Love is perhaps the single most developed theme in art, entertainment and literature reflecting its central role in the human experience. Yet, while Love has been widely explored in philosophy and the arts, it has only recently been approached by psychological and biological science. Scientists have begun to ask whether love is the same for all cultures, how it should be defined and what biological mechanisms may be involved.
The starting point has been to study the understanding and experience of love across different cultures. Since many cultures do not use Love as a basis for marriage and romantic relationships some theorists have suggested that the experience of love itself may be different in for example European and Asian cultures.
Certainly, when looking at predictors of a belief in love one of the strongest is a cultural heritage that highlights physical desire and romance. However, there is now accepted evidence from major cross-cultural studies that love is indeed experienced universally and is external to the legal and social traditions of marriage. However, if love is not a by-product of social traditions, it must have a more primal basis and serve some function for humans as a species. There are two related evolutionary roles that love may play.
First, it may be part of the drive for reproduction to ensure we keep having children. Here, Love is more the physical experience that attracts us to an individual in the short term and produces an intense desire for intimacy thereby increasing the likelihood of reproduction…and nothing more.
Alternatively, love is suggested to be a much deeper emotional attachment that acts to stabilise long-term pair bonds (marriage) for optimal family environment. This would make sense since in humans more so than most other animals, children take many years to fully develop and become independent. It is important in this situation that the parents are therefore bonded for much longer; love and attachment may have evolved to ensure this happens. In reality, both theories may be true as our concept of Love likely incorporates several different experiences. For example, there is the feeling of desire and longing for a person depicted in so many romance movies.
At the other end, there is the less ‘heady’ love of couples that have been together through life’s ups and downs. This love is based on more mutual understanding and commitment than physical emotion. This helps explain why Love may be used differently across cultures – for some the desire and passion is emphasised while for others the focus is on developing overall caring and more utilitarian bond.
Psychological models of love have tried to embrace this complexity for example Sternberg’s 1986 theory breaks love down into three components: intimacy, passion and commitment. The different combinations of these can lead to the full range of different love experiences. For example, friendship (or simple liking) is intimacy without passion of commitment; ‘empty love’ is commitment without passion or intimacy; infatuated love is pure passion; romantic love is passion and intimacy but not commitment while consummate love is described as the combination of all three.
Similarly, a model developed by several researchers (primarily Hendrick and Hendrick in the 1980’s) posits six different love styles (see inlay box). This model also goes a step further by relating behavioural tendencies to more general characteristics. For example, manic love is likely to be felt by young people in their first experiences of love and attraction (think screaming teenage girls at a Justin Bieber concert) while adult men are more likely to show the Ludic style, perhaps reflecting the modern slang term ‘players.’
This theory has also found support from genetic studies indicating that love style may be driven by underlying personality traits which are to an extent genetically determined. In addition, studies on brain activity suggest the experience of Eros (romantic love) may be linked to activity in the brains dopamine system while the experience of Mania (obsessive love) may be a product of increases in brain serotonin levels.
In the past 10-years some groups (most famously that led by Helen Fisher at Rutgers University) have begun to use MRI brain scanning technology to identify brain activity linked to being in love. One finding is that people in love show a decreased activity in areas of the brain used for critical evaluation and judgment and an increase in areas related to reward. This would lead us to crave to be around the person and to see them as better as and more perfect than others around us.
Other studies have also found evidence that familial love is neurologically different from romantic love. For example, the research group at University of Granada, led by Jaime Vila, found unique activity patterns when women saw pictures of their boyfriend versus their father. In a large-scale review of brain imaging studies, Stephanie Ortigue and her team at Syracuse University found support for different brain systems being involved in passionate versus consummate (unconditional) love. They also identified the brain regions that show common activation across all studies of love: in general, these were areas at the core of the brain with high concentrations of neurotransmitters dopamine (involved in reward and motivation) and oxytocin (involved in maternal attachment). In addition, higher level social cognition and self-recognition areas in the frontal cortex were involved.
Based on these various findings Fisher and her group have moved from the descriptive models of love to a more systems approach. That is, previous models focus on differences in love behaviours (the output) depending on the context and person. In contrast, Fisher suggests that the brain has three separate systems with slightly different functions that together transition our love emotion from early romance to deep attachment. The passion and attraction system is based largely on physical arousal and helps us to identify individuals as suitable partners. This experience involves intense energy and focusing of attention. Then the intimacy system, which involves more emotion and reward, drives us to begin a relationship and want to act on this attraction. Finally, as these early systems are short lived, there is a commitment system in the brain. This system drives us to form long-term attachments and stable relationships. Some may question whether such an essential and spiritual human experience as Love can be the product of objective and mechanical evolutionary processes. However, just as knowing that the indulgence of chocolate cake can be reduced to a mixture of chemicals on the tongue – so the science of love should not take away from the highs and lows of our own experiences with it. Rather, this knowledge can help us better understand our emotions. Importantly, recognising that long-term relationships are not meant to be continuously passionate and emotional but are necessarily driven to transition into commitment and attachment may help us foster greater effort in keeping marriages strong.
