Read This Is Your Brain on Sex Online

Authors: Kayt Sukel

Tags: #Psychology, #Cognitive Psychology, #Cognitive Psychology & Cognition, #Human Sexuality, #Neuropsychology, #Science, #General, #Philosophy & Social Aspects, #Life Sciences

This Is Your Brain on Sex

Praise for
This Is Your Brain on Sex

“Science journalist Sukel is certainly intrepid . . . Her spicy mix of tongue-in-cheek wit and hardcore neuroscience, which is still in its infancy, makes science fun.”

New York Post
, Required Reading

“Journalist Kayt Sukel delves into the latest neurobiological research to explore what, exactly, love is and why it makes us do crazy things. This is no self-help book, however. In exploring such topics as monogamy, the parent-child bond, pheromones, and male and female responses to pornography, Sukel reveals just how complex and mysterious our brains really are.”

Scientific American
, Recommended Reading

“Remarkable for the breadth of ground it covers in exploring this stillrelatively- new area of study . . . a terrific introduction to the hard sciences’ approach to sex research. Readers need not have any pre-existing knowledge of the subject, only an appetite for information and an openness to questioning convention. Highly recommended.”

The Book Lady’s Blog

“Sukel leaves no stone unturned as she delves into the complex, cerebral world of relationships. . . . [Her] background in psychology allows her to discuss highly technical topics in a way that will be accessible to a broad audience, including armchair scientists and sociology buffs.”

Publishers Weekly

“With humor and flair, Sukel takes us through the whole human drama—loving, hating, cheating, losing, orgasming, parenting, punishment, and reward—and at the end we realize something truly startling: it’s all in our minds.”

—Jena Pincott, author of
Do Chocolate Lovers Have Sweeter Babies?: The Surprising Science of Pregnancy


Kirkus Reviews

“Kayt Sukel’s [
Dirty Minds
] merges the bracing realities of science with the mysterious thrill of love and attraction. Provocative, well-researched, and compulsively readable, this book opens the mind (dirty or otherwise) and stirs the soul.”

—Lily Burana, author of
Strip City, Try
, and
I Love a Man in Uniform

“Love and sex are two of the eternal mysteries of the human experience— but in her compelling new book . . . Kayt Sukel lifts the curtain to give us a fresh and fascinating look at our intimate lives. Sukel shows us how neuroscientists are venturing into the realm once reserved for poets and songwriters, and returning with bold new knowledge about the brain in love and in the throes of pleasure. After reading this seductively interesting book, you’ll never think about a date or a kiss or a breakup the same way again.”

—Annie Murphy Paul, author of
Origins: How the Nine Months Before Birth Shape the Rest of Our Lives

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To Chet, my mother, and all those cheeseburgers



A Note about Illustration
Chapter 1: The Neuroscience of Love: A History (Theirs and Mine)
Chapter 2: The Ever-Loving Brain
Chapter 3: The Chemicals between Us
Chapter 4: Epigenetics (or It Is All My Mother’s Fault)
Chapter 5: Our Primates, Ourselves (or Why We Are Not Slaves to Our Hormones)
Chapter 6: His and Her Brains
Chapter 7: The Neurobiology of Attraction
Chapter 8: Making Love Last
Chapter 9: Mommy (and Daddy) Brain
Chapter 10: Might as Well Face It, You’re Addicted to Love
Chapter 11: Your Cheating Mind
Chapter 12: My Adventures with the O-Team
Chapter 13: A Question of Orientation
Chapter 14: Stupid Is as Stupid Loves
Chapter 15: There’s a Thin Line between Love and Hate
Chapter 16: The Greatest Love of All
Conclusion: A Brave New World of Love
About the Author

A Note about Illustrations

The brain is an organ with an intricate biological architecture. When discussing the results of neuroimaging studies, I have used illustrations to help point out the approximate location of key areas in the brain. However, due to the brain’s complexity, it can be difficult to differentiate all the areas of interest in a single study from the same visual perspective. In some cases, only the most significant regions are highlighted, or two images are used. In addition, laterality (whether the activation occurred on the left hemisphere, the right hemisphere, or both hemispheres of the brain) is often ignored for simplicity’s sake. For those interested in the areas not illustrated or in more exact positioning, I recommend visiting the Whole Brain Atlas, a detailed online neuroimaging primer created by Keith A. Johnson, MD, and J. Alex Becker, PhD,


What is this thing called love?


