The Body Chemicals of Love and Sex
April 3, 2020
Since early childhood, we have learned that love is a complicated emotion. It is an emotion that can take on many forms. There is Platonic love, family love, and romantic love. While there are different types of love, the latter seems to be the more talked about one. There are countless movies based on the type of love and uncountable songs dealing with it.
But what is love? How does it come to be, and how do our bodies tend to react to it? Well, come along as we discuss the chemistry of love.
Lusting for Excitement
Not only are there so many pop songs and movies revolving around love, but there are also numerous theories and speculations about it — scientific theories and speculations. There is a science behind the feeling that plays a role in falling in love and releasing certain chemicals while doing so. This also applies to lust since there are biochemicals involved in lust. But what is the difference between love and lust?
- Love can be defined as a feeling of constant or even strong affection towards another person. There is some sexual desire involved in the feeling. Love is a step beyond lust, where the focus is more on the commitment between lovers.
- Lust, on the other hand, is described as a strong physical attraction to another.
Lust and love can often get confused, especially when it comes to the formation of the first attachment, i.e., “love at first sight.” Lust attraction and attachment in the early stages of a relationship release the same chemicals that we, males and females, link to love. These are endorphins, such as dopamine, oxytocin, and vasopressin (particularly in men). Here’s a breakdown of what they do:
- Endorphins — Relieve pain and stress
- Dopamine — The feel-good neurotransmitter that is released during sexual activities (among others)
- Oxytocin — Also known as the love hormone that is released during bonding, such as cuddling, sex, and attachment relationship, whether it is physical or emotional
- Vasopressin — This is the chemical that is linked to the arousal phase, mostly in men. It seems to be linked to creating long-term and often monogamous relationships.
The feeling of lust between two people is new and exciting. Hence, a lot of people are obsessed with their partner due to the chemicals in the brain regions being released. It is the honeymoon phase of early attachments in relationships.
Sending out the Signals
There are many ways to send out signals that you are interested in someone, whether you’re looking for a quick hook-up or a long-term relationship. This may lead to strange situations since lust can oftentimes be overpowering and make people do unusual things. However, what plays the most significant role in “mate hunting” are pheromones.
Pheromones are the scent that you give off naturally. It is also the scent of the other that makes you attracted to them. This plays out on the subconscious level, and it is a way to look for mates that have good traits to pass on to your children. So pheromones cause sexual attraction.
Everyone has their own specific signature smell, and that’s why some people do not find others as attractive as you would and visa-versa. Pheromones can tell your senses if a mate is of good and healthy genetic quality as well as the success of potential reproduction with them.
There are two types of pheromones — the primer and the signal. The latter are attractants as well as repellents. They can chase away mates that are not suitable. You do not like their smell, or they do not like yours. It is for the short-term and could be linked to lust. The former, primer, can create long-term changes in hormone production as well as behavior. This could easily be linked to love, i.e., the period after the honeymoon phase. The smell is subconscious but ever-present; it is a way to find a long-term partner as well as to fend off those that would not work with you. Therefore, listen to your nose.
The Chemicals of Love and Attraction
We have gone through some of the many chemicals related to love and attraction. However, there are a few more that also make an impact on your body. These can keep partners together for the long haul as well as influence their sex life, i.e., make them want to come back for more. There is dopamine that makes you feel good, and there are also norepinephrine and serotonin that play a role in the brain and body when it comes to attraction and love.
Norepinephrine is a hormone that is related to dopamine. It is the reason that you feel “butterflies in your stomach.” It makes you energetic, euphoric, and “giddy.” Outside of love, norepinephrine is a stress hormone that can increase your pulse and heart rate. It plays a large part in fight or flight in stressful situations, keeping you alert. However, when love is in question, the “reward” parts of the brain are shown to light up when someone is shown a picture of the person that they are in love with. This hormone could account for the faster heartbeat and nerves when seeing someone you are attracted to.
Another hormone that plays a role in our brain when we fall in love is serotonin. Serotonin is the chemical behind our appetite and mood. Serotonin can increase, which means that you are in a better mood while feeling in love. It can also link to a loss of appetite, which may be impacted by norepinephrine, which also may result in a loss of appetite. Love releases a lot of hormones and chemicals in your brain and body, and scientists are still trying to figure out what exactly is going on. Therefore, love is wonderful yet fairly complex at the same time.
Dr. Helen Fisher led a group of scientists who managed to break down the notion of love into three phases. According to their theory, the phases are lust, attraction, and attachment. The last phase is where partners can stay together while still being attracted to each other for decades. Every phase releases different hormones, while there can be some overlap.
Phase one is lust. This is driven by estrogen and testosterone in men and women. Phase two is attraction, which is governed by serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine. The “final phase” is attachment, which is led by oxytocin and vasopressin. Attachment is what makes couples stay together and keeps them in love. Endorphins could be seen in all the phases since it is the “happy chemical.”
Attachment does have elements of lust and attraction in it, but it is more in line with the notion of friendship, cordiality, and even parent-infant bonding, plus, other types of intimacies outside of sex. It is the bonding part of the relationship where the couple feels more relaxed and comfortable in each other’s presence, the part after the honeymoon period where there is still love and sexual attraction without the pressure of “trying too hard.” It is often seen in long-term married couples where they can come across more like friends than teenage lovers. This is a good and healthy part of any relationship since it is that phase where you can relax with your panther by your side.
Love can be a complex emotion since so much is happening in the body and brain at once. The beginning is exciting and new, while the later phases are rewarding and relaxing. Hopefully, this is the year of your life when you find love if you haven’t already.