“Novelty is the greatest aphrodisiac.” It was my signature line for… um, a while. Call it 1984 up to the new millennium. That, and “Always celebrate your birthday by sleeping with someone half your age.” Who knew there was a neurological reason for my — let’s call it “gossipworthy” behavior?
I’ve been studying this subject of love and sex addiction a lot lately, reading serious medical and psychology books and learning how to say “Girl, you crazy” in more elegant ways. A line in Patrick Carnes “Out of the Shadows: Understanding Sexual Addiction” struck me with some force. “The intoxication of young love is what the addict attempts to capture.”
“Intoxication” is italicized in Carnes’ book; I didn’t add the emphasis. As with any addiction, intoxication is the key. What’s not to love about euphoria? Carnes mostly talks about hard-core sex addiction in his book — public weenie-wagging, crippling massage parlor bills, banging the White House intern — but the phenomenon applies every bit as much to love addiction.
The love addict is chasing the first high just like the sex addict or the coke addict is. Who can forget that ephemeral, blissful, eternal young love, love that was all-encompassing and immortal? Just like the first coke high, it’s also unrepeatable. That doesn’t stop some of us from trying.
Here’s what I discovered: There’s an organic reason for this behavior. Or at least, an organic basis for it. The sensation – it’s not really an emotion as much as a drive, according to anthropologists – of “new love” happens in the caudate region of the brain. Dr. Helen Fisher stuck freshly infatuated grad students into an fMRI and actually watched their brains light up right smack dab in that 65-million-year-old reptilian part of the noggin. The same part that monitors hunger and thirst and the need for air.
The neurotransmitter that lights up the caudate region is our old friend dopamine, the brain’s own personal party drug. Dopamine is the neurotransmitter that stimulates the brain’s reward centers and you know what spikes our dopamine production? The new and unfamiliar. It’s a caveman survival tactic. “That unrushing beast doesn’t look familiar to me. I think I will leave the area. Quickly.” New experiences elevate breathing, blood flow and heart rate, and trigger testosterone production. You know what testosterone does? It makes you horny.
Which returns me to square one. Novelty really is a great aphrodisiac. Question is, do we want to spend our lives on square one, or are we interesting in moving forward?