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Chemical Soup

Our human brains use sophisticated electro-chemical processes whenever we laugh, cry, learn, fight or love and bond. The strategy our brain uses for bonding utilizes a chemical cocktail which makes us feel good about ourselves, and by association, about the person we see and/or are with when the chemicals are released in our brain.

Ethologists tell us that we begin the process of using bonding chemicals at around 7-8 weeks when we wake up and see our mom's eyes; they say we bond with mom and that mom's bond with us. They say that mom's and babies 'fall in love' as a way to cement the connections which must exist to insure that baby will receive proper care. This is the 'natural' or 'common' way these things happen; we all know, of course, that there are exceptions for orphans, moms with post-partum depression, etc. Nevertheless we seem to be pre-wired to behave in certain ways and we utilize this bonding process throughout our lifespan.

Of course, we are all familiar with the use of these chemicals later in life. Even if we've never actually pondered the chemical reactions, we've all had that sensation of 'falling in love', that overwhelming feeling of happiness and closeness. When we make that sacramental leap into marriage, we experience these chemicals at a new level; we discover that intercourse brings on the most powerful drug sensations we ever experience. The scientists would tell us that we seem to be hard-wired to desire and thrive in this state; I'm always amazed at the way science seems to confirm the version of events in the Bible.

Leading up to and at that moment of orgasm, our brains release a powerful chemical cocktail of dopamine, norepinephrine, testosterone, oxytocin and serotonin; no wonder it is so exhilarating! You will probably recognize some of those names: dopamine, the endogenous morphine-like chemical triggers feelings of ecstasy, excitement and a sense of well-being.

Norepinephrine gives us a shot of adrenaline, literally. In marriage, norepinephrine provides the shot which sears our partner's features into our brains helping us to always see our spouse as the source of much pleasure. Unfortunately, when we have sexual stimulation without our spouse, our brain can't tell the difference.

Testosterone is also released, in both men and women; known as the 'hormone of sexual desire', it triggers positive feelings for the object of our desire. We release varying quantities of these three chemicals as we approach orgasm or even when we engage in such 'harmless' activities as flirting or talking in chat rooms.

If the chemical concoction stopped there, we might think that these chemicals indiscriminately work only to insure procreation but that's not the end of the story. I used to believe that but it doesn’t end there.  Oxytocin triggers climax and causes us to enjoy and desire bonding, more bonding. Oxytocin levels spike at climax cementing our desire to bond. In Hooked, New Science in How Casual Sex is Affecting Our Children by McIlHaney and Bush, they say oxytocin causes our female partners "to desire this same kind of contact again and again with this man she has bonded to, producing even stronger bonding."

Another chemical, vasopressin, aids the bonding of the male to his partner and to the offspring produced in the union. When used in the marriage setting, oxytocin and vasopressin are an integral part of the chemical stimulus to make our brains desire the lifelong partnership we call marriage.

Think about it: if a couple produces 6 offspring, spaced two to three years apart, and we raise them to adulthood; perhaps 15-20 years, the partnership of the man and the woman will need to last 30-40 years; this is even before we discuss the chemical role played in grand parenting. The two people will, of course, go through ups and downs, trials and tribulations, lean times and so on. Under 'natural' circumstances, this bonding mechanism works to insure that our married pair would stay together ad infinitum. It turns out that what science tells us is really identical to Biblical teachings. So why does this go so wrong?

Our brains don't distinguish between our marital pairings and our use of pornography. These powerful chemicals are released even when we are only 'making love' to pixels on a computer screen. This is not totally new in history; the chemicals are also released with prostitutes, during masturbation, in affairs, and incest. It is not totally new but the seeming ubiquitous nature of sexually suggestive material probably is totally new; it seems likely that our brains are not equipped for what we can easily be exposed to in our modern life. Even without any 'real' pornography, we are typically exposed to 15-20 sexually suggestive (or worse) situations during every hour of mainstream prime time television. We will literally begin to initiate the sexual chemical soup if we allow our brains to lock into those moments… have you ever noticed that sensation of momentarily fantasizing? This can happen 15-20 times per hour. Once we allow ourselves to become 'tolerant' of those messages, it isn't a large stretch to introduce 'real' pornography. Combine that with a crippled heart and masturbation and a full-fledged addict is born. If not you, think about your children.