Huffpost Women

From Sex To Love: Emotional Attachment And Sexual Desire Originate In Overlapping Parts Of The Brain (STUDY)

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Conventional (read: antiquated) dating wisdom tells us that men and women have totally different feelings about sex. Women automatically get emotionally attached, and men quickly flee to the next sexual partner. But a new study helps put this myth to rest.

The research, out of Concordia University in Montreal, indicates that emotional attachment can actually grow out of sexual desire. Psychologist Jim Pfaus and his research team sought to discover where feelings of love and of sexual desire originate in the brain. To do that they reviewed 20 past studies that scanned men's and women's brains with fMRI machines. They found that love and lust, two supposedly separate emotions, actually originate in the same location in the brain -- the insular cortex (insula) and striatum, reported MSNBC. That doesn't mean love and sex are the same thing, just that they’re not as separate as “The Rules” might have you believe. “Love and sex are clearly overlapping and they are different,” Jim Pfaus, a professor of psychology at Concordia told MSNBC. “You can have desire for sex without love.”

The study found that love and sex fall on a sort of neurological continuum. Both phenomena activate a section of the striatum (the part of the brain that receives messages from the cerebral cortex about emotions, memory and other functions). Lust causes the ventral striatum the part of the brain associated with emotion and motivation -- to "light up." Love activates the dorsal striatum, which impacts decision-making and is associated with drug addiction, reported MSNBC. (So when Ke$ha sang, “Your Love Is My Drug,” she was closer to the literal truth than she perhaps thought.) The researchers also discovered overlap between sexual desire and emotional love in the brain’s insular cortex, further demonstrating that lust can transition into love and vice versa. “Even love at first sight, can it happen? Of course it can happen," Pfaus told MSNBC. "And when it does happen, do you want to play Scrabble with each other? When it happens, you normally want to consummate it.”

So what does this study mean for women whose brains aren’t being scanned in an fMRI machine? Jezebel’s Lindy West read the study as a confirmation that the “don’t sleep with him or her on the first date” rule isn’t really grounded in reality. She wrote:

So there -- love can grow out of a sweaty one-night stand. I've seen it happen plenty of times; I don't know many young people who would admit to being morally opposed to casual sex; and yet the idea that, in general, waiting as long as possible is just nebulously better still completely pervades our culture.

The study also indicates that there may actually be a neurological basis for getting emotionally attached after a sexual encounter. "Love is actually a habit that is formed from sexual desire as desire is rewarded," Pfaus said in a press release. So if you tend to feel closer to someone after a sexual encounter, that may be at least in part about your brain working correctly -- not about you being needy. And according to the study, you probably aren’t ruining your chances of finding love if you decide to express your sexual desires before you act on your emotional ones. The two go hand in hand.

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