Luv! Its obsession and the slushy, mushy, irrational way some discuss it, make one feel something is wrong, although it is not quite visible! What happens to our brain when we desire someone; when we fall in love, then out of love; why is it a mystery?
To uncover the mystery, and remove the spell, one should learn some chemistry facts first, for nothing is better than facts to start an argument with. There are several hormones involved in sexual relationships; most important of these are two: dopamine and oxytocin.
Dopamine is the "feel-good" hormone with amazing effects: high attention, improved short-term memory, elation, boldness and a temporary desire to explore the world and take risks. The dopamine released during orgasm is equal "in effect" to one shot of heroin, as some scientists claim. No wonder it's the hormone that causes addiction: when the body releases a high dosage of dopamine, it will take hours, days or weeks, before it gets back to its sober state.
Although dopamine is good, another hormone called prolactin is immediately released after dopamine wears off, causing the opposite effects: depletion, irritability and depression. Thus, when prolactin is high, dopamine is low, and vice versa. In the long run, this cycle of "highs and lows" affects the stability of the whole body, destabilizing the nervous system and lowering immunity, thus increasing vulnerability to diseases and speeding up cell aging.
Sometimes people blame or vent their after-sex and post-romance frustration on their partners, not knowing the chemistry behind it. Realizing the downside of orgasm, many ancient Taoists and present-day psychiatrists stressed the importance of non-orgasmic sex, or at least delayed orgasm, to avoid the peak of dopamine, while enjoying the hours-long pleasure from a moderate dopamine dose, not the few seconds of a heroin-like orgasm with aftermath effects. The same with long relationships: lovers shouldn't consummate affection immediately; they can maintain tension, distance and curiosity, to keep dopamine levels high, and love flame burning.
Sex is like other types of human behavior, having gained its "addictive" nature over thousands and millions of years, till it became imprinted into our genes. An innate behavior, e.g. having sex, eating, etc., is difficult to change, compared to an acquired behavior, e.g. playing games, watching TV, etc. That's why abstinence, loyalty, or even controlling orgasm needs extra work.
Addictions overlap and replace each other. When we are short on the dopamine triggered by a habit, like having sex, we turn to another, like eating, to fill the gap. This explains why people gain weight after quitting smoking, and why some prefer smoking a cigarette after sex: the dopamine fall after orgasm makes them tired and depleted, but the nicotine in the cigarette will send dopamine high again. Anyway, some just roll over and sleep, because of the soothing effect of the endorphins released during sex (especially if it was a "vigorous" sex, and it's time to sleep already).
Dopamine is not the only hormone that causes happiness, yet it's the one that knows how to "advertise" best for itself, by constantly urging you to repeat a certain behavior over and over, even while you see its damaging effects destabilizing your life. Recently psychologists have found that people in the advertising business use similar seductive techniques, to turn customers into addicts of their products, useful or not.
Dopamine is less about seeking pleasure than avoiding pain (aversive motivation), which is still vital, however, for basic survival needs (food, reproduction, etc.). Thankfully, our body produces other hormones giving a deeper, longer pleasure, counterbalancing the addictive nature of dopamine, like serotonin. Manufactured serotonin is usually prescribed as an antidepressant, and as a great tool for fighting addiction with, helping one regain self-control and boost one's willpower and sense of well-being.
Dopamine is a double-edged sword: the intense pleasure, or thrill, it offers is addictive, however rewarding/motivating it is. In fact, it turns any habit into an addiction, depending on frequency and dosage. Because natural dopamine stimulants are many and mostly unavoidable, we can't help acquiring new habits. We can only intervene and choose good ones; the earlier the better.
Dopamine diversifies pleasure, creating mere pleasures "by association," that are not caused by a typical pleasing sensation, but by something else happening simultaneously. The brain then makes a subconscious connection between the two, interpreting a behavior as "pleasurable & worth repeating." This further complicates people's tastes and strengthens their habits. That's why when treating addiction it's advisable to avoid the people/objects/situations related to the cause of addiction. Conversely, it's advised to cherish the things related to a "good" addiction/habit.
Dopamine & Infidelity
Over millennia of evolution, mating and reproduction were a survival priority requiring much effort, competition and fights; thus a reward from Mother Nature was essential for motivation. The "reward center" is the part of the brain dopamine activates when a goal is achieved. The propagation of genes required having many different partners; so an exhausted male who has just had sex with a female, will not mind mating again with any number of females, provided they are all new. A NEW "HARD-TO-GET" PARTNER IS ALWAYS SEXY, because it makes body dopamine surge high, going on that highs-and-lows roller-coaster again and again. First-sight love is a pure dopaminergic urge, that may/may not develop into mature love.
