Biology in the Bedroom

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Young CoupleEver wonder why women have sex and think they’ve fallen in love, while men have sex and think they’ve just had sex?  I may have stumbled onto an answer worth passing along.  I’m not sure I can affect anything in the interaction of the genders by making this information public, but if it could simply make women more aware of the source of our own vulnerabilities, perhaps it would be worthwhile knowledge to possess.

A while ago, I happened on some Japanese research about Oxytocin, a brain hormone that may be at the heart, or at least the loins, of the matter.  The research suggests that the same hormone nature designed to bond us lovingly to the child at our breast, also bonds us to any man who brings us to orgasm.

Called “the bonding hormone”, oxytocin is produced in large quantities when we nurse babies.  Unfortunately, we also produce quite a lot of it when we make love.  Men produce it, too, but in very small amounts compared to us.  Scientists now believe oxytocin’s bonding mojo may explain why women so often fall head over heels, while men merely feel they’ve indulged a physical need.

We humans are complex creatures, able to exercise free will and common sense, although, now that I think about it, sex isn’t an area with a great track record for most of us in exercising the latter.  So, while no single biological mechanism can be totally responsible for our bloopers, it’s probable this one neural peptide may still have a lot to answer for.

Whose Side is Mother Nature On?

It appears that much of our behavior is predicated on a biological stew of neural peptides, hormones and other brain-related chemicals that pre-dispose us to see things through a variety of distorted lenses.  These “distortions” may cause us to make decisions based on the survival-of-the-species biological imperatives that nature programmed into our bio-computers a few million years or so ago.  While these dictates might have been essential in the Stone Age, they can have far-reaching repercussions in the here and now…repercussions that can upset our emotional apple carts and cause lots of heartache.

Brain workingsThink of it this way:  If Mother Nature’s imperative, when she evolved the male and female of the species, was to make sure we humans reproduced as often, as fruitfully, and as healthily as possible, the dynamic she employed may have been fairly simple:  hard-wire the male to flit from flower to flower, pollinating as often as possible… hardwire the female with a nesting instinct, so she can bear and rear the young in a stable environment.

If that’s true, then the urge to flit was not only not a necessary part of women’s biological agenda, it was downright antithetical to Nature’s game plan.  So the question seems to be, could Nature’s agenda, created in a vastly different time, with vastly less sophisticated needs, still be pulling our strings, and if so, what on earth can we do about it? Both genders have, we trust, evolved over the the past few million years.  These days, a woman’s life may have as much to do with corporate board sitting, as with nest-sitting, and men, we hope, are capable of making judgments about partners that are not based entirely on the need to “spread their seed.”

But what if, despite all our intelligent intent, oxytocin’s chemistry predisposes women to fall in love at the drop of a hormone, far more easily and permanently than a man does?  And what if, once we’ve been bitten by the love bug, oxytocin can cause us to lose our cool, our objectivity and our common sense, for strictly biological reasons?  According to the Japanese study, Oxytocin adversely affects our long-term memory, cognitive reasoning and our ability to think straight.  Would anyone argue the point that women – even very smart women – have a tendency to get dewy-eyed and mushy-brained around the object of their devotion?

“Have you ever noticed,” says my sister Conny, the Voice of Reason, “that as soon as a smart woman falls for a guy, her I.Q. drops sixty points?  What’s that about?”

What if it’s About Oxytocin?

If it’s true that “sex dumbs us down,” as a female friend who’s CFO of a big university asserts, what can we do to protect ourselves?  Is there a way to use this knowledge to discipline ourselves to make smarter choices about love?

Hearts FlyingIf we really believe that our brain-chemistry will make us super-vulnerable during sex, would we choose our bedmates more carefully, and wait long enough to regain some equilibrium before putting all our eggs in the wrong basket?  My smart, funny friend KT Maclay says when women fall in love they enfold their lover in “The Magic Shield of Brightness,” becoming incapable of seeing anything but the best in them.  This allows us, she asserts, to bask in the warming glow of fantasy for a happy while, believing this extraordinary bliss will last forever.

Maybe “knowing” we’ve been set up by a pushy peptide, would give us a magic shield of our own to protect us from being so easily bowled over.  Maybe that knowledge would cause us to proceed with more caution, and seek some advice from loving friends about whether or not we’re thinking straight.  Could we, perhaps, protect our daughters from our own mistakes by letting them in on this truth? Probably not, but maybe it’s something to shoot for.

On the Other Hand… 

Then again, that “first fine careless rapture” the poets speak of, whether oxytocin-driven or not, is so wondrous, so all-encompassing and fulfilling, I wonder if we’d be doing our daughters any favor by imposing reason on what feels so much like the finest magic life has to offer.  Who, having experienced the bliss of falling head over heels in love, would ever trade it for common sense?  Maybe the best we can do is be joyful for our daughters while the rapture lasts and help them know, if and when it’s done, that Shakespeare said it best:  “It’s better to have loved and lost, than never to have loved at all.”


© Cathy Cash Spellman/The Wild Harp & Co. Inc 2011

Posted on January 11th 2012 in Love, The Philosopher’s Teacup, Women

2 Responses to “Biology in the Bedroom”

  1. Melissa Says:

    I had to come back and read this again for another chuckle. “Pushy Peptide” indeed.

    Glad I did because then I go to read the love poems blog and marvel again at the artistry of e e cummings poem, which I have always love.

  2. Cathy Says:

    It does seem we’ve been set up by Mother Nature, doesn’t it? The research made me laugh, too…we think we’re making choices for all the right reasons and then that pushy peptide has its way with us!
    The love poems thrill me every time I read them. My all-time favorite is Edna St. Vincent Millay’s Sonnet XXX, but as it was written by a woman, it didn’t seem to belong with this group. You may already love it,but if not, I know it will really touch your heart

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