How does sex affect relationships?

Todd Vanderwerff

Todd Vanderwerff

But, then again, when it’s all said and done, it’s all about love.

Whatever that is.

We see that special someone across a room. Worlds slow to a stop. He or she smiles for us.


As I write this, Etta James is singing “At Last” to the staff and me, belting it through our small office from John’s computer, maybe even from heaven.

I have written about sex for four weeks now and I’m no closer to knowing what it’s all about. I can hear from students that everyone’s having it. I can be told by officials that everyone needs more protection. I can be told it’s wrong to have it before marriage.

But still, I want to know why, why we have this urge, this need at our very cores.

I want to believe it is more than a biochemical response designed strictly to bring us pleasure and babies.

I’m too much of a romantic, I suppose.

Scientists would tell you that love is just that. Purely chemical. Purely in the brain.

But I still believe in fallacies and fading dreams like a heart that beats only for a certain someone.

I want to believe in love.

I want to believe there’s more than sex.

I want …

So I went out. I found four couples. I talked to them and found out what they thought about love, about falling in love, about falling out of love, about finding someone to spend your life with.

Till death do you part.

Tommy and Sarah

Tommy Wedge and Sarah Leedom have only been together for two months.

“Almost two-and-a-half,” Sarah corrects me.

Two-and-a-half, then.

They met during “Hello, Dolly!” They were both in the production as chorus members and they both nursed secret crushes on each other from afar.

They seem to define cute couple to me. Tommy has a springy shock of brown hair that curls out of his head like a party favor. Sarah is short with a sweet smile and blonde hair that just tickles her neck.

They make me smile as they fumble at the beginnings of something that may be bigger than the both of them.

Tommy tells me that communication is key to having a healthy relationship. And apologies. Sarah makes him add having fun.

Sarah and Tommy have a lot of fun. I have trouble getting a hold of them on the night I want to do my interview because they are at a play in Sioux Falls.

They are young. I don’t know if I want to say they are “young and in love” because I’m not sure if they know yet. They’re getting close, they say, close to true emotional intimacy.

“We’re not quite there yet. We haven’t had as much time to spend together … to get to that point. But we’re on our way,” Tommy says.

They learned of their mutual crush from friends who egged them on at the “Dolly” cast party.

Full disclosure. I was in that chorus of voices. I cheer on their relationship because they work well together. I have known Tommy for a long time and Sarah for what feels like a long time. They could have something here.

I want to believe these things are possible.

I wish them luck.

Darcie and her girlfriend

That’s right; I said girlfriend.

Darcie and her girlfriend have been together for six months now. Her girlfriend declines to be mentioned by name for this article. Not everyone knows yet.

Darcie’s girlfriend does not live in Brookings.

It’s a long-distance relationship, carried out in e-mails and phone calls and letters and gifts, even though shipping makes gifts unusual and precious.

Darcie speaks of her girlfriend in the tones we hear every day from girls speaking of their boyfriends and boys speaking of their girlfriends. She says her relationship is very similar to a heterosexual one.

But there are problems.

“A lot of people are really stunned if we dance or are holding hands or show affection in public. … If the same group of people saw a man and woman holding hands, they wouldn’t think twice,” Darcie says.

She and her partner have been teased and taunted and yelled at. Violence has been directed at Darcie, but not for several years now. They have been called every epithet the English language can conjure up for a lesbian and they remain together, close.

“We’re just really compatible. She’s never been in a relationship with a female before so that’s kind of a new experience for her,” Darcie says. “We have a lot of open communication about what both of us like and don’t like. That helps a whole lot, I think.”

I am not able to talk to Darcie’s partner, who wishes to remain a secret.

I think it’s a shame that these secrets must be kept.

Perhaps this biases me, but I’m already in deep water with the Tommy and Sarah revelation.

This could grow into a very beautiful thing.

I wish them luck.

Dr. Ron Stover

“I really think that the emotional connections are tremendously important for people,” he says.

“We think about sex a lot, but when you get to marriage, it’s far more than that. It’s certainly one of those very pleasurable enjoyable things but people get married for a lot of other reasons.”

Dr. Ron Stover teaches the marriage class at SDSU. He tells me that he has been married to his wife for around a third of a century and will not elaborate further.

Dr. Stover immediately asks me who I am when I call him. I’m afraid he thinks I’m a tele-marketer. But when I tell him why I’m calling- because I want to talk to someone about being married, about making that long haul- he is quick to accept my request and grant me an interview.

He speaks quietly at first, but his voice grows into excitement. He believes that it’s a good thing that people are waiting to get married (the national average age for a male to get married is up to 27, females are up to 25; this is the highest these numbers have been in a century).

I don’t mention to him that I, myself, am getting married.

At 22.

It’s healthy to be married well, he tells me. Well-married men outlast their single counterparts by ten years. Well-married women last an average of four years longer.

He celebrates the fact that the divorce rate is slowly going down. In 1979, it was at 55 percent. Now, it’s at 45 percent. While he says that is still too high, the ten percent decrease is a marked improvement.

Despite what the media may tell you, people are still falling in love, still getting married, still having a go of it.

Dr. Stover thinks it is possible that what he calls the “cohabitation revolution” may be driving the lowering of the divorce rate. While some of it is combatted by people waiting to settle down to marry, some of it may be driven by the fact that people move in together. Then, they find out if they are truly compatible before marriage. The relationship ends before marriage. The divorce rate goes down.

I wonder if this is truly a triumph for love and the human heart, but don’t bother to ask.

I ask him what he loves about his wife. He says he loves her companionship, her friendship.

I smile at his answer.

I wish he and his wife well.

Todd and Libby

But it all circles around to me, eventually.

I started this series wanting to know what was at the soul of SDSU when it came to sex and God and love and those sorts of things. I found people curious to know more, people hungry to express themselves, people longing for love and lusting for sex.

I found a heaving, breathing student body, ready for passion, but not sure if it could take what would follow.

“There’s actually nothing scarier in our lives than having to face the world without each other,” she says. She’s talking about me.

She is Libby Hill. Our advice columnist. My fiancee. And she loves me.

You should all be so lucky.

Perhaps it is incredibly narcissistic for me to turn this article, this series, into a paean to that dull ache we all find in the center of our souls. That dull ache for a companion.

Perhaps it is hubristic of me to turn this article into a love letter to the woman who filled that ache for me.

But there is love. There is something more than lust and sex and heartache. There are deep, rushing waters of friendship that only death can dry up.

Journalism is the ultimate form of keeping the artist out of the art. If done well, it is dry with no point-of-view.

But these are deep issues, deep thoughts. There is no way to remove oneself from them. One must give into them, be carried away by them.

We speak of a friend who doesn’t believe in love. She tells me that there is no way to make someone believe in it.

It must be found.

It must be grown carefully.

It must be treasured.

I wish all lovers luck.