Science of Love, Sex, and Babies

POLL: Love blockers –would you take them?

Posted in news, Polls and Surveys by jenapincott on January 14, 2009

Is this the end of love as we know it — exasperating, unpredictable, uncontrollable, and full of rogue potential? Does the future offer sex without emotional mayhem? Fuss-free breakups?

“Love is dead.” “Anti-love drug may be ticket to bliss.” Such are today’s headlines trumpeting the research of neuroscientist Larry Young. Dr Young and his team at Yerkes Research Center are best known for their studies on the love lives of more-or-less monogamous prairie voles. (In BLONDES I describe their fascinating views on the genetic and hormonal basis of bonding and what it might mean for humans. On a related topic, check out my cheating gene post.) The first question inspired by this research is “Can a drug make you fall in love?” The flip side of this coin is just as rich: “Can a drug prevent you from falling in love?”

For now it’s all speculation, but many researchers, including Dr Young, believe the latter is possible. (Fewer care to speculate on the former. Given how difficult love is to define, it’s easier to say you can prevent it than invoke it.) The gist of the idea is that a drug could short-circuit the biochemical pathways that flood the “emotional bonding regions” of the brain with neurohormones such as oxytocin and vasopressin. Just as morning-after pills work by preventing fertilized eggs from implanting, so the “anti-love drug” — oxytocin or vasopressin blockers — would prevent emotional seeds from taking root. Female voles who are given anti-love drugs can mate with a male dozens of times and fail to exhibit any of their usual bonding tendencies, no matter how affectionate the males.

What good is an anti-love drug? The possibilities abound. A few nasal puffs and a woman may more easily have “sex like a man,” feeling pleasure but free of the morning-after anxiety of whether he’s “all that into her.” People in addictive, abusive relationships could just pick up and carry on. Couples may have open marriages without emotional messiness. There may be fewer midlife crises involving trophy wives and umbrella boys. Sex would be only sex. The anti-love drug could be a temporary fix of sanity.

But would you dare take it — even on a short-term basis? At risk of throwing the poll above, my vote is no. What sort of human beings would we be without a range and depth of emotional experience? The angst and anguish of lost love. The self-mending. Even the melancholic savor. What would we learn about ourselves without it? Even in the twenty-first century I’d say it’s better to love and lose than never to love at all.

4 Responses

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  1. judy said, on January 16, 2009 at 9:51 pm

    you’re right, i think (though i didn’t let you influence my answer to the survey question). the messiness of love, in the end, makes us better humans. that’s my story, anyway, and i’m sticking to it.

  2. […] addressed in the book. This week, John Terney’s interview with neuroscientist Larry Young on love blockers also touched upon breasts. According to Young, “more frequent sex and more attention to […]

  3. […] Applied to our love loves, the big break-up blowout seems much more intimidating than the slow attenuation of affection. We overestimate the pain of the former and underestimate the tragedy of the latter. That’s why, for some of us, it takes years to break up — even when a relationship is abusive or too tired or troubled to fix. As discussed in BLONDES, the impact bias is a self-protection measure. From an evolutionary perspective, It gives us the hope and drive we need to cultivate good in our lives. It helps us value what we have, and it can prevent us from being impetuous and destructive. (As a result, we’ll probably take love-preserving drugs in the future.) The downside is that we sometimes stymie and sabotage ourselves out of fear of losing something that has less value than we think. (A plausible argument for fall-out-of-love drugs.) […]

  4. LrsDude said, on October 22, 2009 at 4:18 am

    I know a girl who has actually considered hypnosis as a possible way to stop sleeping with a man who is pathologically unfaithful, but she can’t seem to get over. Perhaps this would be a good medical alternative for her. The whole idea recalls the film “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”; be good to me, or I’ll erase my memory of you.

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