Are sex and love REALLY as inextricably linked as we tend to assume they are? Can both men & women find a HAPPY balance between the two? I believe that by understanding more about the fundamental differences inherent in this complex relationship... WE CAN! All too often happy, devoted couples 'torture' themselves with thoughts that their increasingly 'inadequate' sex-life serves as an accurate measure of the REAL quality of their relationship. Well... Consider this before arriving at any dramatic and 'self-scolding' conclusions. You may just be surprised by the FACTS!
A study detailed in the July 2005 issue of the Journal of Neurophysiology surprised everyone with its findings that sex and romance are indeed separate entities when it comes to the human brain!
"Our findings show that the brain areas activated when someone looks at a photo of their beloved only partially overlap with the brain regions associated with sexual arousal," said Arthur Aron of the State University of New York-Stony Brook. "Sex and romantic love involve quite different brain systems."(1)
Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) testing revealed that romance seems to steep in parts of the brain that are rich in dopamine, a chemical known to affect emotions. "To our surprise, the activation regions associated with intense romantic love were mostly on the right side of the brain, while the activation regions associated with facial attractiveness were mostly on the left," said Lucy Brown of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine.(1)
The study also revealed that as a romance matures, so does the mind.
"We found several brain areas where the strength of neural activity changed with the length of the romance," Brown said. "Everyone knows that relationships are dynamic over time, but we are beginning to track what happens in the brain as a love relationship matures."(1)
The processing of romantic feelings involves a "constellation of neural systems." The researchers -- neuroscientists, anthropologists and social psychologists -- declare love the clear winner versus sex in terms of its power over the human mind.
"Romantic love is one of the most powerful of all human experiences," said study member Helen Fisher, an anthropologist at Rutgers University. "It is definitely more powerful than the sex drive. Other studies, she said, suggest that up to 40 percent of people who are rejected in love slip into clinical depression (1), making understanding the TRUTH about love vs. sex of even greater health-importance!
Knowing this may prove a very valuable first step in understanding the love-sex dynamic within modern-day relationships. But let’s debunk the myths even further by considering a few more scientific findings...
“The idea that men think about sex every seven seconds, like the claim that we only use 10 percent of our brains, is often repeated but rarely sourced. The number doesn't bear up against scrutiny. According to the Kinsey Report (Sexual Behavior in the Human Male), 54 percent of men think about sex every day or several times a day, 43 percent a few times a week or a few times a month, and 4 percent less than once a month. Even though the Kinsey Report relies on men to self-report on how often they think about sex, it's still eye opening to find that just under half of men aren't even thinking about sex once a day. Clearly, the seven-second rule may be a tad hyperbolic.”(2)
“The stereotype about the sex-starved man and the disinterested woman may (on the other hand) be more than just a cliché. As it turns out, the instant a woman enters a secure relationship; her sex drive begins to plummet. Four years in, a German study found, fewer than half of women wanted regular sex. And after 20 years, only 20 percent did. Among men, libido held steady no matter how long they'd been in the relationship. Meanwhile, desire for tenderness showed the opposite trend. Ninety percent of women craved tenderness, but of men who'd been in relationships for ten years, only 25 percent said they hoped for the same from their partner.”(2)
“Added to this intriguing information, consider that (& rigorous studies to date have found similar results, despite what "the average man" would say otherwise) the Journal of Urology put the average penis size at 5.08 inches, and the International Journal of Impotence Research put it at 5.35 inches.”(2)
My point... NOT to shock you with candidness, but to say: We're believing inflated half-truths about some of the most important aspects of our personal happiness!! It does not make sense. And it may just be hurting the very people we're saying we LOVE the most!
Let's not stop there though...
Let's be REALISTIC too. Men & women are different. That too is a biological FACT- one which we'd be better off embracing rather that denying (with or without scientific backup). Our body structure is different, our chemistry is certainly different, and as a result... well... we're just plain different.
