Sex, Drugs & Neurochemistry

One of the most common complaints we get from women at Suddenly Solo is that the guys they meet are, “only interested in one thing.”   You know what that one thing is, right?


Well, the reason why men (and women!) often feel a “need” for sex is that it is hard-wired into our genetics.  To understand the underlying mechanics means learning about the neurochemical shifts that govern breeding and bonding, which occur primarily in the limbic system of the brain. They are similar in most mammals, and not under conscious control. They have been conserved by evolution because they lead to greater genetic variety and lots of progeny.  Naturally, age influences much of the incredibly balanced chemistry that created overpowering sexual desire when we were younger.  But, although the brain’s receptors to the chemical triggers of satisfaction may be diminished, they are still there.  As we age, there is a drop in responsiveness to a neurochemical vital to our sense of well-being: dopamine. In effect, the brain has changed. It now requires more stimulation to get the same pleasure response as before.  Evidence suggests that such changes affect both sexes but as with all individuals, these responses are unique.  These differing responses to neurochemistry can be especially frustrating to us.  As a result, if your lady rebuffs your advances, it may seem like she doesn’t care enough to please you. Or it may seem to your partner like all you care about is, “getting some.”


Knowing that we crave that feeling of well being, what about the elements of passion that keep people together?  Can there be a “love drug”  for couples that would keep them more in some kind of compatible sync?


A few years ago, scientists at the University of Oxford published a paper that described such an idea . . .  a medication that could heal wounded relationships. It would likely be delivered as an inhaler and prescribed by a relationship counselor. You’d sniff up a dose in the presence of your loved one and, as the chemical entered your bloodstream, it would strengthen your bond and, hopefully, a more satisfying mutuality. Such a drug would likely contain doses of two structurally similar hormones: oxytocin and vasopressin. Scientists know this, in part, because of the study of voles. It happens that prairie voles tend to be monogamous while their rogue cousins, the mountain voles, are usually not. This neat contrast makes them valuable subjects for research. According to Professor Sue Carter, of Chicago’s University of Illinois, “In prairie voles, a combination of oxytocin and vasopressin is necessary in order for a pair bond to form. Not one or the other, both.”


But don’t count on such an compatibility-enhancing inhaler anytime soon.  For those of us in, “real time,” we are charged with the responsibility of being compassionate and reasonably understanding human beings.  Let’s hope we are up to the challenge.

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