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In which Lindsey explains the reasons we feel uncomfortable with our sexualities and how our sex conflicts are resolved.

There are lots of explanations for why humans behave the way we do. Turns out you aren't human. My favorite is the theory of cognitive dissonance, a theory proposed by Leon Festinger in 1957. I'm gonna give you the sexology version in 2014.


The Theory of Cognitive Dissonance, Dr. Doe Style!

Cognitive: referring to the mind. Our cognition, how we perceive, think, sense the world, put our brains to use. Dissonance: "dis-" "-sonance", "dis-" meaning a lack of, or the opposite, and "-sonance" referring to consonance, or harmony; so a lack of harmony. Here's an example. Let's say that the belief is, "I want to wait until marriage before having sex." There could be a dissonant belief to this, like "Ohh, but it would feel so good to have sex!" or a dissonant action like dry humping or having anal sex, [whispers] which is sex.

According to the theory of cognitive dissonance, the belief of chastity is in conflict with another belief or behavior. Festinger and other psychologists believed that this is incredibly uncomfortable and that people will make adjustments in order to cope with this mismatch. 

One of these three things will happen: One, the person will change the belief to match the behavior. Two, the person will enhance the belief with supporting reasons, called confirmation bias. Or three, the person will write off the belie--they'll down play it, like it didn't really matter.

In the scenario about waiting until marriage before having sex, it might play out like this. The belief becomes:

People SHOULD have sex before that way they know whether or not they are sexually compatible. And what if I never get married? I could be missing out on sex. 

Waiting allows me to find the right person, it  means that I won't have infections I spread, and I can focus on other things like school and work.

Meh, waiting until marriage isn't that big of a deal to me.

Before learning about the theory of cognitive dissonance, I would have compared the belief to the behavior and thought: change the behavior; you value chastity, stop having sex!  But unless a person really amps up the belief, sometimes irrationally or dangerously the belief is more likely to change to match the behavior, instead of the other way around.

What will change? The belief. Which one? The belief. We're more likely to change our beliefs, our values, our minds even, rather than change our actions.

Examples! The belief is that sleeping with roommates makes things complicated and messy, but the behavior is to sleep with the roommate, so then the new belief is: sleeping with roommates is convenient.  Let's say the person really enjoys and wants to have sex, but scheduling doesn't allow for it. There's no time to play. I must not like or want sex anymore.

These are over-simplified, but they illustrate the human need to want harmony. Sometimes by manipulating what we believe. So much work to manage all of this! I value fidelity, but I cheat: new belief becomes the relationship was crap anyway. Foreplay is really important, have super rushed sex:  I must not be able to get turned on. I'm so glad we broke up but I miss her terribly: this must mean that we should be together. Condoms prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections transmission, but I had bareback sex, so it probably would have broken; they're not that effective.

These tactics give a sense of congruence between one's beliefs and behaviors, but they're just like heuristics; they're quick and easy, and totally inappropriate when the situation calls for critical thinking.

I want you to reevaluate your beliefs, update your knowledge, ask yourself "Why do I believe what I believe?", and change your  beliefs if you need to. But watch out for the tendencies of cognitive dissonance. It the words of Anonymous, "You can only act your way into better thinking; you cannot think your way into better acting."

Wear condoms, put clean sheets on the bed, slow sex down,  and be honest with yourself and others. And stay curious.

By the way, Leon Festinger, the psychologist who proposed this theory, he's also the one who proposed the proximity affect.