Part 16 in series How Millennials Who Gave up on Church are Redefining Faith and Re-engaging Community
Historic Christian morality and modern neuroscience have come to the same conclusion: sex forms a nearly inseparable bond.
What we see in the Millennial generation is a generation that didn’t want to see the dysfunctional marriages that they themselves lived with when they were growing up and yet they still wanted to sustain and gratify their sexual urges (hence, these uncommitted relationships). My generation is having a hard time forming attachments with other people.
Kutcher and Portman or Erikson and Freud?
You can blame it on Hollywood. Movies like ‘Friends with Benefits’ with Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis or ‘No Strings Attached’ with Ashton Kutcher and Natalie Portman certainly chronicle the issue, but they hardly caused it. You could blame it on a culture that is built around instant gratification. You could even say that it is our ultimate desire that we just want to do what other people are doing so that we aren’t a social oddity.
Ultimately, I believe it comes down to an identity problem. No matter how we go through life we will assert our imprint on the world. Even social disengagement is a form of social engagement. How we interact with the world stems from a fundamental understanding of who we think we are. So in my sexual relationships, I have sex (or don’t have sex) with those based on how I understand myself and how I understand myself through others.
One of the most renowned 20th century psychologists Erik Erikson noted that the age in which we are supposed to be developing meaningful and bonding relationships happens between 18-30 (the age of the current Millennial relationships). Erikson believed, and I believe rightly, that it takes two whole people to bond and create whole relationships. It isn’t rocket science that broken people tend to create two types of social reactions when relationships are imposed upon them: codependent relationships or retreating into isolation.
Neuroscience and Morality
As Christians we believe that when we engage in sexual activity that there is a bond that is inseparable. Neuroscience has come to the same conclusion. When people have sex, several chemicals in their brain are released: one is oxytocin and another is dopamine. Oxytocin is the bonding chemical. When we have sex with someone we are supposed to be bonded to this person.
The more bonds we form with others, and these relationships are torn apart or disengaged, the more we struggle to bond with another. Dopamine is the feel good chemical. The more dopamine is released in our brain, the more we become attached to it. This is how sexual addictions are created. Sigmund Freud also called this engagement where sexual activity is used as a form to merely annihilate the tension we feel in our body a Death Instinct. It seems that from the Bible to neuroscience to Freud, that our sexuality outside of Eros, out of continual longing for union with a person, that our actions will lead to some form of biological or metaphysical death.
All of this to bring us back to our fundamental question: Who am I? When we don’t know who we are, we won’t know what to do in our social engagements (sexual or not). Maybe our critique of the Millennial generation, my generation, comes from a poor or broken understanding of who we are. For Christians, we are called to help people understand who they are in Christ (as the beloved). If we are not Christians, how do we invite people into wholeness? How do we help people find themselves? How do we help people find one another?
Next post in ongoing series: Sobering Video by CBS: Religion & Spirituality in a Changing Society