We all know what love is. Or at least we think we do. Love is a rock, a drug, reciprocal torture, and an exploding cigar. Love is all you need—yet it’s a cold and a broken Hallelujah. It is a many-splendored thing, a battlefield, and a river. Love stinks. It’s divine. It is never having to say you’re sorry. Or perhaps having to say so much more than you ever thought you would. Love is a bitch. It’s like a disease. It’s a trap. Ted Nugent, in one of his more romantic moments, even likened love to a tire iron. There are plenty of metaphors out there, and many ring true, but there is still no great, all-encompassing definition. Perhaps that is why someone thought it necessary to create a bumper sticker that simply says, “Love is . . .” and avoid the specifics altogether. Try it yourself some time—explain the concept of love. Surely
comes to mind. Now make it applicable to
potential love-related situation. It isn’t easy, is it?

“It’s like what the Supreme Court said about pornography—I know love when I see it!” a friend of mine suggested. “Or feel it, as it were.”

He definitely had something there. I think most of us innately
what love is. We can recognize it and feel it. We just cannot translate it into words. Love is simply too abstract, too elusive, and too bizarre to explain. The same is true of love’s partners in crime: sexual attraction, lust, monogamy, and hate. Anything as complicated as love is outside the realm of simple description—and best left to philosophers, novelists, and boy bands.

The lack of a clear-cut definition has not stopped folks from offering advice on how to attract,
nurture, and prolong love. Moms, friends, even total strangers are happy to tell you all about the
ways to handle your love life. They are usually tips bearing the promise of relationship rescue through better understanding, better communication, and better sex. Never mind that far too much of this guidance falls into the “Take my advice, I’m obviously not using it” category. Anecdotal evidence of the communication strategies (or crazy bedroom antics) that fixed Aunt Deirdre and Uncle Mike’s marriage just do not cut it anymore. In this day and age we want our advice—even for something as intangible as love—backed by cold, hard science. Instead of Mom’s shoulder, Freud’s couch, or the pastor’s office, we now look for answers in genetic profiles and brain scanners.

I once saw a television commercial for an acne drug. The tagline was “Blame biology.” Forget diet, proper hygiene, or a good bar of soap (my own dermatologist’s go-to solution): this commercial insinuated that acne was solely a biological issue and that perfect skin was only a doctor’s prescription away. Advances in research mean that previously inexplicable phenomena like depression, obesity, and a whole host of other genetic disorders can now be examined within the realm of biology and are mostly treatable by this or that new pill. These pharmacological treatments are a boon for those of us who feel we are working too hard (and without much effect) to maintain some semblance of balance in our body and mind. We are made to believe that these sorts of problems are not our fault, that the blame falls squarely on that blasted biology. So biology should give us a way to fix it.

Intuitively it feels as though we should view love through the same sort of lens. Though some might argue the point, I consider myself a relatively intelligent person. Despite several long-term relationships (and more than a few short-term ones), a failed marriage, and a child, as I get older I realize that I do not know much about love. Some days I’m fairly certain I know absolutely nothing about it. And I do not seem to be alone in this. Start a conversation with someone falling in or out of love and nine times out of ten you will eventually hear the words “I should know better.”

Most of us, if we’re being honest, will admit we are a tad clueless when it comes
to love, no matter how experienced we think we are. With that backdrop in place, blaming biology doesn’t seem like such a bad option. Certainly we would not keep making the same silly mistakes if biology weren’t urging us on.

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