You'll be hard-pressed to open a magazine or go to a news site without seeing headlines like these. Human relationships, desire, love and sex have been written about and rationalized since time immemorial, it's no wonder that modern scientists continually try to dissect their mysteries. But what can our minds really tell us about matters of the heart?
That's exactly what author Kayt Sukel, who has a background in neuroscience, set out to find out. The result was her new book, "Dirty Minds: How Our Brains Influence Love, Sex and Relationships." Part of her exploratory journey even included being a lab rat for a study on female orgasms -- a study which produced a pretty incredible video of a woman's brain during climax. The experiment involved masturbating to orgasm ... while strapped into an fMRI machine. It may not have been her sexiest moment, but Sukel says she didn't let the circumstances affect her performance.
"My Type-A personality and refusal to accept failure probably helped me along," she said, laughing. "It was kind of a 'Little Engine That Could' moment."
It's hard not to admire that spirit of determination. We had a chance to pick Sukel's brain and find out what women really need to know when it comes to the science of sex.
Slideshow: 5 Things To Know About The Brain, Love, Sex And Desire
In recent years there has been a lot of talk about pheremones -- chemicals that have the ability to trigger a social (and potentially sexual) response from members of the same species. Some companies have even begun bottling these chemicals, urging consumers to use them as cologne and "enhance your sex life." According to Sukel, these bottled pheromones are little more than marketing. "As of now there's no good scientific study that shows that these sprays actually work," she said. "But there are plenty of people who use them and claim they're the best thing ever. The placebo effect really works."
Oxytocin, a hormone primarily used by the body during sexual reproduction, also has some mood-enhancing properties. And when you feel good, you'll likely fare better in all parts of life -- including your love life. Sukel says that Oxytocin is definitely "a very good thing." However, she urges women to forget any artificial forms of the hormone and look for natural ways to get it instead. "Get [oxytocin] a natural way. Have sex and orgasms, get a massage, give a friendly hug, cuddle your dog," she said. "Biology doesn't work in a vaccuum ... You can buy [oxytocin] in a cute little bottle, but it's something that works in concert with dozens -- potentially hundreds -- of other chemicals [in the body] to get the correlational effects that we see."
"My grandmother always used a cliche: 'The best way to get over a broken heart is to fall in love again,'" said Sukel. "I think there may be something to that [idea]." While there certainly are chemical reactions that take place when we feel attraction, love and lust, Sukel says that these processes are just far too complex to contemplate creating a drug to fix a broken heart. Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately if we take a cue from the film "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind"), we're better off just letting time do the healing. Plus, Sukel says, the chemicals that affect feelings of love are also used for other purposes. And changing around your body's chemistry can be dangerous. "A love vaccine might be nice, but probably not at the price of my kidney function," said Sukel. We agree wholeheartedly.
As nice and simple as headlines often make scientific studies seem, it's always important to read them with a critical eye. "Look at what these researchers are actually studying," said Sukel. "So often there are these headlines that say 'His Genes Make Him Cheat' -- it's important to look deeper." So when you read an article, read it carefully and make sure to do a bit more research before you jump to any life-changing conclusions.
When scientists create studies they always start off with some assumptions (duh), and sometimes, these assumptions can be damaging to women. "There are a lot of biases, especially when it comes to women's roles in sex and relationships," said Sukel. "There's this idea that we all want to be in monogamous relationships, that we can't have sex without getting attached. That's not necessarily true. There's lots of contradictions in sex and love research." These contradictions become all too clear after you've read just a handful of articles giving self-help advice about love and sex. "For every book that says do A, there's another that says never ever do A," said Sukel. So ditch the advice column and make your own judgments.