Lust and Love Explained in the Brain


Lust is the sexual desire and attraction one person feels towards another, and it can be felt for more than one person at a time. Jealousy is not generally associated with sexual attraction. People associate love with more than sexual attraction, although research shows that lust and love are controlled and explained by the same regions of the brain.

According to NBC, in an article from July 2012, the initial sexual desire that people experience can change into love, although one of the professors in the article cautions people not to assume that this will always happen. Lust does not always lead to love.

Researchers reviewed 20 studies and found similarities in regions that were activated when people felt lust and when they felt love. Love and sexual desire activate different areas of the striatum. Lust activates the reward system, otherwise known as the ventral striatum. This same area is active during an orgasm or even while eating a great meal or dessert. The dorsal striatum, which lights up when love is the active emotion is also the region associated with drug addiction.

The article does not say that love is a drug, but that it acts like a drug addiction. This could explain why people feel the way they do when a relationship ends. People can feel cravings for love and the breakup can lead to withdrawal. In this way the brain is acting like it is experiencing an addiction.

There was also evidence of an overlap of love and lust in the insula. This area of the brain is responsible for creating meaning out of people’s emotions giving scientific explanations to people about why they feel love or lust. Giving meaning to an emotion is an act of transference or projection.

These regions in the brain are why people see only the good in the first phase of physical attraction and may not see the flaws in another person. There are signs, according to Psychology Today, for someone to know if they are still in the initial lust phase, or if they have moved past the sexual attraction and more towards love.

Pure lust is complete focus on how the other person looks. Interest is only in sex – there is no need for conversation. Those in a relationship based on lust will not discuss feelings, but will leave soon after sex and are not friends outside of the bedroom.

Love means spending time together outside of sex, having conversations and talking about feelings and emotions. Moving past lust to love creates intimate connections between people, according to the same Psychology Today article.

Feeling lust and love are not separate per the NBC article. The feelings listed above are valid, but they are not an either/or set of feelings because the same areas of the brain control them. The overlapping areas of the brain explain that lust and love are not always separate. An analogy is given: even during love at first sight, the couple does not want to go play a game of scrabble. They want to consummate their new relationship.

By Sara Kourtsounis

Psychology Today

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