Not tonight dear..I’ve got a headache
- Overdoing the bevy
If want electric sex, stop at two, it relaxes you without making you sluggish.
- Late nights
Late nights mean passing without making out. Make sure you keep a routine to sleep at 10.30pm five times a week and notice a change.
- Hormones all over the place
Pills can reduce levels of sex drive hormone testosterone. Boost your testosterone by weight training for 20 minutes three times a week.
- Feeling bloated
The bowel is located next to the vagina, so if constipated you feel bloated and thoroughly turned off sex. Drink eight glasses of water everyday, and eat plenty of fibre.
- Problems down there
Stress incontinence – involuntary leakage of urine when we cough or sneeze and also during sex. This can be cured by pelvic floor strengthening exercise. Also if you suffering from pain, then it just down to foreplay or invest in good lube. But speak to your GP to rule out pelvic inflammatory disease (PID).
Why Great Sex Works Wonders For Your Health
Don’t feel despondent if your sex life can sometimes seem monotonous, you are not alone. A poll by Durex claims that 60 percent of respondents have less physical intimacy than they would like with the majority finding the time and energy to have sessions of less than 20 minutes, only 92 times a year; which amounts to less than twice a week. Since powerful ‘happy’ hormones known as endorphins and oxytocins are released during physical intimacy, mood and self-esteem are naturally uplifted. The full body workout advantages of sex are also important, with the proviso that deep breathing is maintained throughout to strengthen orgasm and oxygenate the body at the same time. Like half-heartedly going for an exercise class and then feeling fabulous after having done it, the pleasure of sex is incremental. The more you do it, the more you want it with the hormones released during the act building positively upon feelings of wellbeing, creating a ‘virtuous circle’ that should be maintained to benefit from it wellness-wise. Paradoxically the opposite is also true as sex can also be considered like a ‘carbon copy’ of one’s relationship with their intimate partner. If things are intrinsically not right between them, then often these imbalances play out within the bedroom.
Intercourse can increase the body’s natural painkillers by up to a third
How to get started?
This may sound like an obvious question, but many couples position physical intimacy too far down in their list of priorities with work, children, socialising and TV escapism superseding this essential human drive. With consistent commitment to make quality time for alone time with your loved one, added to the need to ultimately take responsibility for one’s own pleasure without blaming the other if things aren’t as steamy or exciting as we would wish them to be; breaking old habits to take intimacy to a higher level is the challenge. Harness your hormones Hormones influence your mood and sex drive. When oestrogen and progesterone climb around ovulation, women can rule the world. However, they dip before menstruation and gradually during perimenopause leading to menopause. Don’t despair, hormones therapies can help. Try strength and resistance training such as swimming. It improves the female libido at any age, and boost testosterone. The usual advice given is that women should take bubble baths and relax to get in the mood.
Five reasons to say ‘yes, yes, yes tonight’
- Awesome sedative
During an orgasm, the body produces oxytocin, a hormone linked a range of positive physical and phychological, which turns helps one drift off to sleep
- Best stress-buster
It all comes down to touch. It is said to have a calming effect, especially by someone you care about. It lowers cortisol, the hormone secreted when you’re under stress.
- Boost the immune system
Sex increases the levels of antibody immunoglobulin A, which guards our body against colds and infections.
- An awesome painkiller
Intercourse releases oxytocin, which increases the body’s natural painkiller. It helps relieve migraines, back pain etc.
- Dump the treadmill
Sexual activity burns both calories and fat. Just 30 minutes burns up to 200 calories – about the same as 15 minutes on a treadmill.
The Brain’s Love Potion
Dopamine plays a central role in reward and motivation in the brain. When dopamine is triggered, the behaviour is learnt as pleasurable and rewarding and the brain seeks to repeat the experience. This action also plays a central role in substance abuse and addiction. Serotonin plays a role in cognition and attention among other things. Activation of serotonin links to rumination and constant thinking about the other person. Noradrenalin/Adrenaline Activated as part of the bodies stress system, these chemicals produce energy, sweating and arousal around the body. As part of the love system they cause the rush of energy we get when thinking or seeing our object of affection. Oxytocin thought to play a primary role in maternal and social Bonding. It is released in mothers when interacting with their babies and is the reason why hugging and cuddling with partners feels so good. It is seen to increase in deep emotional attachment of adult relationships Vasopressin although originally seen as an anti-diuretic hormone controlling thirst and kidney function it works alongside oxytocin to solidify devotion to a partner and strong attachment.
Follow our Editor-in-Chief, Lisa Durante @LisaDuranteLoves
Disclaimer: The views expressed here are solely those of the author in her capacity as the editor-in-chief of NY&ME, and do not in any way represent the views of the magazine, or any other related entity of GVP Media.