The Science Of Sex, Love, Attraction, And Obsession
The science of sex, love, attraction, and obsession during romantic or passionate love, you’re gonna feel the sense of being addicted to your partner. People madly in love can fall madly in love with somebody who’s married, who lives on the other side of the planet, who comes from a different religion. And somehow they’ll say to themselves; We’ll work it out. We can work this out because of all that energy of intense romantic love over time.
As this whole neurotransmitter thing settles out, what’s left? We define romantic love as an intense desire for another with the expectation that it’s going to persist into the future, and that distinguishes it from lust, which is generally fleeting, and also for more companionship love, which doesn’t have that intensity of desire that you want to possess the other in some way.
Studies have looked at activity in the brain when recalling passionate or romantic love versus, say, maternal love and find that different centers definitely are more active. In other words, they put people into the functional MRI, and they said, Think about your partner or think about your lover, and certain areas lit up.
Or they said, think about your mom and different areas lit up, which is important because different areas are responsible for releasing different neurotransmitters, which then come to affect your future feeling States and future behaviors during romantic or passionate love. What happens from a neurotransmitter standpoint?
Those chemicals are released when you have that particular experience; dopamine goes up. Dopamine is essentially the neurotransmitter of reward. So it is a neurotransmitter that’s released when you have a new or novel experience, but particularly experiences that are reinforcing, like gambling or something that is really addictive, in fact, literally addictive.
It’s the neurotransmitter if you snort cocaine that is most responsible for. Wow, that was great. And I totally want to do it again. So that is a neurotransmitter that definitely goes up when you are in the throes of romantic or passionate love. And what does that mean for you? It means that you’re going to feel the sense of being addicted to your partner. And in fact, it’s also the neurotransmitter that goes up for people who have an obsessive-compulsive disorder. Does that mean you’re going to develop OCD?
No. But what it does mean is you’re probably going to obsess over your partner’s income. Another neurotransmitter that’s called serotonin. It is definitely a neurotransmitter that is active for obsessive-compulsive disorder. And it means that your probable, and for depression, do you become depressed? No, you really don’t. But what you do is a feature of depression called rumination. So you think about your partner over and over and over again in this really obsessive manner. And if your partner is separated from you, you’re going to have this longing where you want to be with them, kind of like you’d want to be with a drug.
If it was taken away from you and you are already addicted to it, there are changes in other neurotransmitters as well. So if you’re physical with your partner, the neurotransmitter oxytocin, which is known as the cuddle neurotransmitter, and that makes you feel warm and snuggly and intensely bonded to this person, is particularly released following orgasm. If you’re having sex with your partner and things go well, you’re going to feel very attached to them, exceedingly intimate with them. Partially because of that neurotransmitter.
There are other neurotransmitters that actually also change vasopressin, which has to do with stress level. There’s this whole relief of neurotransmitters that make you feel very obsessed, very addicted, constantly thinking about them, very intimately cuddly attached and stressed. Actually, it is a stressful condition to some degree to be really into your partner.
One of the problems with early-stage intense feelings of romantic love is that it is part of the brain’s oldest parts that become activated brain regions linked with drive, craving, and obsession with motivation. And, in fact, some cognitive regions up in the prefrontal cortex that has evolved much more recently begin to shut down the brain region is linked with the decision-making planning ahead. People who are madly loved can fall madly in love with somebody who’s married, who lives on the other side of the planet, who comes from a different religion.
And somehow, they’ll say to themselves; we’ll work it out. We can work this out because of all that energy of intense romantic love and the shutting down of various brain systems linked to decision-making. So one of the things that I say to people is before you decide to marry somebody, spend a good deal of time with them so that some of that early-stage intense feeling of romantic love can begin to subside, and you can begin to really see what you’ve got. As a matter of fact, I’m very optimistic about the future of relationships because we’re spending so much time now getting to know somebody before we Wed.
You know, a great many people are having these one-night stands and friends with benefits and living together before they marry. And there was a recent study in which they asked a lot of single people living together with somebody, why have they not yet married? And 67% were terrified of divorce, terrified of not only the legal and the financial and the economic, but the personal and social fallout of divorce. And so I began to realize maybe all this hooking up and friends with benefits and living together is not recklessness.
Maybe it’s caution. Maybe singles are trying to learn every single thing they can about a potential partner before they tie the knot. And in short, marriage used to be the beginning of a relationship. Now it’s the finale, and I think that that is very positive. As a matter of fact, I work with Match Com. I’m their senior, their chief scientific advisor, and we did a study of married people not on the site match com, of course, of 100 married people, and I had a reason.
Well, if there’s this long pre-commitment stage of getting to know somebody, maybe by the time you walk down the aisle, you know what you’ve got, you’re happy with what you got, and you’re going to build a long, stable, really happy marriage.
Maybe we’re going towards a time of happier marriages because relationships can end before you tie the knot. So within this study, I asked these 100 married people many questions, but one of the questions was, would you remarry the person you’re currently married to? And 81% said Yes. And I think that with what I call fast sex, slow love, with this slow love process of getting to know somebody very carefully over a long time, it will help the brain readjust some of these brain regions for decision-making.
You’re going to get to know how this person handles your parents at Christmas or whatever holiday. You know, how they handle your friends, they handle their money, how they handle an argument, how they handle getting exercise and their own health and your health, et cetera. You learn a lot about the person I think we’re in. I’m very optimistic about the future because of this concept of slow love.