It was not like I was “looking for love in all the wrong places.” I had not reached the threshold of desperate need wherein “I think that any love is good lovin' so I took what I could get.” No I was just a guy wandering a festival looking to fill his swag bag, and only in that regard I did take what I could get; I came home with a bag full of new condoms. I had no immediate prospect of needing any of the condoms and I actually could have used some plastic drink cups, pens and post-it note pads that I used to get at such events; the world had changed since the condom revolution. Fortunately, I have enough opportunity to speak with people in their twenties that I can compare and contrast the days before and after the condom revolution.
I remember the day when if a young man wanted to buy condoms he would have to first screw up the courage to venture into that special isle in the drug store and sneak them into his shopping basket underneath a big colorful bag of chips and other randomly selected items, bought purely to camouflage the condoms. Somewhere along the way condoms became ubiquitous items devoid of stigma for married and single alike. I realized the turning point one time when my car was running low on oil and I stopped at a gas station hoping to buy an emergency quart. I was confused when I realized I could buy beer and condoms but not motor oil there. (Somewhere in that was a message about what to do if your car breaks down). I knew the change had occurred during the AIDS epidemic. Suddenly sex had become even scarier and the compassionate thing to do was throw condoms at the problem. It seems like now young adults through the modern friends-with- benefits relationships and random hook-ups via dating apps can secure endless sex while well supplied with freely available and affordable if not free condoms.
However, I was surprised to find that in my discussions with the twenty-something crowd that condom use is NOT universal. There are still those who brave to raw-dog it with casual acquaintances or even randoms. When I hear about such events I have the reflexive streak of terror that shoots through my body and I fear for them getting syphilis, gonorrhea, or any of the dreaded H’s such as HIV, HPV, HEP-C or herpes. Mention of these risks does not seem to bring the same terror I experienced in my twenties. No, there has not been a protective barrier strong enough to protect the current generation from the sexually transmitted disease they most fear, catching feelings.
As much as “catching feels” is viewed as a dreaded pathology, the young people I talk to don’t seem to understand the physiology behind it. I recently explained to a young person that during sex a number of neurotransmitters which simulate the feelings of love are released in the brain. If you are doing it right you are going to kick up the adrenaline which reinforces a sense of arousal in emotional parts of the brain. This potentiates paired associate learning like,”this person I am with is my source of pleasure.” With enough vigorous sexual activity you are going to release endorphins which bring a sense of euphoria. Then there will be some serotonin released which brings a sense of satisfaction. However, the real kicker is that during orgasm the hormone oxytocin is released that causes a sense of bonding, aka attachment. For this reason the friends with benefits relationship often gets screwed up when someone catches feels due to an irrevocable physiological response personalized by the brain because of paired associate learning. When I told this to one young man he said, “Well then I will just make sure I never bring her to orgasm.” My first reply to that was, “Don’t be a selfish asshole...Don’t use someone like that! If you are going to do it, you should at least do it right”
Like many other pathologies some people seem to have a natural resistance to catching feelings. Others seem to build up their resistance over time. A strong resistance to feelings is not an admirable trait. Just as some alcoholics build up resistance and need more and more alcohol to get a buzz there are those people who seem to need more and more intense levels of affection just to form any sense of attachment. Others reach a point where they just can’t anymore. On some level I can empathize with the desire to have some level of immunity. There is nothing more awkward and uncomfortable than being in love. It makes you feel like you are not in control of your own thoughts and feelings. It is like a bad mental illness. Personally I am the type of person that wants to fast forward past all the awkward uncomfortable parts when watching a love story. With online streaming I can do just that. However, I find that when I do that watching a movie the story becomes like a flat soda or stale beer.
It’s a sad sight watching someone suck down day old beer out of a used cup left on the table from the previous night’s party; it smacks of desperation. You don’t want your eventual relationships to become like that, just sucking down what is available on the table because you have numbed your taste-buds and built up too much of a tolerance to get a kick out of beer, but nonetheless you are desperately thirsty. You don’t want to fast forward your life past the wonderful awkwardness of love because you fear catching feelings. What I really mean, love is the sweetest thing I’ve ever seen. Don’t be afraid to feel something while you are young and you still can. Don’t be afraid to get lost in love. I have been around a while and…
“I realize the best part of love is the thinnest slice And it don't count for much But I'm not letting go I believe there's still much to believe in So lift your eyes if you feel you can Reach for a star and I'll show you a plan…”
Condom image borrowed from Condom Jungle
Songs referenced include: "Looking for Love" by Wanda Mallette, Bob Morrison and Patti Ryan recorded by American country music singer Johnny Lee; "You Ain't Seen Nothing Yet" written by Randy Bachman and performed by the group Bachman–Turner Overdrive and Lost in Love written by Graham Russell and performed by the group Air Supply with oblique reference to "Your Song" composed and performed by Elton John.