Sex meets love

Can you have sex without being in love? The zeitgeist would certainly say that you can although it wasn’t so long ago that sex without love was frowned upon. In the post-modern consciousness of the early 21st century however, “sex” and “love” have been decoupled. While this is true on a philosophical level new research tells us that sex and love actually have a strong biological connection within the brain.

Researchers from three universities combined to analyse results from twenty different studies that examined brain activity from tasks like looking at erotic pictures (symbolising brain activity during sex) to when looking at pictures of significant others (symbolising the brain effects of love).

What they were then able to do as a result was map the different areas in the brain that are involved in sex and love. What they found is that one leads to the other.

One structure within the brain was central to this; the striatum. The striatum is located near the cerebral cortex in the forebrain.

Sexual desire causes a part of the striatum to be activated that is involved in pleasure. It is the same part of the brain that is triggered by things like food. Love however, involves another part of the striatum which is also involved in drug addiction. This part of the striatum is involved when repeated reward creates a sense of inherent value in something. In other words, repeated of rewarding of sexual desire by having sex leads to a change in the part of striatum that processes feelings regarding that other individual involved. In essence, as far as the brain is concerned, sexual desire repeatedly consummated becomes love.

Love then arises from a habit that is rewarded. Of course, sexual desire and love are different things; sexual desire is concrete and immediate while love is more abstract. It might not be the most romantic of tales but it seems that love is like any other habit, good or bad.

If nothing else, let this be a cautionary tale. If you think sex can be enjoyed without love being part of the equation then be careful, you might be just a few more passionate nights and a slide along your striatum from being head over heels in love.

Terry Robson

Terry Robson

Terry Robson is the Editor-in-Chief of WellBeing and the Editor of EatWell.

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