Mother Nature's Trump Card

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loversAh, women. They make the highs higher and the lows more frequent. - Friedrich Nietzsche

Ever wonder why you can stay obsessed with a potential lover...until you have sex? Or why masturbation doesn't have the same aftereffect of orgasm during intercourse?

Scientists have just learned that prolactin rises 400 percent more after sexual satiety with intercourse than it does after masturbation. In other words, Mother Nature knows whether you actually complete the task she has set you. There is no rest for the lonely; they haven't delivered their genes.

Although you may assume that the greater satiety that follows intercourse equates with greater satisfaction, you could be ignoring the full cycle of the aftereffects. Certainly a generous exchange of affection is always nourishing and satisfying. However, a feeling of "I'm definitely, absolutely, emphatically DONE" can endanger the harmony between lovers - especially if this feeling lingers over the days following an intimate encounter. (Scientists haven't yet investigated the duration of the post-orgasmic changes, but here's some of the scant evidence that points to longer-term effects.)

Why the distress? For one thing, prolactin can hold down levels of the vital neurotransmitter dopamine. Low dopamine doesn't feel good, as this healthy young medical student discovered while helping with some research.

morning afterFor another, a neurochemical hangover that causes a man to roll over and snore may satiate in the moment, but can also produce a compelling urge to get away from his lover soon afterward. Unconsciously, he wants his libido to return - not a continuing cold shower of prolactin. In short, the discovery of high prolactin after intercourse may reveal the wisdom in that poignant question, "But will you still love me in the morning?" Prolactin rises in women after orgasm, too, and may contribute to her clingy or distancing behavior and emotional over-reactions.

Your biological design assures you that satisfaction lies in scratching your itches hard, in hopes of finding lasting relief. But biology's goals are not served by lasting relief. You are designed never to find enduring satisfaction or equilibrium. To accomplish its goals, biology must be able to continue to manipulate you with cravings. Indeed, you are programmed to grab all opportunities as they arise. Yet this tendency to overindulge - which served admirably to multiply the species - does not serve you. It leaves you vulnerable to binge cycles, with recurring lows that drive you to indulge again and again. No wonder the Buddhists say that desires are the source of human misery.

What to do?

Neither cravings nor their temporary satiation is as satisfying as balance. Balance means your dopamine (the craving neurochemical) is neither too high nor too low. Either extreme can create problems. Balanced dopamine, in turn, helps to balance other key neurochemicals.

Balance is what gives healthy pre-pubescent children, regular meditators, and those who consciously practice controlled intercourse a natural vibrancy. Simple pleasures delight those whose equilibrium is in tact. Each day is an adventure and feelings of wellbeing become the norm.

balanceSuch people rarely seek chemical mood adjustments...or the many substitutes most of humanity uses to self-medicate: comfort food, alcohol, orgasm, extreme sports, and so forth. The promise of such enticements can move armies...and suicide bombers. For example, Islamic texts maintain that in heaven martyrs will be able to eat as much food, and drink as much alcohol as they like without ill effect. They will also be granted "perpetual virgins" (houris) with whom they can freely indulge forever without exhaustion.

Unfortunately, here on earth, many people desperately pursue these same activities and substances, thereby eroding their precious inner balance. As the easy joy that is their birthright fades away, they can grow cynical or fearful.

You have two choices in life: you can stay single and be miserable, or get married...and wish you were dead. - W.W. Renwick

This high/low pattern, which weakens inner equilibrium shows up in our sex lives. (For a discussion of the neurochemical shifts behind lovers' changing feelings see "Why Does A Lover Pull Away after Sex?") Yet other behaviors driven by the reward center also set it off. Sugar and alcohol, for example, can have an effect on the brain that is drug-like. Julia Ross explains:

If we have enough [of the neurotransmitters that create our moods], our emotions are stable. When they are depleted, or out of balance, what we call "pseudo-emotions" can result. These false moods can be every bit as distressing as those triggered by abuse, loss or trauma. They can drive us to [addictions].

How often have you heard unhappy lovers make remarks like these? "He was so different when we first got together. "She changed completely after we got serious." "I need to end this relationship to find myself again."

High prolactin after sex may well contribute to pseudo-emotions that shift our perception of each other and distort our behavior. Certainly, mood changes are associated with high prolactin. So if you sense that you are not behaving like the person you truly are, you need not end your relationship to find inner peace. If you experiment with making love differently you may discover a way to elude biology's trump card of intense cravings in all areas of your life.