Love, whether loving others or being loved, makes us feel connected, safe, complete, nurtured, trusting, serene, alive, creative, empowered and whole. It has inspired poets, musicians, artists, writers and theologians for thousands of years. But what is love?
It is the most basic emotional force in us all. Its opposite is fear, which shows up in many forms such as anger, resentment, jealousy, depression, anxiety and so on.
To find more love, it really helps to know that sexual desire and love, in the sense of bonding, are produced by two separate, but linked systems in the brain. We can feel bonded to a friend but not have sexual desire for him or her. We can have sexual desire for someone without feeling bonded. A healthy balance of both desire and bonding is the best basis for a long-term, happy, sexual relationship. Both are natural rewards.
Natural or primary rewards are food, water, sex, loving relationships and novelty. They let us survive and thrive. The seeking of these rewards is induced by desire or appetite via the neurochemical dopamine. Natural rewards give us a feeling of pleasure when eating, drinking, procreating, and being nurtured. Such pleasurable feelings reinforce the behaviour so that we want to repeat it. Pain in general, especially if prolonged, puts us off. That is how we learn. Each of these behaviours is required for the survival of the species.
Pornography exploits our appetite for sexual desire, especially in adolescents, without supplying the bonding touch and love. Consuming a lot of internet porn over a period of time can lead to depression and even addiction in some people. Learning how to love sustainably is crucial to our long-term wellbeing.
Here is a quick and easy guide to understanding the function of the main neurochemicals that make us feel love. Remember your first kiss?