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Chemistry of Love

It’s Hearts ‘n’ Flowers Time again, or maybe it’s Panties ‘n’ Dildos time for you. Whatever your fancy or fetish, even if you manage to somehow steer clear of love and sex the rest of the year, it’s futile to resist that itching in your heart, that longing in your loins around Valentine’s Day.

If love and sexuality are important to you, as they are to me, then Valentine’s Day is almost a religious holiday, a time to stimulate your lover(s), celebrate your love or, at least, masturbate yourself. If you love love, you’ve just got to make love to someone you love on Valentine’s Day, even if that someone is you. That’s right. Better to make good clean love to yourself than feel sorry for yourself or make bad love to someone you really don’t love.

Still, loving someone besides yourself is one of the great delicious challenges and blessings of life. But don’t panic, there’s still time. Even if, as you’re reading this, it’s too late for Valentine’s Day, it’s never too late for nookie, and it’s never too late for love.

“The spiritualization of sexuality is called love,” said Nietzche in The Twilight of the Idols, “It is a great triumph over Christianity.” Not to mention every other organized religion.

Sex is my obsession. Love is my religion. Sometimes I’m not sure if I believe in God. But I always believe in Love. I know love exists, because I can see it in my lover’s eyes, I can hear it in his voice, I can feel it in his arms, I can smell it on the back of his neck, and I can taste love in his kiss. I love the physicality of love; it gives me faith, breaks down the agnostic in me, and makes of me, against all odds, a true believer.

But my belief in love goes beyond the physical. I believe the more love there is in the world, the less violence. And I’m not just talking here about love of humankind. That’s a wonderful, very important kind of “altruistic” love, but it can only go so far because it’s not passionate (and who the hell wants to go to bed with all of humankind anyway?). Violence is passionate. It can only be defeated by an equally passionate, powerful force like romantic erotic love. Duke Ellington said it best: “Love is supreme and unconditional. Like is nice but limited.”

But how can we make love last? That is the question, and the answer lies in the story of our lives on earth, and the chemistry of our feelings…

In the beginning, there is love. A hot and steaming love supreme that can heal our wounds, open our eyes, shake up our governments, give us more zing than a case of Red Bull and make us hap-hap-happier than we ever imagined possible.

And it’s real. As scientifically real as the chemical changes it unleashes within our bodies. But alas, it is not eternal. Nor is it exclusive.

Just look at nature: exclusivity in love is rare as an endangered species. The Nile crocodile, the American toad, the wood roach, the klipspringer, the siamang, the reedbuck, some beetles, most birds, muskrats, some bats, beavers, deer mice, a few monkeys, some wild dogs, and the ironically named dik-dik are monogamous creatures. At least, they’re into serial monogamy. But that’s about it.

Monogamy is not the norm in nature, since it’s not normally to a male’s genetic advantage to stay with one female when he can get it on with several and recycle more of his genes. For females, monogamy isn’t natural either. Despite the old saying, Hoggamus higgamus, man is polygamous. Higgamus hoggamus, woman’s monogamous, studies show that human females aren’t much more faithful than males, even though almost all societies punish women for cheating far, far more than men.

Hoggamus, hiscuous, nature’s promiscuous. From nature’s viewpoint, romantic love merely serves an evolutionary purpose for both sexes: to make us so HOT for each other that we reproduce. Otherwise, considering the high cost of child care, we very well might not. We fall in and out of love so we’ll mix up our genes (I call it “Integration through Intercourse”), increasing their odds of “winning” the human race, genetically speaking, if not environmentally.

Never mind that society values long-term monogamy. Nature isn’t so pious. Anthropologists tell us that nature only provides for us to feel “in love” for a few months, or at most a few years, enough time to rear a child through babyhood, somewhere between the three-year tingle and the seven-year itch. At this point, theoretically, the kid is brought up by the “village,” tribe or school system, leaving the parents relatively free to fall in love with someone else and start the process again. In modern terms, you could say that’s when Junior goes off to kindergarten, and Mummy and Dadda go off and have affairs.

It all seems like a nasty trick that Mother Nature is playing on those of us who’d like to make love last. Especially around Valentine’s Day. And there’s only one solution. If you want to make love last, you just have to trick nature.

Trick nature? You can’t fool Mother Nature, can you? Don’t be intimidated by Her PR. You can fool Her. At least sometimes. And “sometimes” might be all you need to keep love hot through Ice Ages of mortgages, meetings, seductive strangers, dirty diapers, soul-consuming children, depressing political situations, personal tragedies and platinum anniversaries.

