Sex & Love FAQs
Reviewed by Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD
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Q:Which chemical is known simply as the “hormone of love”?
A:Oxytocin. Oxytocin (ock-see-TOW-sin), sometimes called the “hormone of love” (as well as the “hormone of comfort”), is plentiful in women in labor and in lactating women, and is released by men and women during orgasm. Because studies have shown that oxytocin also has a role in pair bonding, mate-guarding, and social memory, some human studies have suggested it plays a role in maintaining interpersonal relationships.
Q:Which promotes better sleep: Having sex or being in love?
A:Having sex. The oxytocin released during orgasm also promotes sleep, according to research. And getting enough sleep has been linked with a host of other good things, such as maintaining a healthy weight and blood pressure. Something to think about, especially if you've been wondering why your guy can be active one minute and snoring the next!
Q:Love involves three basic brain circuits. True or False?
A:True. Compulsion, the “you belong to me” phase. Love involves three basic brain circuits, according to Helen Fisher, cultural anthropologist and author. There's the sex drive, which motivates us to seek out partners; romantic love, the in-the-clouds feeling when you first fall in love; and the attachment phase, the comfortable-but-fewer-fireworks stage.
Q:In terms of erectile dysfunction, ginseng is thought to work like Viagra®. True or False?
A:True. Ginseng, like a lot of herbs, is thought to work by helping the body make more nitric oxide -- as does Viagra®," says Christopher Saigal, MD, assistant professor of urology at UCLA School of Medicine. "A couple of good studies showed some effect from ginseng, so people can look at this as an alternative to Viagra®. But it's not going to be as effective as Viagra®, Levitra®, or Cialis®.”
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. Aside from biology and brain activity, body odor is important and help may dictate who we are attracted to and our romantic behavior. Experts have found that a person will seek out a partner with MHC genes (genes of the immune system that distinguish self from non-self) different than his or her own.
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.
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. Both men and women experience these phases, although the timing usually is different. For example, it is unlikely that both partners will reach orgasm at the same time. In addition, the intensity of the response and the time spent in each phase varies from person to person. Understanding these differences may help partners better understand one another's bodies and responses, and enhance the sexual experience.
Q:People have sex as an expression of gratitude. True or False?
A:True. Sexual motivations generally fall into four main categories: Physical reasons: Pleasure, stress relief, exercise, sexual curiosity, or attraction to a person. Goal-based reasons: To make a baby, improve social status (for example, to become popular), or seek revenge. Emotional reasons: Love, commitment, and gratitude. Insecurity reasons: To boost self-esteem, keep a partner from seeking sex elsewhere, or because of a feeling of duty or pressure (for example, a partner insists on having sex).
Q:What is “limerence”?
A:Limerence is the scientific term for being “in love”. Beginning in 1965, a psychologist named Dorothy Tennov began to study the state of being in love as something different from other ways that people love each other. In 1979, she published a book summing up her research, in which she coined a new scientific term for "in love." She called it "limerence."
Q:To the brain, being in love is similar to the high produced by cocaine. True or False?
A:True. Dopamine is a feel-good brain chemical. When the brain is flooded with dopamine, we feel various degrees of well-being, from contentment to euphoria. High dopamine levels may be related to the "high" people experience early in a love affair. People in love also tend to notice less need for sleep, extra energy, and decreased appetite. Some scientists think it's no coincidence that these are also common effects of amphetamines and cocaine, which alter the mind mainly by raising dopamine levels.
Q:Approximately how long do people stay in love?
A:People generally stay in love from six to 18 months. The "in-love" stage of a love affair typically lasts six to 18 months, and occasionally as long as three years, says Denise Bartell, PhD, psychologist at the University of Wisconsin, Green Bay. But it does wane at some point. People get used to loving each other, maybe in the same way that people develop tolerance to the effects of mind-altering drugs. Something keeps people together after the thrill wears off, however.
Q:Sex reduces pain and boosts immunity from infections and colds. True or False?
A:True. Good sexual health may mean better physical health. Having sex once or twice a week has been linked with higher levels of an antibody called immunoglobulin A or IgA, which can protect you from getting colds and other infections. Scientists at Wilkes University in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., took samples of saliva, which contain IgA, from 112 college students and compared IgA levels with their reported sex frequency. As the hormone oxytocin surges, endorphins increase, and pain declines. So if your headache, arthritis pain, or PMS symptoms seem to improve after sex, you can thank those higher oxytocin levels!
Q:Antidepressants can cause low libido. True or False?
A:Antidepressants among other medications can be responsible for low libido. Other drugs commonly linked to low libido include antihistamines, chemotherapy, anti-HIV drugs, finasteride, synthetic progesterone-medroxyprogesterone, and blood pressure medications.
Q:What can women do in terms of their own genital enhancement?
A:Women can enhance their genital by doing Kegel exercises, vaginal weight training, and resculpting surgery. Hundreds of women have had their vaginas tightened and resculpted in recent years, either to make the opening narrower and stronger, or to improve upon the appearance of the labia. Some of the surgical procedures are adaptations of medical techniques used for decades to treat women with urinary stress incontinence (urine leakage because of weak muscles), or uterine prolapse (uterus drops toward or beyond the vaginal canal). The use of weighted vaginal cones and/or Kegel exercises to increase muscle strength were both found to improve tone and decrease urine loss. While some of these studies did not measure vaginal tightness per se, when muscle bulk is increased, a woman can voluntarily contract those muscles to make the vaginal opening tighter.
Q:What are the Bartholin glands?
A:Bartholin glands are lubricating glands in female sex organs. The Bartholin glands are in a woman's genital area. They are two pea-sized organs under the skin. They are on either side of the folds of skin (labia) that surround the vagina and urethra. Normally, you cannot feel or see the Bartholin glands. The Bartholin glands make a small amount of fluid that moistens the outer genital area, or vulva. This fluid comes out of two tiny tubes next to the opening of the vagina. These tubes are called Bartholin ducts.
Q:Bacterial vaginosis is NOT a sexually-transmitted disease. True or False?
A:True. Bacterial vaginosis is not a sexually-transmitted disease. Certain factors have been identified that increase the chances of developing bacterial vaginosis. These include multiple or new sexual partners, intrauterine devices for contraception, recent antibiotic use, vaginal douching, and cigarette smoking. However, the role of sexual activity in the development of the condition is not fully understood, and bacterial vaginosis can still develop in women who have not had sexual intercourse.
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. For women, one of the most common causes of arousal dysfunction is day-to-day discord with their partners. Another common cause is inadequate stimulation by the partner. Sexual desire also can wane for a woman as she ages, although this varies greatly from person to person.
Q:What is the most common form of sexual dysfunction in younger men?
A:Premature ejaculation. Premature ejaculation is "the most common form of sexual dysfunction in younger men" according to Ira Sharlip, MD, clinical professor of urology at the University of California at San Francisco and president of the International Society for Sexual Medicine. Sharlip adds, “And its prevalence is around 20% to 30% in men of all ages.”
Q:From the famous term “G-spot,” what is the “G " short for?
A:Gräfenberg. Though the existence of an actual “G-spot” is debatable, it was named after a German doctor, Ernst Gräfenberg, who first wrote about an erogenous zone in the anterior vaginal wall. The G-spot was popularized by a 1982 book called The G-spot. This region behind the pubic bone is often credited as the trigger for a vaginal (vs. clitoral) orgasm, and even a catalyst for female ejaculation.
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