one chemistry that creates this feeling of intensity in the relationship fades away after few years. It’s just biological, we are not meant to spend a lifetime with the same partner. And I trully believe that Love is deeply related to Sex and if the sex doesn’t work anymore the rest crumbles. I’m a passionate, and when I love someone there is no stronger feeling but that never last long and it can fade away as fast as it came. And i’m not ashamed to say that i can erase someone of my life and move on once the passion is over. You just have to know yourself enough to know when it’s over instead of staying because of habbit or whatever reasons which I think is a waste of time. We have only one life, we’d better enjoy it while we can!

    • Yes, the passion can fade. But for some people sex actually does get better over time. These people are bringing more into it — things like deep connection.

      But that’s not going to work for everyone, Such as folks like yourself. But I don’t think that makes you an *hole so long as your partners aren’t expecting more. Sometimes open communication is what’s needed.

  21. I agree -” different strokes for different folks.”
    I think casual and long term relationships are just very different. Both can be very fulfilling, or not at all. It all depends of course on who we are, where we come from, our expectations, experiences, and so on. I also agree that where we are in our lives can effect our choices. I think it helps to know yourself well, and know what you are getting yourself in to in order to make any type of relationship fulfilling.
    I have experienced both types of relationships and can say that I have learned a lot about myself and men from casual relationships(that also helped me with building a long term relationship).

  22. Well, those who rely on such relational crutches (emotional highs) to be happy won’t stay happy. I don’t see how they will end up knowing last happiness.

  23. Howard Houston

    I absolutely agree with the idea that with a profound relationship, the intensity of sex will increase. I can speak from experience in this department. My girlfriend and I have been together for four months now and although it is a short time, the feeling with her is completely different from my past. I have been able to form an emotional connection with her unlike any other. With this connection, our sex life even intensified. We both are extremely happy in and out of the bedroom and I would not change these feelings for just intense sex.

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