The trick is to crack the Chemical Code of Love. It all comes down to chemistry–literally. Falling in love floods your bloodstream with a fricassee of powerful chemicals: dopamine, norepinephrine, phenylethylamine (PEA) and other natural cousins of amphetamines, stimulants and painkillers.

Yes, falling in love is like being on drugs. Hard drugs. It’s a natural high far finer and smoother than anything you could inject, smoke, snort, drink or swallow. Of course, love isn’t something you can pick up at the pharmacy or even on the black market. It strikes you like a mystical gift from God, or a practical joke from tricky, fickle old Hot Mama Nature. Then it stirs up that euphoric, love-juicy chemical goo that permeates your cells, creating a place within you where hormones meet holiness, wildflowers bloom, angels dance, and the city never sleeps.

To differentiate it from long-term love, I call this marvelous, giddy, speedy, slightly insane, falling-in-love feeling “Hot Love.” Hot Love is the supernova of affection, but like the song sings, it’s just too hot not to cool down. After a while, your body builds up a tolerance to the PEA and other sizzling chemicals. Inevitably, the feeling fades. And you wonder (as the two of you go to bed yet again without coupling madly like you used to), where is the passion? Where has love gone?

It’s a sad, sad, universal story. But don’t despair! All is not lost, chemically speaking. If your relationship continues past the Hot Love stage, another set of chemicals flows into your bloodstream. These are opiate-like endorphins and sweet-feeling oxytocin that sensitize your nerves, stimulate muscle contraction, enhance orgasm and make cuddling feel absolutely divine. I call this stage “Warm Love,” as it brings on that nice, warm sense of well-being you get when you’re really comfortable with someone.

The coolest thing about Warm Love is that, unlike Hot Love, it can last forever. No tricks necessary. In fact, it’s quite habit-forming. That’s why breaking up is so hard to do. Even when you really don’t like someone anymore, and you know you should move on, it often feels like you “can’t.” Why? Because you’re chemically addicted. Oxytocin, when it’s got you hooked on the wrong partner, can be tougher to kick than heroin. In fact, the prescription painkiller, OxyContin, based on somewhat similar ingredients, is considered one of the most addictive medications on the market.

But if you’re with the right person, the cozy compounds that concoct Warm Love create a “good addiction,” helping to keep you happy together long after your Hot Love peaks have petered out. Warm Love chemicals aren’t just a high; they’re a health benefit, naturally strengthening your heart and immune system. And yet, without that exhilaratingly giddy fizz of Hot Love, you may feel you’ve fallen out of love. Have you?

Well, yes and no. It’s natural to only feel Hot Love with your partner in the beginning. Then, if you just go according to Nature’s Plan, the relationship evolves into Warm Love, never to scale the delightfully dizzying summits of Hot Love again, or at least, not very often. Not that all of us require multiple helpings of Hot Love throughout life. But without it-even with plenty of Warm Love-most of us feel a bit empty and bored. That’s why so many people in genuinely “happy marriages” have affairs, restlessly seeking that elusive Hot Love fix.

After all, the easiest way to experience Hot Love is with a new lover. Novelty triggers PEA like the sun brings out the string bikinis. It may be disturbing, but it’s undeniably true: there is no aphrodisiac like fresh meat.
But it’s also possible to trick those mercurial Hot Love chemicals into kicking in–if both you and your partner really want to–by adding new elements to your old relationship.

Of course, you knew that already, didn’t you? Every self-help sexpert and romance hustler tells you to try new things. But do you actually do it? See, that’s the trick.

Sometimes all it takes is the simplest novelties: Surprising each other with a sexy (but not appalling) new look or spending the weekend in a strange (but not uncomfortable) locale. Yes indeed, these are some of the oldest tricks in the book because they very often work, literally tricking your nervous system into reacting as if “Wow! Something new is happening here! I’m falling in love!” Your chemical soup is stirred, your heart beats fast and fireworks explode, all with the same old sweetheart.

There are more exotic ways to fool Mother Nature into giving you a Hot Love chemical shower. The following suggestions are easy enough to incorporate into your relationship. They just require two very valuable commodities: time and faith. Indeed, like the faith of a religious fundamentalist, you have to allow yourself to be tricked into believing what you know to be objectively false, i.e., “My wife of 20 years is a young, hot hooker” or “My husband is really three guys and a bi chick, all of whom are after me.”

