There’s always a lot of twist when news of so-called “love drugs” comes out – which happens every few years. This week, Oxford University anthropologist Dr Anna Machin told the Cheltenham Science Festival that love drugs – compounds that could help us fall or stay in love are “on the horizon …
“MDMA, for people who go clubbing, makes them feel like they like everyone in the room. But users also have a surge of empathy, so it could be used to help those struggling in their marriage,” she pointed out, explaining that at the neurochemical level, love is largely the work of four hormones: dopamine, serotonin, beta endorphin, and oxytocin. Theoretically, stimulating the production of these hormones would have the effect, if not of making a person fall in love, at least of making them more open.
Critics say this is a dangerous new frontier for big pharma – that there is something macabre about the idea of introducing a chemical agent into the complex business of finding a partner, to fall in love and stay together. Because, if we’ve taken a little something to help bridge the cracks in a strained marriage, how can we be sure the love is real and not the work of drugs?
Valid ethical considerations but, as far as I’m concerned, these are the wrong questions to ask. Love drugs have been around in one form or another for millennia. Hear me out: How is a bump of certain pharmacologically refined MDMA derivatives different from chilling with a few glasses (bottles?) of wine. Alcohol is a well-known (and widely used) drug that lowers inhibitions enough to get people talking – in veritas vino and all that. Meanwhile, its depressant properties can help numb any unpleasant feelings of dissatisfaction. All in all, a potent chemical intervention that can have a profound impact on how we feel and interact with our partners (especially when consumed often).
And alcohol is at the pedestrian end of the scale. For women, several solid studies over the past decade have shown that hormonal contraceptives can affect who we choose as a partner – and how long we stay with that person. In fact, a study of newlyweds found that women who met their partner while on the pill were more likely to find them unattractive when they came off the pill, which had a profound impact on their satisfaction. within the relationship. What was at work when they met – the real attraction or the drugs? These studies seem to imply that the answer is far from simple.
For both men and women, common SSRI antidepressants are well known to affect sex drive, attraction, and the way we interact with those close to us. These drugs are widely distributed and well known for inserting themselves into our interpersonal relationships – for changing the way we react to our partners – the fact that we do not think of them as ‘love drugs’ or ‘anti-drugs’. -love” is simply a marketing gimmick.
In fact, if we agree that a “relationship” is actually a set of actions we take to signal how we feel about another person, then love drugs are all around us. Viagra, for example, helps some men perform one of the actions of intimacy. We may hold our own feelings in high regard, but as all research on contraceptives shows, how we feel about another person is open to manipulation.
So if someone comes up with a nasal spray (and oxytocin nasal sprays are already widely available on Amazon – a pump to feel loved) to spice up a long-term relationship, then fire it up, I’m all for it. Anything to ease the boredom of having the same five conversations (“What time are you home?”, “We’re having dinner at two for ten?”, “Do you have my charger?” , etc.) again and again until death.