Any claim that humans are naturally monogamous is nonsense. It takes some effort to be loyal. (We'll see later how it's worth that effort, thanks to the benefits and pleasures gained from another sex hormone: oxytocin, the hormone that increases with long-term relationships.) Following nature doesn't necessarily make us happy. Nature cares only about reproduction and the propagation of genes. She is not that all-caring mother who loves to see her children happy. Broken hearts, divorces, abandoned children, jealousy, crimes of passion, Aids, STD's, unwanted pregnancy, disfigured babies, and overpopulation are of no interest to Mother Nature. Civilization itself is not natural; it is for humans to make their own happiness.
When a lucky rat gets to be with a very big number of new females, he will mate with each one of them until he dies. Is this happiness? Some species of insects even pay their life for the "sole" affair they have. Generally, male mammals live shorter than females because of their blind lethal fights, mostly over females and food. We are genetically programmed to reproduceónot to be happy.
There is a long list of activities that cause the release of dopamine, other than just sex. However, the dose released varies widely between the different dopamine sources, for many reasons: survival value, mixing pleasures together, release of other hormones, frequency, timing, expectancy, and preparation.
Manufactured dopamine is prescribed for acute pain, attention disorders, high prolactin and low dopamine levels, renal failure and cardiovascular problems, benefiting from dopamine's ability to increase blood flow and heart rate.
Oxytocin is the social pair-bonding courage-boosting "cuddling hormone," as called by doctors, that bonds us with someone. It's naturally released by touching, hugging, labor, lactation, high temperature, self-hugging, fetal positions, etc. Although oxytocin takes longer than dopamine to be released, its effect is safer, deeper, and long-enduring. It freely increases without going through the addictive cycle of dopamine's highs-and-lows; and it even keeps dopamine from wearing off.
Because it's secreted in high amounts during sex, it speeds up attachment to the partner we have sex with more often than others; it strengthens the bond with whomever we make love with (whether he/she is worth our love or not). It stimulates the brain to later remember the smell, voice, eye-color ... of our partner, and bond us to them. Nature did this so that a male who sleeps more frequently with one female than others, becomes attached to her, and the female attached to him, preparing them both for the years-long child-raising process.
It's secreted during woman's labor and lactation to ease vaginal contractions and milk secretion, causing such mysterious maternal bond between a mother and her child, making her highly careful in handling the newborn and later on in life. Women who choose natural birth over C-section, and breastfeeding over formulae feeding, gain more benefits than those who don't, for them and their children who enjoy better immunity, faster growth, and emotional security. Natural delivery, which is a nightmare to many women, releases the highest dose of oxytocin causing a highly pleasurable sensation, that many miss out of fear.
On delivery day and the days after, the rush of oxytocin makes some women extra friendly toward nurses, doctors and visitors, over-thanking everyone for being so kind, although they only do their job. For that day, some gynecologists advice pregnant women to have their spouse or a close person nearby to "hug" to ease their labor, by helping release oxytocin. (Other animals give birth more calmly than humans who make unnecessary noise.) Surgeries are only needed in some delivery cases: adjusting baby's position, umbilical cord, etc.
Socially, as oxytocin is commonly activated by warm weather and prolonged gentle touching, it's not surprising to feel both warmer and "safer" undercover, especially when sharing somebody else's body heat. If you rub the back/nape of your pet or child, you may find him/her strangely relaxed, trusting and easy-going. A simple hug can help break the ice between strangers, speed reconciliation between friends, and soften animosity between enemies. It eases our tension, fear and diffidence, at hard moments we have no courage to face.
Oxytocin is usually released in large social gatherings, of humans or animals, to achieve more harmony and oneness. It's released during disaster times to counterbalance stress and unite people together. However, affairs that grow during such times could be influenced by a temporary chemistry unsuitable for long-term matching. Oxytocin is also the chemical driving the tribe or herd instinct, which, like any instinct, can do more harm than good when followed blindly, causing bias, dependence, attachment, etc.
Oxytocin is now manufactured by big pharmaceutical companies. It's been introduced to the market under different brand names, like Liquid Trust Spray. When oxytocin is taken in doses or as a spray it causes relaxation and arousal in most men and women.
Manufactured oxytocin is given to people with autism and social phobia to help them face society. However, when taken at the wrong time it can make a person more naive and gullible, trusting the wrong people. For instance, a woman who takes it for arousal might trust a new date that turns out to be a psychopath/rapist/murderer. Oxytocin is the fear-killing hormone, notwithstanding the consequences.
There are many other benefits of oxytocin. It increases immunity, speeds up wound healing, slows down cell-aging and increases life-expectancy, mood stability & one's sense of well-being.
* * *
To get those love hormones naturally from a relationship, the best choice is to have one partner with conditions. Although a long-term partnership is good for stimulating oxytocin, partners should also "work" on keeping the flame of love, to reap dopamine's benefits too.