“Humans, like many other terrestrial life forms, reproduce sexually. We, like all other sexual creatures, are subject to instinctive sexual desire triggered by appropriate criteria. BUT...Humans can think! Thus, the criteria for desire and selection are greatly complicated. People apply not only physical, but societal, cultural and economic criteria to desire and selection.”(3)
“Instinctively speaking, the human male has a drive to impregnate as many females as possible, to create as many offspring with his genes as possible (Ehrlichman & Eichenstein, 1992). Thus, he applies criteria typical for a male animal. He looks for women who are impregnable: those who are old enough to be past puberty, but young enough to care for children for at least several years.”(3)
“The human female, on the other hand, runs into a real problem: the human mind. It is not the nearest possibility, but the best possibility that she desires (Ehrlichman & Eichenstein, 1992). A woman's mind allows her, and indeed forces her to examine possible criteria to a much greater extent than any other animal. The criteria for her to sexually desire a man can include strength or health, but can also include intelligence, money, power, prestige, position, status, attitudes, political or religious convictions, any number and combination of factors.”(3)
Of course, it is most unlikely that this is the first time you've heard this argument/explanation. It is however, possibly the first time that you have been asked if you truly understand what this means for our LOVE relationships? Love implies EMOTION, not instinct, and whilst we do have the advantage of being able to 'think' and 'choose', we should not forget that this basic instinctual chemistry remains.
Articles abound on the subject. Women need to receive caring, understanding, respect, devotion, validation, and reassurance. Men need to receive acceptance, appreciation, admiration, approval, encouragement (4).Different requirements, but equally REAL and influential for the individual who has them. The same article (4) asserts that "The differences are different, NOT better or worse. [We should not] judge the differences, [or] try to change the differences. To get along, [we simply] MUST accept, expect and respect these differences."
I'd wish to take it still one step further, in saying that we need to take a look at our relationships in this new light, and realise that sex and love are NOT the same thing. It might even be HEALTHY for us to begin to actively separate the two when it comes to our 'expectations' of our partners. No doubt every man is secretly praying that their partner is one of the 20% of women who actually do desire regular sex (2), and as for the ladies reading this article... well, stats say there isn't a single male to be had who desires a healthy 'emotional-life' over a healthy sexual one!
But still... we MAKE LIVES together! We make families, and memories and mistakes together. We spend more of our time being in love than having sex, so surely it makes sense to celebrate that part of our lives, and make peace with the space in between.
George Bernard Shaw described marriage as an institution that brings together two people “under the influence of the most violent, most insane, most delusive, and most transient of passions. They are required to swear that they will remain in that excited, abnormal, and exhausting condition continuously until death do them part.”(5)
It really is 'too much' to expect our marriages/relationships to be 'like in the movies' every day of the 50+ years we all set out intending to spend in 'holy matrimony'... But how about this:
To all you men out there: REALISE that ladies have different priorities. In the same way that you find your eyes wondering, understand that if another male tempts a woman with what "she REALLY wants", it is likely that instinct will kick in and she will also start 'fantasising' about what could be (not because she WANTS to, but because she is also an instinctual being). Consider pursuing & offering your lady what she is interested in (ask her what she really wants even!), not because you feel it’s a top sexual priority for yourself, but because you LOVE her! Truly ENJOY (no faking... women also don't much appreciate faking) that bottle of wine and the warm crackling fireplace, without any expectation of sexual 'reward'. Your disinterest in sex may just prove interesting. And if not... remember that you have chosen to LOVE your partner, and love... as we have determined... is not the same as sex.
AND LADIES... you too! If all the evidence points to men being more interested in sex than in "talking", you are 'kidding' yourself if you expect conversation to keep the spark alive. My advice to you would be: be selfish. A complete contradiction, but is that not what we are dealing with?? Be selfish, and MAKE LOVE! He can be 'doing it' for whatever his reasons are... but YOU do it for you. You have chosen to LOVE this man in your life, and all the stats point to his NEEDING your sexual approval, above all else. You don't "have to" do anything you don't want to, but if you really do understand the instinctual component of this dynamic... LOVE your partner. Not the way you want to be loved... but the way he does (at least some of the time).
HAPPY relationships suffer when we don't stop to appreciate what we HAVE in one another! Life is complex and complicated, now more than ever before, and our ever-changing (ever-increasing) relationship needs may indeed be unrealistic and perhaps also unattainable. At least know this. It could save your relationship and it might just make for a "happy couple":)
Do your best... and accept the rest.
~an original article compiled by: Dr Joanne York (contributing writer for www.ecovitality.co.za)
1. Live Science
2. Psychology Today
3. Richard F. Taflinger
4. Relationship Institute
5. Stephanie Coontz
Dr Joanne York is a registered homeopath in South Africa. Her interest in human psychology has seen her complete a BSc degree majoring in psychology, and currently has her busy with a Post Graduate Certificate in Education (with the long term goal of a Masters degree in Child Psychology). She is also passionate about environmental and other health concerns, and this is realised through the publishing of several articles for ecovitality (http://www.ecovitality.co.za), an online resource for those who wish to "get healthy" in the most environmentally responsible way possible! Read some of her other articles: