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

chocolate-substitute3

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.

So That’s Why I Fall in Love with the Wrong Person

traces-of-a-reckless-affection_art

Blame it on the chemistry.  Yes, it is chemistry that causes you to fall in love with the wrong person. That tingly euphoric feeling that is there soon after you meet that special person comes from a surge of dopamine that makes you feel so good but it also impairs your judgment.1   You then become obsessed with having the high that comes from every text, every moment with your loved one.

Yet, you aren’t really experiencing the totality of your loved one—you are experiencing only the ecstatic feeling when you are connected with him/her.  And, like any addict, you need increasing amounts and doses of dopamine in order to continue to feel the ecstasy.  What you are experiencing is “romantic intoxication”.2 Then, when your partner does not instantly reply to a text or isn’t available for an entire day, you start experiencing withdrawal.  So you frantically try to reestablish the connection as soon as possible.  At this point you don’t love the person—you love the ecstatic feeling.  And you will do anything to be with that person, even if it is the wrong one.

  1. Doidge, Norman (2007) The brain that changes itself. N.Y.: Penguin Books, p. 115.
  2. Liebowitz, M. (1983). The chemistry of love. Boston: Little, Brown & Co.