Ever since I started making out, fooling around and having sex with other people when I was in my teens, a hot topic of conversation among me and girlfriends was feelings of attachment after we’d had a great, passionate session with a potential partner.
I’ve had — and heard of — experiences from women who really weren’t that into someone or weren’t sure how they were feeling, then after having sex with them felt a strong sense of attachment. There are times we can confuse feelings of like, lust or love — I mean, it all feels good. But what is happening in our brains when we are physical with another person that causes this shift? And does that feeling last? What goes on in our brains during sex?
We asked a few experts who let us know the real reason you may be feeling more attached, attracted or “in love” with someone after you’ve had a sexual interaction.
Blame it on the hormones
When we are intimate with someone, oxytocin, also known as the “love hormone” is released into the body “during intercourse and other forms intimacy,” Dr. Sal Raichbach, a psychologist and licensed clinical social worker, tells SheKnows, adding that oxytocin is linked to “positive social functioning and is associated with bonding, trust and loyalty.”
It’s only natural we associate those good feelings with the person we shared them with and we are left wanting more of them. This may be why we start thinking of someone more after we share a passionate time with them, even if it was quick— we want more of that feeling.
Feelings of attachment are not from sex alone
The good news is that it doesn’t take penis-in-vagina intercourse to produce oxytocin.
“Oxytocin is released in a variety of activities, from seeing our dog to getting or giving a massage, playing team sports, giving birth or seeing the color blue,” Dr. Lauren Brim, sex educator and author of The New Rules of Sex, tells SheKnows.
Brim goes on to explain that a strong bond between two people or feelings of attachment for one person can happen during other kinds of intimacy as well, “which is why we can feel like we’ve fallen in love with someone we’ve only ever spoken with once,” she says.
Intimacy is where it’s at
It’s also important to remember that having sex under any condition will automatically release oxytocin or make you feel connected to your partner. For example, Brim points out victims of sexual assault don’t have feelings of attachment for their abusers nor can having regular sex in an unhappy marriage “fix” the relationship or make you fall in love again.
While sex can deepen an existing bond between two people, the thing that makes us feel attached is the “intimacy of the experience and the innate chemistry of the partners,” she says. Things like looking into each other’s eyes or sharing personal stories with another can create the same type of bond.
“As social creatures, we are designed to bond through a variety of activities, but the sex often creates a sense that we should form a relationship with the person because society has designated that as part of our social sexual script,” Brim adds.
Brim also notes that people are responding to sex the way we’ve been conditioned to respond, “so, if we’re told a story that men were needy after sex and women were the sexually promiscuous ones, then that would be the reality,” which may very well be why some women think they are more attached or have developed deeper feelings for someone after they have had sexual intercourse.
Perhaps the next time you are wondering if you are in love or even have feelings for someone after being intimate with them, ask yourself if you just liked the experience and the feelings you had when you were having sex (including when you were kissing and touching) or if you think you experienced a type of intimacy on a different level and are experiencing deeper feeling for other reasons.
Like most things in life, there is no instant formula for having feelings for someone — with or without having sex. But keeping things in mind like the effect of hormones may help to explain why you suddenly become really into someone after being intimate.
A version of this story was published June 2018.
Before you go, check out our bucket list of 69 (nice) sex positions to try: