Many researchers believe that love is primarily a chemical drive within in the brain, much the same as the drive for sex. If this were true, all those gushy feelings would be nothing more than a whim of the brain, a rush of the hormones, and a breeze up the leg. The concept of love and sex is not easy to differentiate consciously, so let’s allow our brains to do the explaining for us.
Dr. Helen Fisher, anthropologist and author of Why We Love, believes that love has evolved from its initial purpose of reproduction (sex), and consists of three different functions. The first function, sex drive, is designed to keep members of the sexes interested in each other long enough to procreate. The second, romantic love, is the drive to love one person at a time, creating the beginnings of family. The third is attachment, or what others call mature love. This kind of love ensures couples feel secure and happy, giving their offspring the best chance for survival, considering both parents stick around.
Love vs. Lust
Sex is a function of love. Love is a function of sex, and lust is only a function of sex. Lust is designed to successfully pair two genetic and chemically compatible adults with the singular goal of baby making. Once the act is complete, the lust diminishes, leaving sexual thirst quenched. Love, however, is a much deeper emotion that cannot be quenched by sex alone. In fact, the afterglow of sex often intensifies feelings of love.
Love is a chemical bond between two people, driven by compatible genes and dopamine production in the brain. The dopamine produces feelings of euphoria, happiness, and pair bonding. In its early stages, love is like a drug, producing feelings of infatuation, jealousy, and sleeplessness. Most people would say these feelings are not true love, but rather a chemical high created by the brain to ensure motivation to continue connecting with the interested party.
Studies show that primitive love (infatuation) lasts anywhere from one to three years. During this time, lust and sex are still very much a part of the relationship, but love must eventually mature. Sex can help prolong feelings of young love, but if a couple does not become attached, developing a mature bond, the partnership will suffer and one of both partners will likely find a new love, and the cycle will repeat itself.
Brains Choose Love
Sex is one of the main drives for human survival. However, research suggests that the drive for love is the more powerful emotion. This makes sense from the standpoint of a successful species, as the creation of loving families provides a better chance for survival, than lustful, sex. Research with magnetic resonance imaging, shows that couples newly in love appear to be most affected by the parts of the brain associated with motivation and reward, more so than the parts associated with lust and sex.
Research using brain imaging has also discovered that while looking at the photo of a loved one, the brain exhibits more complex functioning than when looking at an attractive member of the opposite sex. Scientists believe this suggests the bond of love is more important (powerful), and is one of the reasons that couples remain faithful through constant temptation. Even more interesting, was the finding that the more “mature” a love was, the more complex the brain’s functioning was.
The brain can be fooled into thinking sex is love, however, as studies show dopamine is also a byproduct of orgasm, which means sex triggers feelings of love. This is one of the dangers of a one night stand, as it can bring about powerful emotions for someone, when true chemistry is nowhere present. This is also one of the secrets to keeping mature love youthful, by constantly refreshing the brains natural love chemicals through regular intercourse.
Right Brain vs. Left Brain
Brain imaging studies suggest love and sexual attraction overlap somewhat, sharing a portion of the same brain function. The most significant point to remember, however, is that sexual attraction is concentrated in the left side of the brain, while romantic love registers more on the right.
If you remember from your grade school science class, the left brain is logical and rational, while the right is random and subjective. The left brain analyzes the world from its parts, organizing the pieces until the “whole” makes sense. The right brain begins with an understanding of the big picture (whole), breaking it down until it also understands the meaning of its individual parts.
You can interpret these findings anyway you like, but clearly the brain understands a difference between love and sex, preferring love, whether the conscious mind does or not. When you labor under the rule that sex is the only logical outcome of a relationship, you stifle the possibilities of love. Set your right brain free. Enjoy the giddy, reckless sensation of one of the greatest emotions life has to offer. Your brain will thank you for it!