A phenomenal number of factors play into the act of falling in love—personality, shared interests, compatability, and well, let’s be frank, sexual attraction—but at least some of the magnetisim between two individuals is a little more primal, due to a potent vial of chemicals released in our bodies when we are near a special someone.
Even G-rated physical contact like holding hands or a quick smooch sends a cascade of hormones coursing through your being. However, did you know your body’s chemistry set can be set off via non-physical contact: When eyes meet… when you get a whiff of someone… or even when you merely think of a loved one who is miles away?
Birth Control and Deodorant = Less Hookups?
Birth control and cleanliness, two of the wonders of modern life, betray us when it comes to exploiting our natural body chemistry to attract the opposite sex. Counter-intuitive? Absolutely, but this is reasonable on a biochemical level. Our bodies emit scents that attract the opposite sex, but western standards of “fresh and clean as a whistle” often cover these natural attractants.
In a 1995 study, scientists asked ovulating women to determine desire for a male-based solely on the scent of shirts worn by men for two days without wearing deodorant. Women overwhelmingly designated the shirts worn by males with a genetically different set of immunities to be more attractive, showing that a primal, scent-based system of mate selection exists. Thanks to our standards of hygiene, however, the genetic utility of these scents is tossed aside.
Ovulation Brings the Boys to the Yard
The female body’s act of releasing an egg from an ovary doesn’t sound sexy, but it turns out this short period of high fertility may represent the peak of a woman’s attractiveness. Just being near an ovulating woman increases the testosterone levels in men.
Ovulation also plays a role in piquing the interest of the opposite sex. A 2012 study, Women’s body movements are a potential cue to ovulation, recorded video of forty-eight women dancing. Researchers recorded each woman at multiple intervals during their menstrual cycle to see if their movements changed depending on their distance in time from ovulation. The scientists showed the silhouettes of the videos to over 200 men, with the men overwhelmingly showing a preference for the dancing silhouettes of women in the midst of ovulation.
Interestingly, ovulation also tempts women to seek out men outside their pool of regular partners. It is theorized that this is tied to a primal desire to vary the possible traits swimming around in the gene pool of offspring.
Giddy Feelings and Obsession
The giddy, euphoric feeling one gets in the first stages of love is primarily due to the small molecule called dopamine. It acts as a stimulant that reinforces actions with positive feelings. Oddly but logically, dopamine is also related to obsessive compulsions as well. Another molecule called norepinephrine leads to the rush of excitement and increased heart beat.
These biochemical effects might explain the crazy girl or boy in your past that could not seem to quit contacting you after a two-week fling.
Oxytocin: The Natural Drug of Choice
Oxytocin is an incredibly important hormone that comes to the forefront during and after physical contact. This massive molecule is released by the pituitary gland and observed in higher concentrations in the blood stream of both males and females after orgasm.
Neurologically, oxytocin makes you feel amazing; it decreases anxiety and leaves you with a happy feeling. Bottle this up, and you’ve got one amazing pharmaceutical. The positive neurological stimulation of oxytocin provides a chemical explanation for bonding between two individuals. Human experiments have showed than an increase in oxytocin concentration leads to a decrease in fear and an increase in trust.
While mankind is still in its infancy in understanding how these chemicals affect human relationships and sexual attraction, there are a number of identified chemicals that play a role in picking a mate. So the next time you find someone inexplicably attractive, science might just be playing one of its many tricks on you.