Sunday, March 1, 2009

Sex on the Brain

By Daniel G. Amen, M.D.
Highlighted by O’Steven

Lesson 3
The Chemistry of Love
Ingredients of Attraction, Infatuation, Commitment, and Detachment

“Don’t copulate with people you don’t want to fall in love with, because indeed you may do just that.” - Anthropologist Helen Fisher

You Dopamine fiend! – seeing the object of our desire, the neurotransmitter dopamine lights up areas deep in the brain – creating feelings of pleasure, motivation, and reward (much like cocaine)

Attraction – is a powerful drug…..with the brain stem also getting into it, releasing phenylethylamine (PEA), that speeds up the flow of communication between nerve cells….no wonder eyeballs track her movements..

Men – key into beauty, shape, fantasy and obsession – wired often for shockingly short term fulfillment

Female – at some unconscious biological level she is looking for a mate who will sire healthy children, protect and provide for the family unit….her goals are wired for long range

Chemical Symphony – sexual relationship is like a well-conducted symphony – the synergy of many hormones and chemicals that are released at different seasons of the love relationship

Out of balance – when hormone or brain chemical is out of balance, compared to others – over or under produced, the entire sexual experience can be ruined….

Primary phases of love:

  1. Attraction – craving for sexual gratification, driven by male and female hormones, testosterone and estrogen, the chemical nitric oxide, and potentially a group of chemicals called pheromones…
  2. Infatuation – intense, passionate love that includes extreme happiness, depression (when things go wrong), focused attention – obsessive thinking and craving for the new love – controlled by a mixture of neurotransmitters including epinephrine, norepinephrine, dopamine, serotonin, and phenylethylamine 
  3. Commitment – deeper connectedness, longer term joy, stability, peace with long term partner, created by the hormones oxytocin and vasopressin…
  4. Detachment – losing love through breakup or death – often leading to deficiencies of serotonin and endorphins…

Attraction Chemical – “You turn me on”
(Testosterone, Estrogen, Nitric Oxide, and Pheromones)

Sexual attraction – brain is programmed for attraction, one of the most powerfully rewarding reactions in the brain – a chemical factory looking for love – to active the erector sets that live in us all

50% of brain – devoted to vision – how people look is critical part of the process of attraction – attractive people spark the brain almost like a powerful drug….

Men – the amygdale, an area that controls emotions and motivation – is much more activated in men than women when looking at sexually provocative material (much more interest in porn than women)

Women – no mistake why women spend more time caring for their physical appearances…how they look has much more impact on a man’s brain than the other way around…

Symmetrical – men are more attracted to good looking, fertile, healthy, younger-looking women, unconsciously looking for signs of women that can carry on his genes….

Asymmetrical features – give off clues of underlying health problems, thus more troubled off-spring

Beautiful women make men stupid!!!!

Beautiful women – cause a man’s limbic system to fire up (emotional charge) while his prefrontal cortex (PFC) shuts down, leaving him often with poor judgment (Las Vegas knows this principle well as Casinos have beautiful waitresses dressed in low-cut, short dresses serving free alcohol – a recipe for disaster…

Women – more interested in how man thinks and acts…

Turned on – testosterone and estrogen are the fuel for lust

Hormone – a chemical produced by one organ (endocrine gland) that has a specific effect on the activities of other organs in the body – the major sex hormones are classified as androgens or estrogens – and both are present in males and females alike

Men – produce 6-8 mg of testosterone (an androgen) per day, compared to most women who produce 0.5 mg daily….estrogens are present in both, but in much larger amounts for women.

Androgens/Testosterone – androgens mainly produced by male’s testicles, but also small amounts by the female’s ovaries and adrenal glands.  Androgens help trigger development of testicle and penis in male fetus…and jump start the process of puberty and influence secondary sex characteristics.

Age – as we age testosterone levels begin to decrease…hypogonadism – abnormally low levels

Estrogens – sex hormones produced primarily by a female’s ovaries – is thought to play a synergistic role with testosterone in increasing lustful desires….

Nitric Oxide – a chemical released by the genitals when you are “turned on” that causes blood vessels to dilate and increase blood flow especially to the penis…(Viagra, Cialis – stimulate the release of nitric oxide)

Pheromones – are scented hormones secreted by sweat glands primarily in the armpits…thought to attract the opposite sex…love at first sniff, because there is a direct connection between the olfactory bulb at the top of the nose and the septal nucleus of the brain, the erection center…sexual arousal is also associated with engorgement of the erectile tissue in the nose  

Sexy smells = arousal in men is enhanced by the smells of lavender and pumpkin pie, doughnuts, licorice and cinnamon….

