What Makes Men Addicted to Pornography and Women to Romance Novels (and Chocolate)?


When we experience love at first sight, a chemical, phenylethylamine(PEA), floods the brain. PEA, an amphetamine-like chemical, makes us feel euphoric and aroused. Surprisingly, we don’t even need an actual person present to have a surge of PEA. This chemical increases even when we read a romance novel or see a sexy picture.1 Yes, it is the romance novel that turns on this amphetamine-like PEA substance for women and sexually explicit pornography that turns it on for men.2

PEA causes us to feel so good but it also can cause us to become addicted to whatever stimulates it.  Then, just as an addiction to amphetamines can induce cravings and withdrawal, we become dependent on seeking out whatever will increase our PEA.

Driven by this chemical hunger, we might even experiment with eating chocolate because chocolate contains PEA. Maybe this is why a box of chocolates is a romantic gift, in the hope that the surge of PEA will increase passionate feelings. Indeed, one study showed that participants indicated greater interest in initiating a relationship with a potential partner when exposed to a sweet taste.3 There is a downside, however.  Chocolate does contain PEA but the PEA is metabolized so quickly that it doesn’t have time to have much effect on the brain.4

  1. Crenshaw,T.L. (1996) The alchemy of love and lust. New York: G.P. Putman & Sons, pp. 55-62.
  2.  Ibid.
  3. Suzuki O, Katsumata Y, Oya M (1981). “Oxidation of beta-phenylethylamine by both types of monoamine oxidase: examination of enzymes in brain and liver mitochondria of eight species”. Journal of Neurochemistry.36 3, 1298–30.
  4. Dongning, R., Tan, K., Arriaga, X.B., Chan, K.Q. (2014). Sweet love: The effects of sweet taste experience on romantic perceptions. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, Published online October 21, 2014 doi:10.1177/0265407514554512.

Three Attitudes That Make Every Relationship Better

How men and women communicate  

  • Empathy

Listen so intently to the other person that you know what that person is really thinking and really feeling.  Empathy is fully understanding what it is like to be in the other person’s shoes and then communicating that understanding. 

In order to do this, however, you have to first set aside your own anxiety or tendency to listen only in order to give your reply.  Only after you have reflected back what you heard, do you give a response from your point of view.  This sequence reduces the other person’s defensiveness because he/she feels understood. 

Often you only need to communicate empathy, saying nothing more, to improve your relationship.  And, the more empathy you give, the more empathy you will get.

  • Genuineness

Say what you mean and mean what you say.  In a trusting relationship there is no role playing.  Both people are comfortable with disclosing their thoughts and feelings in the immediacy of the moment.

Of course, these disclosures are done in a respectful way.   Begin your sentences with “I” rather than with “you”. 

Trust is built through these self-disclosures as your self-disclosure increases the chances that the other person will also self-disclose.  Generally, trust creates openness and openness creates trust.  Then, a trusting relationship built on real thoughts and feelings brings both of you much closer.

  • Acceptance

Embrace and value the other person even when he/she says or does something you don’t like.  Judge and criticize the behavior, but not the person.

Do not put any conditions on your regard for the person. Communicate, “I care” not “I care for you if you meet my expectations.”

Acceptance is not the same as tolerance, though. Tolerance implies enduring the differences which exist between us, all the while wishing that these differences would eventually be erased.  Acceptance means embracing and valuing the differences—the unique strengths and weaknesses of each person.

When you meet another person’s self-disclosures with acceptance, trust is increased.  The other person then is more likely to be accepting when you self-disclose and your relationship is improved.

Rogers, Carl R. (1961). On becoming a person. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company.