Love and sex. Two things that fuel the world right? The one thing that has been written about in novels and poems more than any other theme in the world. Why is it that humans feel so inspired by love? The thing we all yearn for and most strive our entire lives to achieve.
I was interested in the science behind love. For years I’ve read stories about great loves and watched couples fall for each other time and time again. Knowing that it would possibly break the illusion of love in my mind, I decided to do a little research into the subject. And I was surprised at just how complex it all is. For instance, I counted at least eight different hormones involved. Crazy, right?
I found that doctors and psychologists split love into three sections: lust, attraction and attachment. They are all controlled by neurotransmitters and hormones. Let’s take a look at the specifics, shall we?
Predictably, lust is controlled by testosterone and oestrogen. Testosterone is actually the most influential hormone. It is present in both males and females although it is usually considered a male hormone. In females, it is released by the adrenal glands and the ovaries. For males, it is released by the testes. Lust is also controlled by adrenaline and norepinephrine. They both make the heart race and the palms sweat.
This particular stage releases a range of hormones which include: dopamine and serotonin. Dopamine gives the lovers feelings of euphoria and happiness, which makes sense considering the common term for it is the ‘pleasure hormone’. Low levels of serotonin hormone are responsible for making you think non-stop about your new lover. This is usually the cause of that attribute that allows you to be blind to your partner’s undesirable traits at the beginning of a relationship. So when your best friend can’t seem to be able to smell just how bad her new partner’s breath is, but that’s all you can think about, then serotonin is the cause, I’m afraid.
Low serotonin levels can also be found in those with O.C.D. This is what causes them to obsess a lot. Furthermore, its interesting to know that psychologists have created studies which show that those who use drugs, especially cocaine, have the same levels of happiness as new lovers.
Olga Chelnokova and Her Experiment
Researchers have also found that attractiveness affects the opioid system. A psychologist named Olga Chelnokova at the University of Oslo in Norway showed this by giving 30 male, healthy subjects a small dosage of morphine. This is a form of opioid which then activates the receptors in the opioid system. These men were then showed pictures of women varying in ‘attractiveness’ and were allowed to flick through them at their own speed. The researchers measured how long they took on each photo and they recorded how they rated them. They then did the exact same experiment with men who were giving an opioid suppressor
They found that the men who had taken morphine had spent more time looking at the photos they found more attractive and less time on those they found less attractive. On the other hand, the men with the opioid suppressor rated the faces less highly and spent less time looking through them. Therefore, they came to the conclusion that attractiveness affected the opioid system.
This final stage of love is controlled by oxycontin and vasopressin. Oxycontin is often released after having an orgasm which is supposed to make you feel closer to the person you’ve just had sex with. It is also released during childbirth to help a mother bond with her child. Vasopressin is also released post coital, which means after sex.
So these are the main hormones involved when falling in love with someone. It’s funny, I used to find love this fantastical concept that was magical and pure. When you see the reality of it and how our brains are actually wired to detect it … well, let’s just say it’s a little disappointing.
I feel like I’ve turned back the curtain and seen the Wizard of Oz in a new way. Nevertheless, maybe all magic must be revealed as false in the end. That’s a part of growing up, I guess.