Infatuation Chemicals 
"I can’t get you out of my head”
(Epinephrine, Norepinephrine, Dopamine, Serotonin, and Phenylethylamine)

Powerful concotion – mother nature created a perfect storm – a forceful surge of chemicals, that create powerful motivational drives – activating the brain’s reward system…compelling lovers to seek mating partners….PFC at the same time is assembling information, putting the pieces of data into patterns, coming up with strategies, and monitoring progress toward life’s greatest prize…

Chemicals that drive the system – neurotransmitters epinephrine, norepinephrine, dopamine, serotonin, and phenylethylamine (PEA) = all play a role in the initial phase of attraction, but it is really in the second phase of infatuation where their release becomes more active and predominant

Neurotransmitters – chemicals that help regulate the electrical signals between nerve cells in the brain – all the time the brain is seeking to keep itself balanced through increasing and decreasing amounts of these substances…some of which excite the body, and some of which calm the system…so we can “smell the roses” and have “warm, fuzzy” feelings associated with new relationships

Epinephrine and Norepinephrine – produced in the adrenal glands, spinal cord, and brain are considered excitatory neurotransmitters because they cause the “adrenaline rush” feeling when the heart beats faster, blood pressure goes up, and the body is prepared to take action…

Zest – and excitement comes from these chemicals as they help to facilitate both sexual arousal and orgasm…High levels of these chemicals are associated with anxiety and low levels with depression

Laws of attraction – can be shut down by chronic stress, low levels of the sex hormone estrogen, testosterone, and progesterone, a sedentary lifestyle, poor diet, and genetics…all leading to low levels of epinephrine and norepinephrine…

Dopamine – most important neurotransmitter associated with infatuation…also associated with pleasure, motivation and concentration….we feel sexy when we have proper amounts of this chemical..

Brain in love – increased activity in the right ventral-tegmental area, part of the brain where dopamine cells project into other areas of the brain…including the basal ganglia, part of the brains system for reward and motivation – in addition several parts of the prefrontal cortex (PFC) that are highly wired in the dopamine pathways are used, while the amygdale in the temporal lobes, associated with fear, is temporarily put out of commission….

High levels of dopamine – associated with attraction, low levels with depression, ADHD and high-risk taking behavior…Both cocaine and stimulant medications, like Ritalin have been shown to enhance its production…

Wellbutrin – an antidepressant that enhances dopamine availability to the brain as well as enhancing sexual function…(also amino acid supplements like tyrosine can be used to increase dopamine levels and potential sexual functioning as well…

Serotonin – known as the “feel good” neurotransmitter and is produced in the midbrain and brain stem.. satisfaction with a partner and positive feelings after orgasm are largely controlled by serotonin… normal levels of serotonin help people feel good and motivated – serotonin is involved with mood regulation and emotional flexibility…low levels are associated with depression, anxiety, OCD, impulsivity, and excessive activity in the brain’s anterior cingulated gyrus (ACG)

Low levels – are associated with new love, making lovers vulnerable to high anxiety levels and moodiness, common in the initial stages of a relationship – low levels of serotonin makes the ACG work too hard, causing people to get stuck on certain thoughts or behaviors…

High levels – can also be a problem and are associated with lowered motivation…medications that enhance serotonin like SSRIs – selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (Prozac and Lexapro) are notorious for decreasing sexual drive and function in part because recipients of these meds can lose interest if there is too much serotonin circulating in the brain.. but also because these meds can decrease sensation in the genital areas, making it harder to achieve orgasm…

Dopamine and serotonin – tend to counterbalance each other in the brain… when dopamine levels are high such as in new love, people tend to be motivated and driven toward dating behaviors that bring people closer together…higher levels of dopamine cause lower levels of serotonin, which have been associated with obsessive thinking, hence the feeling of falling in love…when serotonin levels are too high, people tend to have lowered motivation and an almost “I don’t care” attitude.

Phenylethylamine – (PEA), and adrenalinelike substance, chemical found in chocolate – speeds us the flow of information between nerve cells and is triggered in the process of attraction to help us pay attention to the love feelings…PEA – is known as the “love molecule” because it initiates the flood of chemicals into the brain along with norephinephrine and dopamine to create the feelings of euphoria and infatuation – when we are highly attracted to someone…

Commitment Chemicals – “I love you”
(Oxytocin and Vasopressin)

Bliss – doesn’t last forever…we either progress into deeper love and commitment, or make the decision to break apart and detach..

6 months – 2 years – brain downshifts its response and the production of stimulating chemicals and levels of neurotransmitters like PEA start to drop off…the body’s innate wisdom to turn down the volume because it can’t maintain the lust-crazed state forever …(lots of unnecessary divorces and relationship breakups can occur during this time…as people mistake the lack of intensity and euphoria as a sign that they have fallen out of love)

Next phase – commitment is usually harder for men than for women…even though our goals are the same (offspring, pleasure, connection)  There is not one human society where men are the primary caretakers for kids.  Men and women are wired differently and women have a larger limbic or emotional brain….

