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Sex and The Brain

There is so much more to sexual attraction than meets the eye. It often takes just a split second for us to feel attraction and desire for a potential partner, but in that moment, our brains are working overtime. Here is what happens inside our brains from the first kiss to the ‘I do’s’ and beyond, based on multiple recent studies on the brain, sex, and love:

How long does it take to fall for someone?

One researcher found that it can take less than a fifth of a second to fall for someone.  In 2010, professor Stephanie Ortigue, author of a Syracuse University Study, reported that brain chemicals such as oxytocin, adrenaline and vasopressin can all be released almost immediately when we see someone we are attracted to.

Are You Addicted to Love?

Further research from the Syracuse study found that the rush of pleasurable brain chemicals that are released when we fall in love are similar to the endorphin rush that people get from using drugs like cocaine. But unlike cocaine, love has amazing and powerful benefits. (See the following slides).

Love Can Kill Pain

 A 2010 Stanford University School of Medicine study found that love could have potential pain-killing powers. In the study, people were shown pictures of significant others while enduring mildly painful sensations on the palm of their hand. During the study, they were also shown photos of random attractive people; these were mixed in with photos of the participants loved one.  Participants were shown to feel the least amount of pain when looking at their significant other.

Love Can Last Throughout the Years

A 2011 study published in the Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience compared the brain activity of new lovers with the brain activity of committed, long-term couples and what they found was very encouraging: Just like the new lovers, the long-term couples still had high levels of activity in the ventral tegmental area of the brain (which processes and released feel-good chemical, dopamine). And, long-term lovers had something new lovers didn’t—higher activity in the part of the brain associated with attachment and pair bonding. Score one for long term love!

Love Can Make You Nicer

Men put forth their best manners whenever they are around a woman they are sexually attracted to, says a 2010 study published in the British Journal of Psychology. According to the study, men were more likely to practice good deeds (such as offering charitable donations) when they believed their efforts were being observed by an attractive woman.

Love Keeps Your Heart Healthy, Literally

Women in happy relationships had a lower risk of cardiovascular disease than women who were in stressful or unhappy marriages, according to a 2011 study from the University of Pittsburgh. This could partially be due to the fact that tension and arguments can lead to an increase in cortisol (the stress hormone), which could in turn impact a woman’s health negatively.

Love Isn’t Only for Humans

It is obvious by now that the brain sends out major rewards for love on both a physical and emotional level, but humans aren’t the only ones to reap such benefits. Studies have shown that prairie voles (a type of small rodent who practice monogamous bonding with mates) also enjoy the rewarding benefits of vasopressin and other chemicals in the brain. Voles can be fools for love too!   






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