Love in the Lab: Top 5 Historical Discoveries About Sex


1
Piecing Together Sex and Love
How do sex and love relate?
How do sex and love relate?
Elizabeth Hachem/Getty Images

With the biology of the birds and the bees firmly in place by the latter half of the 20th century, the compulsion to have sex with a monogamous partner was widely considered a matter of the metaphorical heart, rather than the physical body. Although sex and love intermingled in the bedroom, how they intermingled in the brain remained unclear until neuroendocrinologist C. Sue Carter began playing with a bunch of prairie voles in the early 1990s [source: Johnson].

The rodents were known for their monogamous, lifelong pair bonding -- a rarity in the animal kingdom, where promiscuity is the rule, rather than the exception. Carter correctly suspected the voles' fidelity had something to with how their brains processed oxytocin, a neurochemical in the brain associated mother-child bonding that's also released during sex [source: Carter]. Picking up Carter's cue in 1998, neurobiologist Thomas R. Insel analyzed prairie vole brains and noticed a striking distinction. Unlike their nonmonogamous montane vole cousins, the prairie voles oxytocin and dopamine receptors were clustered together, linking together the neurochemicals' effects of bonding and pleasure [source: Young, Wang and Insel]. That brain chemistry translates to a physiological incentive to not just find a sexual partner for a night, but rather one to grow old with. Further neurological research confirmed a similar oxytocin receptor arrangement in the human brain, thus explaining why the deep, passionate love between two people that Greek philosophers had long-pondered has persisted through the ages.

Related Articles

Sources

  • Angier, Natalie. "Sleek, Fast and Focused: The Cells That Make Dad Dad." The New York Times. June 12, 2007. (Feb. 17, 2012) http://www.nytimes.com/2007/06/12/science/12angi.html
  • Bernard, Raymond W. "The Mysteries of Human Reproduction." Health Research Books. March 01, 1994. (Feb. 17, 2012) http://books.google.com/books?id=thbvifQ5DhwC&dq=1875+human+fertilization&source=gbs_navlinks_s
  • Brind'Amour, Katherine and Garcia, Benjamin. The Embryo Project Encyclopedia. "Wilhelm August Oscar Hertwig." 2007. (Feb. 17, 2012) http://embryo.asu.edu/view/embryo:124764
  • Carter, C. Sue. "Oxytocin and Sexual Behavior." Neuroscience and Behavioral Reviews. 1992. (Feb. 17, 2012) http://66.199.228.237/boundary/Sexual_Addiction/oxytocin_love_sex.pdf
  • CatonnĂ©, JP. "Hippocratic concept of hysteria." Annals of Medical Psychology. December 1992. (Feb. 17, 2012) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1343498
  • CBC. "Timeline: Assisted reproduction and birth control." Updated June 03, 2007. (Feb. 17, 2012) http://www.cbc.ca/news/background/genetics_reproduction/timeline.html
  • Freudenrich, Craig and Edmonds, Molly. "How Human Reproduction Works. HowStuffWorks.com. (Feb. 17, 2012) https://www.howstuffworks.com/environmental/life/human-biology/human-reproduction.htm
  • Johnson, Steven. "Emotions and the Brain: Love." Discover. June 01, 2003. (Feb. 17, 2012) http://discovermagazine.com/2003/may/featlove/article_print
  • Karamanou, M. "Anton van Leeuwenhoek (1632-1723): Father of micromorphology and discoverer of spermatozoa." Argentina Journal of Microbiology. 2010. (Feb. 24, 2012) http://www.scielo.org.ar/pdf/ram/v42n4/v42n4a13.pdf
  • PBS. "Publication of the Ovum Humanum." American Experience. (Feb. 17, 2012) http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/features/general-article/babies-ovum-humanum-1960/
  • Phillips, Ellen. "Everything You Need to Know about Menopause." Rodale. 2003. (Feb. 17, 2012) http://books.google.com/books?id=Kqluq5dBrCEC&dq=1927+estrogen+fertility+cycle&source=gbs_navlinks_s
  • Price, Dorothy. "Mammalian Conception, Sex Differentiation, and Hermaphroditism as Viewed in Historical Perspective." American Zoology. Vol. 12, No. 02. 1972. (Feb. 17, 2012) http://icb.oxfordjournals.org/content/12/2/179.abstract
  • RadioLab. "Why so many sperm?" Season 5, Episode 2. (Feb. 17, 2012) http://www.radiolab.org/2008/dec/01/why-so-many-sperm/
  • Syritsa, Andrei and Kalm, S. "Karl Ernst von Baer and the discovery the human ovum." Taylor & Francis. April 15, 1999. (Feb. 17, 2012) http://books.google.com/books?id=piOSFSzJW30C&dq=Karl+Ernst+von+Baer+ovum&source=gbs_navlinks_s
  • University of California Museum of Paleontology. "Antony van Leeuwenhoek." (Feb. 17, 2012) http://www.ucmp.berkeley.edu/history/leeuwenhoek.html
  • University of Manchester. "More sex please, we're Greek: exposing the myth of Platonic love."PhysOrg. Aug. 19, 2011. (Feb. 17, 2012) http://www.physorg.com/news/2011-08-sex-greek-exposing-myth-platonic.html
  • Von Baer, Karl Ernst. "On the Genesis of the Ovum of Mammals and Man." June 1956. JSTOR. (Feb. 17, 2012) http://www.jstor.org/pss/227335
  • Young, Larry J.; Wang, Zuoxin; and Insel Thomas R. "Neuroendocrine bases of monogamy." Trends in Neuroscience. Cell. February 1998. http://www.cell.com/trends/neurosciences/abstract/S0166-2236%2897%2901167-3

UP NEXT

A Controversial Female Libido Enhancer Is Reborn

A Controversial Female Libido Enhancer Is Reborn

The female libido enhancer has been rebooted. HowStuffWorks looks at the reintroduction of Addyi.


More to Explore