Answers FAQ

Sex & Love FAQs

Reviewed by Benjamin C. Wedro, MD, FACEP, FAAEM on February 5, 2014

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Q:Which chemical is known simply as the "hormone of love"?

A:Oxytocin.

Oxytocin is a hormone released from the pituitary gland that has been well studied for its role during childbirth. Oxytocin makes the cervix and uterus ready for delivery. It also promotes bonding between couples during sex. Oxytocin is released during orgasm and is believed to strengthen social relationships and maternal instinct.

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Q:Which promotes better sleep: Having sex or being in love?

A:Having sex.

Sleep after sex is common and likely due to the release of some of the same hormones that are associated with orgasm. In addition to oxytocin, the brain releases norepinephrine, vasopressin, serotonin, and prolactin. It may be that prolactin is the culprit chemical that induces sleep after intercourse. It is also true that sex is a very physical activity, often happening at night and in bed, all of which make falling asleep a little more likely.

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Q:Love involves three basic brain circuits. True or False?

A:True.

The brain is wired to look for love. Specific areas of the brain light up on MRI when a patient is shown photos of their loved ones, even after being together for more than 20 years. The first circuit of love begins with mating and sex drive. Romance is the next circuit and is very addictive because the brain secretes dopamine. Attachment describes the long-term circuit where the brain seeks contentment but the intense highs of addiction may be muted.

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Q:In terms of erectile dysfunction, ginseng is thought to work like Viagra®. True or False?

A:True.

Still, not all ginseng is created equal and it may be beneficial for erectile dysfunction, but it will not be as effective as prescription medications. Red ginseng has been studied and found to be marginally effective as Viagra®.

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Q:In terms of love and mating, what is the role of the major histocompatibility complex (MHC) genes?

A:The purpose of the MHC genes are to attract people of opposite body odors.

MHC genes play an important role in attracting mates by helping the body recognize body odors and smells that are different from its own. The genes are part of the body's immune system and we are programmed to be attracted to partners whose scents (and immune systems) are different from ours. In the case of romance, it seems that opposites attract.

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Q:Sex during pregnancy can harm a growing baby. True or False?

A:False.

There is no reason to change or alter a sex life during pregnancy unless a doctor advises otherwise. Intercourse or orgasm during pregnancy will not harm the baby, unless there is a medical problem. An unborn baby is well protected in the uterus by the amniotic fluid that surrounds him or her.

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Q:What is the proper order of the human sexual response cycle?

A:The sexual response cycle has four phases: excitement, plateau, orgasm, and resolution.

The progression of the human sexual response is mediated by hormones in the brain. Their control and release depend upon the situation and the relationship between partners at that moment. There is no guarantee that both partners will reach orgasm at the same time or with the same intensity, nor should that necessarily be the goal. Understanding each other's experience and response will help guide mutual satisfaction, with or without orgasm.

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Q:People have sex as an expression of gratitude. True or False?

A:True.

Having sex seems to be about more than just making babies. Romance, being in love, sexual attraction, and expressing gratitude are the emotional drivers, but people also have sex for physical pleasure. Less positive are those who have sex because of low self-worth and insecurity issues, including the sense of duty and pressure (perceived or real) exerted by a partner.

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Q:What is "limerence"?

A:The term "limerence" was developed by psychologist Dorothy Tennov to describe the emotion of "being in love."

The term continues to evolve in its definition.

Psychology Professor Albert Wakin and Duyen B. Vo developed the meaning to include a type of obsessive-compulsive behavior where "Limerence is... defined as an involuntary interpersonal state that involves an acute longing for emotional reciprocation, obsessive-compulsive thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, and emotional dependence on another person."

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Q:To the brain, being in love is similar to the high produced by cocaine. True or False?

A:True.

Changes in brain chemistry seem to occur when people fall in love and increased levels of dopamine produce significant brain stimulation and pleasure. These sensations are no different than the feelings induced by other stimulant drugs like amphetamine and cocaine.

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Q:Approximately how long do people stay in love?

A:People generally stay in love from 6 to 18 months.

Being in love is a complex emotion and needs to be nurtured to prolong the "in love" phase of a relationship. Those partners who share intense feelings long after the "average" have some common characteristics that may alter neurotransmitter patterns in the brain. These include increased sexual frequency, closeness and union, attachment, and the feeling of safety and security.

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Q:Sex reduces pain and boosts immunity from infections and colds. True or False?

A:True.

Sexual arousal and orgasm release many hormones from the pituitary gland in the brain. Increased oxytocin levels decrease pain sensation in the body. The immune system is stimulated with sexual intercourse, increasing the body's ability to ward off infection.

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Q:Antidepressants can cause low libido. True or False?

A:Antidepressants among other medications can be responsible for low libido (sex drive).

In addition to antidepressants, antihistamines, narcotic pain medications, alcohol, birth control pills, chemotherapy medicines, and over-the-counter cold medications that contain pseudoephedrine can contribute to low libido.

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Q:What can women do in terms of enhancing their genitals?

A:Women can enhance their genital by doing Kegel exercises, vaginal weight training, and resculpting surgery.

The muscles that support the vagina are like many other muscles in the body. If they are stretched, like in childbirth, they can become weakened and loose. Kegel exercises and the use of weighted vaginal cones may be helpful in returning muscle strength and tone. Gynecologists routinely perform surgery to support the vagina walls to treat urinary incontinence and prolapse. Similar surgeries are possible to tighten and strengthen the vaginal opening.

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Q:What are Bartholin glands?

A:Bartholin glands are located in the tissues surrounding the vagina that secrete mucous to help lubricate the opening of the vagina when a woman is sexually aroused.

While the droplets aren't enough to lubricate the whole vagina, their purpose is to make the opening, which is very sensitive, more comfortable during initial penetration during intercourse.

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Q:Bacterial vaginosis is NOT a sexually-transmitted disease. True or False?

A:True. Bacterial vaginosis is not a sexually-transmitted disease.

Bacterial vaginosis is the most common vaginal infection in women of childbearing age. It is not considered an STD and it is thought to occur because of an imbalance of bacteria normally found in the vagina. The diagnosis is made by examining vaginal secretions that are obtained during a pelvic exam in women who complain of vaginal discharge. The presence of "clue" cells confirms the diagnosis. Treatment usually consists of metronidazole or clindamycin.

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Q:For women, one of the most common causes of arousal dysfunction is day-to-day discord with their partners. True or False?

A:True.

Sexual arousal requires not only physical but emotional stimulation. The lack of "closeness" that may occur because of disagreements with one's partner can spill over into the bedroom and may decrease sexual desire.

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Q:What is the most common form of sexual dysfunction in younger men?

A:Premature ejaculation.

Premature ejaculation occurs when a male experiences orgasm early in the sexual encounter, even if there is little stimulation directly to the penis. About 20% to 30% of males may have premature ejaculation and it may cause significant emotional distress to the point of men trying to avoid sexual intimacy. While most men surveyed would like to prolong their time to ejaculation, the average length of time to maintain an erection before ejaculation is approximately 5 to 8 minutes.

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Q:From the famous term "G-spot," what is the "G" short for?

A:Gräfenberg.

The ability of a woman to achieve orgasm requires more than stimulating one area of the vagina. Dr. Ernst Gräfenberg suggested that an area on the front wall of the vagina beneath the pelvic bone, the G-spot, might also be responsible for achieving orgasm. This remains a theoretical concept. The G-spot is anatomically apart from the clitoris.

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