Love certainly isn’t a prerequisite for sexual desire
I’ll go ahead and assume that if you’re human, you’ve likely experienced an overwhelming sexual desire for someone you didn’t even know. Laying eyes on someone you’re attracted to can almost instantly evoke strong feelings of desire. Sometimes this attraction evolves into deeper feelings of intimacy and even attachment, and sometimes they don’t. Interestingly though, a large majority of people who claimed to have experienced love at first sight reported that they later fell in mutual love with this person and developed a romantic partnership. In fact, there is a scientific basis related to this in the phenomenon known as “love at first sight.”
Sometimes this attraction is taken to the next level by engaging in an intimate relationship with the person they’re attracted to. And while we all know that experiencing intimacy with someone we’re attracted to can be really, really satisfying, does being in love with someone make it even better?
Some believe it does. Do you agree?
The Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy does. Published research reports that intimacy serves as both a trigger for sexual desire and a reward resulting from the experience of sexual arousal and—in particular—of orgasm.
The First Time You Sleep Together Impacts Relationship Longevity
Before we delve into what makes sex most enjoyable, let’s look at the impact the first sexual encounter in a new relationship has on its success.
A study in the Journal of Experimental Psychology of 800 people found that while the early infatuation stages of a relationship rise at the same rate in couples that go the distance as in ones that end, great first time sex was an indicator if the relationship was satisfying or if it lasted.
So what makes sex more satisfying?
Research Shows Love Can Make Sex More Enjoyable for Women
It’s been proven that that for most women, love and commitment make sex a lot more satisfying. Ladies, does this sound familiar?
While love certainly isn’t necessary to experience sexual pleasure, it seems that being in love can make sex even more enjoyable. Where there’s love, there’s (typically) trust. And trusting your partner allows you to be more vulnerable in your most intimate moments. Love and trust allow for less inhibition and can make exploring sexuality a welcomed experience that can lead to increased physical pleasure and emotional satisfaction.
The Similar Chemistry of Love and Desire
Several studies have shown that the feelings of love and sexual desire share similar regions of the brain. When individuals experience either, there is increased activity in the hippocampus, thalamus, and anterior cingulate cortex. These 3 areas of the brain are consequently responsible for mediating somatosensory integration (the conscious perception of touch, pressure, pain, temperature, position, and movement), reward expectation, and social cognition.
There’s also similar neural activity going on when it comes to love and sexual desire. Oxytocin, for example, increases during sex and orgasm in both men and women. Another thing oxytocin is associated with? Love and pair bonding.
Oxytocin, Love, and Sexual Pleasure
Oxytocin is often referred to as the “love hormone” because when we hug, cuddle, or kiss someone we love, oxytocin levels increase. It’s not just romantic relationships that oxytocin plays a major role. This “love hormone” is associated with all kinds of pair bonding. It’s released during childbirth and breastfeeding.
Oxytocin is also the hormone that inspires trust for another individual. Increased oxytocin is present in both love and sex. Are these increased oxytocin levels the reason sex is better for most women when they’re in love?
Research also indicates oxytocin can help decrease depression. Another reason why love and sex can make you feel so good…and why when love goes awry it can lead to some serious feelings of sadness.
When Women Feel Love, Intimate Moments Are Shown to Be Better
“When women feel love,” according to Montemurro, a researcher in this area. “they may feel greater sexual agency because they not only trust their partners but because they feel that it is okay to have sex when love is present.”
For the women she did interview over the course of 3 years, 50 out of 95 said love wasn’t necessary for sex. Only 18 of them explicitly thought that love wasn’t necessary in a sexual relationship, though.
Yes, having sex without love happens. And there’s no doubt it can feel amazing and be extremely enjoyable. Can a woman continue to have sex with someone she doesn’t love and have it stay awesome, though? Or is it that increase in oxytocin when having sex on a one-night stand, or casual dating experience, responsible for the reasoning that love isn’t necessary to have satisfying sex?
For good sex to last though, it seems love needs to be part of the equation.
“For the women I interviewed,“ Montemurro said, “they seemed to say you need love in sex and you need sex in marriage.”
Good Sex Can Also Bring You Closer to Your Partner
While love has shown to make sex more enjoyable for women, good sex can also bring you closer to your partner. Have you ever experienced extremely satisfying sexual pleasure with your partner, then felt closer to them after the experience?
Again, oxytocin plays a major role in why this happens. Oxytocin levels increase when we orgasm or engage in sexual intimacy. It also increases trust for a person and can help increase our bond. Couples who stay together for six months have shown to have a higher baseline level of oxytocin than those who break up within 6 months. Oxytocin has also shown to help strengthen romantic relationships in times of vulnerability, which when increased during sexual interaction could help you feel closer to your partner.
Research has also shown that the afterglow many experience after satisfying sex can have a big effect in the bonding couples experience. Sexual afterglow, defined as “enhanced sexual satisfaction that lingers following sexual activity,” can last for up to 48 hours after engaging in sex with a partner. The longer the afterglow, the more satisfaction couples reported in their marriage over time.
Feeling closer to your partner after satisfying sex is also believed to be connected to the same similar activity in the thalamus, hippocampus, and anterior cingulate cortex when a person feels love and sexual desire. Because of this, researchers believe that love can become deeper and grow from those good feelings of sexual desire and satisfaction.
Does Love Affect Sexual Desire Differently for Men and Women?
In a prospective study published in theJournal of Sexual Medicine, men and women alike found closeness and intimacy positively correlated with frequency of sexual activity. Another study that followed 67 heterosexual long term partnerships found that couples were more likely to have sex on a particular day if they experienced an increase in intimacy and closeness on the day prior.
In relationships of long duration, women’s feelings of sexual desire decreased over time but not in men. Women in long term relationships felt increased desire for tenderness.
In both men and women, increased feelings of intimacy (closeness, connectedness, love and warmth toward their partner) increased frequency of sex.
The Close Connection of Love, Intimacy, and Sexual Pleasure
Love can increase sexual pleasure, and sexual pleasure can increase the love you feel for someone. Heightened levels of oxytocin are responsible for most of it, as well as experiencing love, desire, and sexual pleasure in 3 of the same areas of the brain.
Touch also releases endogenous opioids that increase feelings of pleasure and promote the reinforcement of attachment bonds through feelings of safety as well as the reward and motivation centers in the brain and body.
As it turns out, there’s a serious connection between love, sexual pleasure, and the intimacy we feel with another person. The more love present, it seems, the better the sex can be.
Looking for more love?
Interested in learning more about the intimate connection of love and what’s happening in the body and brain? Please join my Facebook group, Love is Medicine, where we explore how love and relationships relate to our overall health and how this can affect the way we experience this one beautiful life.
Razi Berry is the founder and publisher of the journal Naturopathic Doctor News & Review, which has been in print since 2005, and the premier consumer-faced website of naturopathic medicine, NaturalPath. She is the host of The Natural Cancer Prevention Summit and The Heart Revolution-Heal, Empower and Follow Your Heart, and the popular 10 week Sugar Free Summer program. From a near death experience as a young girl that healed her failing heart, to later overcoming infertility and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and Fibromyalgia through naturopathic medicine, Razi has lived the mind/body healing paradigm. Her projects uniquely capture the tradition and philosophy of naturopathy: The healing power of nature, the vital life force in every living thing and the undeniable role that science and mind/body medicine have in creating health and overcoming dis-ease. Follow Razi on Facebook at Razi Berry , join her Love is Medicine group to explore the convergence of love and health, and find more Love is Medicine podcast episodes here.