Men – can be more frightened by responsibilities involved in having kids and being faithful to one woman, which is easier for men who have lower levels of testosterone…

Higher testosterone levels – men are 43% more likely to get divorced and 38% more likely to have
Extramarital affairs than men with lower levels…

50% - less likely to get married at all…men with the least amount of testosterone are more likely to get married and stay married

Bonding – desire to commit to someone is strongly linked to two other hormones of emotional bonding, oxytocin and vasopressin

Oxytocin – released by the pituitary gland and acts on the ovaries and testes to regulate reproduction.. this hormone is important for forming close social bonds…levels rise during romance…and blocking oxytocin prevents bonding in normal ways…this is why we are attracted to the same type of person repeatedly

Oxytocin – lower in men, except after orgasm, where they are raised more than 500%, and why men often feel sleepy after sex…..same hormone released in babies during breast-feeding, which makes them sleepy as well..

Peaks – at orgasm and stays elevated for a period of time after orgasm…also related to feelings of closeness and being “in love” when you have regular sex over time – the skin is sensitized by oxytocin, encouraging affection and touching behavior…

Amnesic effect – created by oxytocin during sex and orgasm that can block negative memories people have about each other for a period of time…

Higher levels – also associated with increased feelings of trust and well being…Oxytocin specifically affects an individual’s willingness to accept social risks arising through interpersonal interactions.  It adds trust to the mix, and there is no love without trust…bonding chemicals also enhance fertility.  Increased levels are also associated with decreased stress levels and increased trust, both of which are likely to enhance conception

Vasopressin – chemical involved in regulating sexual persistence, assertriveness, dominance, and territorial markings…higher levels in the male brain…may make the difference between stay-at-home dads and one-night-stand artists…

High levels – of oxytocin and vasopressin may interfere with dopamine and norepinephrine pathways, which explains why attachment grows as mad, passionate love fades…  If a man holds a baby, levels of testosterone go down, perhaps, in part because of oxytocin and vasopressin going up..

Trust and bonding – and persistence created by oxytocin and vasopressin are critical for a partnership to succeed…however the release of these hormones is not enough by itself to keep two people compatible sexually and romantically…it is at this time when it is critical for partners to communicate their desires and needs to each other, to listen attentively and be mutually supportive of the bond that has been formed from attraction to commitment…

Detachment Chemicals: Why It Hurts
(Serotonin and Endorphins)

Why the deep pain – when we lose someone – they have come to live in the emotional or limbic centers of our brains and actually occupy nerve-cell pathways and physically live in the neurons and synapses of the brain….the person actually is present in our biology…the brain centers where the person lived becomes inflamed looking and longing for the lost partner…

Overactivity – in the limbic brain has been associate with depression and low serotonin levels, which is why we have trouble sleeping, feel obsessed, lose our appetites, want to isolate ourselves and lose the joy we have in life…

Deficit – in endorphins (which modulate pain and pleasure pathways) also occurs, and may be responsible for the physical pain we experience during a breakup..

Getting a Loved One out of Your Head and the Fishhooks out of Your Heart

Deep wounds – we feel like breakups leave lasting scars and being left is definitely harder than leaving someone…pictures, songs, friends, cars, names, cities, restaurants all remind us of the one that is no longer at our side…we can be neurochemical messfor nearly six months after breakup

Grief in the brain – can show excessive anterior cingulated gyrus activity

Survival includes:

  1. Above all stay healthy – stop mediating the pain with drink or isolation…watch what you eat, exercise more (as that is as effective at times as the antidepressant Zoloft for depression) and spend lots of time with your friends.. get enough sleep and the supplement kava kava may be helpful on a short-term basis…
  2. Do not idealize the other person – when we focus on the their good qualities, the pain increases; when we focus on their bad qualities, the pain decreases as we are glad to be rid of them… spend time to write out the bad times, and don’t idealize the persons…be more balanced and realize the aspects of them that were difficult… and that you are glad to do without
  3. Cry, then hide the pictures – crying can be a wonderful release of built up tension in your limbic brain…after that eliminate the constant triggers to your nervous system – go through the house etc, and hide all reminders….(don’t initially throw everything away – you may get back later with this person)  Time will tell, but in the short term get them out of sight.
  4. Love must be tough – when you act weak, needy or demanding during a breakup, you literally push the other person away…you are no longer attractive or appealing.. you seem like a victim…being well is not only the best revenge; it is the best way to heal.
  5. Do “The Work” – ask yourself four questions while doing a turn around….
Question #1:  Is it true?  You bet.  I miss the person terribly.
Question #2:  Is it absolutely true?  Not absolutely.  I do not miss our ambivalence, their resentment, and their disappointment.
Question #3:  How do you feel when you have the thought, “I miss this person”  Miserable, remorseful, stupid, ashamed – which means my thoughts were what was torturing me, not the other person.
Question #4:  Who would I be without the thought “I miss this person”?  I would be my usual happy self.

Turn around – from I miss this person to “I miss me” – my normal, happy, sound-sleeping, wake-up-singing, healthy, driven, successful self…


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