Also, this stuff only works if you’ve already shared loads of Hot Love, at least in the beginning of your relationship. Chemistry can’t be conjured from nothing. So with that caveat, the essential “suspension of disbelief” and the willingness to put some real quality and quantity time into this endeavor, let’s give these tips a whirl:

1) Sharing Fantasies. Fantasy creates the feeling of novelty in the erotic theater of your mind. Cynics have a hard time with this, of course. But even cynics can be softies if the fantasy is compelling enough. Fantasies don’t have to be completely made up; some of us just don’t have the imagination for it. Sharing memories can be just as good or better than sharing totally made-up stuff, especially if these are memories of Hot Love experiences you’ve had together (your first kiss, your first sex). You can also share memories mixed with fantasies. Remember that time you made love on the beach? Or off that mountain path? Or under a blanket in the first class cabin of that flight to Paris? That was exciting. Now what if someone was watching? What if they joined in? Whew, I’m getting hot already…

2) Role-Playing. Take fantasies a little farther by dressing up, acting the part, wearing masks, using props. You might even pretend to meet for the first time, maybe in a bar. If you play it out and don’t giggle too much, it’s amazing how easily your Hot Love button can be pushed even when you know the sexy stranger with whom you’re carrying on some serious flirtation is really just your familiar old spouse.

3) Make Love First if You Want to Make Love Last. Make love a top priority–or better yet, THE top priority–in your lives. If you’ve got a busy schedule, you have to schedule sex. Make plans for love, Hot and Warm. But remember: the best laid plans may not get you laid the way you planned! Be open to the magical mysteries of surprise.

4) Chemical Combo. Give your lover a massage to activate Warm Love endorphins as you whisper fantasies to kindle Hot Love amphetamines. Take a scary roller coaster ride together to ignite Hot Love, then fall into a soft Warm Love bed in a strange (but comfy) motel.

5) Try New Sexual Things. Sample sex toys. Watch porn. Look at erotic art. Or maybe a good horror movie (fear can be an aphrodisiac). Go to a swing party. You don’t have to really “swing.” You can go and just watch, maintaining your monogamy, while voyeuristically experiencing the excitement of multiple partners engaging in public sex. Try feeding each other oysters, damiana, playing bondage games—the list of potential aphrodisiacs is endless. Some are better than others, depending on your taste, your values and your mood. Experiment. That’s one way to fire up your PEA Bunsen burner. But keep in mind that Hot Love chemicals are highly combustible. Things that ignite them can also elicit feelings of paranoia, anger, jealousy and embarrassment. Remember, a little bit of fear is like spice in your enchilada. But too much fear spoils the meat. Don’t let yourself become a Hot Love junkie, oblivious to your partner’s Warm Love needs. Take good care of each other with lots of reassuring Warm Love when you undertake Hot Love experimentation.

It’s not easy to make true love that lasts more than three or four Valentine’s Days. It’s a delicate chemical soufflé. If you can whip it up right, you’ll keep love and sex hot and warm your whole life long. Hey, it’s worked for me for the past 14 years, and I have high hopes – hell, I have FAITH, Brothers & Sisters, Lovers & Sinners – that it will keeping working for years to come. But if it doesn’t work for you, if you can’t make love last, hey, you’re only human. Forgive yourself. But never give up. Remember the wise words of that horny old Victorian, William Makepeace Thackeray: “To love and win is the best thing; to love and lose, the next best thing.”

And if you need a little inspiration or stimulation, you can come to my Valentine Saturday Night celebration where we’ll have all of the above Hot Love stimulators (except the roller coaster), and more. Come one, come all, come with someone you love, even if that someone is you.

Dr. SUSAN BLOCK is a sex educator, cultural commentator, host of The Dr. SUSAN BLOCK Show and author of The 10 Commandments of Pleasure. Visit her website at http://www.drsusanblock.com

Send all hate mail, love letters, commentary, questions and confessions to her at liberties@blockbooks.com

More articles by:

Susan Block, Ph.D., a.k.a. “Dr. Suzy,” is an internationally renowned LA sex therapist and author, occasionally seen on HBO and other channels. Her newest book is The Bonobo Way: The Evolution of Peace through Pleasure. Visit her at http://DrSusanBlock.com. For speaking engagements, call 310-568-0066. Email your comments to her at liberties@blockbooks.com and you will get a reply.

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