The Chemistry Between Us: Love, Sex, and the Science of Attraction

The Chemistry Between Us: Love, Sex, and the Science of Attraction

The Chemistry Between Us: Love, Sex, and the Science of Attraction

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How much control do we have over love? Much less than we like to think. All that mystery, all that poetry, all those complex behaviors sur­rounding human bonding leading to the most life-changing decisions we’ll ever make, are unconsciously driven by a few molecules in our brains.

How does love begin? How can two strangers come to the conclusion that it would not only be pleasant to share their lives, but that they must share them? How can a man say he loves his wife, yet still cheat on her? Why do others stay in relationships even after the ro­mance fades? How is it possible to fall in love with the “wrong” person? How do people come to have a “type”?

Physical attraction, jealousy, infidelity, mother-infant bonding—all the behaviors that so often leave us befuddled—are now being teased out of the fog of mystery thanks to today’s social neuroscience. Larry Young, one of the world’s leading experts in the field, and journalist Brian Alexander explain how those findings apply to you.

Drawing on real human stories and research from labs around the world, The Chemistry Between Us is a bold attempt to create a “grand unified theory” of love. Some of the mind-blowing insights include:

  • Love can get such a grip on us because it is, literally, an addiction.
  • To a woman falling in love, a man is like her baby.
  • Why it’s false to say society makes gender, and how it’s possible to have the body of one gender and the brain of another.
  • Why some people are more likely to cheat than others.
  • Why we sometimes truly can’t resist temptation.

Young and Alexander place their revelations into historical, political, and social contexts. In the pro­cess, they touch on everything from gay marriage to why single-mother households might not be good for society. The Chemistry Between Us offers powerful in­sights into love, sex, gender, sexual orientation, and family life that will prove to be enlightening, contro­versial, and thought provoking.

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3 Comments

  1. A. D. Thibeault said,

    Wrote on August 21, 2017 @ 11:46 am

    58 of 61 people found the following review helpful
    4.0 out of 5 stars
    A Brief Summary and Review, September 22, 2012
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    *A full summary of this book is available here: An Executive Summary of Larry Young and Brian Alexander’s ‘The Chemistry Between Us: Love, Sex, and the Science of Attraction’

    The main argument: Love and sex play a central role in the human drama. But when we talk about the emotions and decisions that we make in connection with them, we tend to remain strictly at the macro level, referring to people, and relationships, and our freely made choices. However, in their new book The Chemistry Between Us: Love, Sex and the Science of Attraction social neuroscientist Larry Young and journalist Brian Alexander contend that our biology and chemistry play a much bigger role in love and sex than most of us ever acknowledge (since Larry Young is the scientist behind the book [and responsible for the ideas therein], I will refer to him as the main author throughout). Young explores everything from gender identity (and sexual orientation), to romantic relationships (and parenting), to monogamy (and adultery), taking us inside our bodies to investigate the genes and hormones that influence our approach to love, sex and relationships. While the focus here is on us humans, the evidence comes not only from our own species but from a host of other animals that exhibit similar biology and behavior.

    Young begins by way of smashing the notions that gender identity is constructed by culture, and that sexual orientation is a matter of choice. The foundations of these phenomena, the author argues, are laid down in utero by the specific hormones that wash over the fetus as it develops. Interestingly, we learn that the genes and hormones that are responsible for genital development are active at a different time than those that are responsible for gender-specific behavior, thus explaining how the two can become separated from each other.

    While the foundations of gender and sexual orientation may be laid down in utero, it is also the case that they are capable of being influenced to a degree by learning and culture, thus explaining cross-cultural differences in the manifestation of gender, as well as such phenomenon as fetishes.

    When it comes to a woman’s gender identity, Young explores the hormones that explain maternal behavior, and why women differ in regard to just how maternal they are-as well as what effect this has on their children. Interestingly, we also learn that a woman’s love for a man appears to have been built on the same brain mechanisms responsible for her maternal behavior. This fact helps explain a number of baffling phenomena (including, incredibly, the size of women’s breasts, and men’s penises!).

    While men are capable of experiencing romantic love just as strongly as women (if not more so), we learn that a man’s love is built on an entirely different biological mechanism. Specifically, a man’s love is built on the ancient mechanism responsible for territoriality. This helps explain such phenomenon as male possessiveness and jealousy; but it also helps explain why men are more paternal than the males of most other species.

    While love may have a different biological basis in men and women, it takes on a strikingly similar form in both. In short, it is an addiction-not at all unlike a drug addiction. Indeed, like a drug addiction, a romantic relationship starts out as a high, then morphs into an experience whereby the lover cannot stand to be away from their love, and experiences deep stress when this occurs. Even the brain chemistry of using drugs, and the way the brain changes as a drug user becomes addicted, is the same as occurs in the progression of a romantic relationship.

    While men and women in love may be addicted to one another, this does not mean they are incapable of cheating on one another. And, indeed, the prevalence of adultery in all times and places (despite the near ubiquity of social mores opposed to the practice) indicate that it is a deep part of our biology. Young explores this biology, and also why some people are more disposed to the practice than others.

    As we might well expect from a book co-written by a scientist and a journalist, the work delves deep into the technicalities of the science that is discussed, while at the same time mixing in a large measure of anecdotes and humor. The result is a book that is scientifically sound, while at the same time being highly readable and entertaining. On the negative side, while the authors do touch on the evolutionary reasons behind the phenomenon and biological mechanisms that are discussed, a more thorough exploration of this would have added greatly to our understanding of the subject matter. A full summary of the book is be available here:…

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  2. Quai Chang Cain said,

    Wrote on August 21, 2017 @ 11:51 am

    3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
    5.0 out of 5 stars
    Fantastic glimpse into the genetics and chemistry of human sexuality, October 29, 2014
    By 

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    The Chemistry Between Us is a fascinating look at the genetics, brain chemistry and hormones that, for better or worse, exert a strong influence on our deepest relationships. The book surveys experiments done on slugs, voles, humans, and other animals in order to get a glimpse at the workings of the brain, while being careful not to over-state the conclusions. It deals with a wide range of topics from epigenetic (environmental, non-DNA) factors in gender identity to jealously and mate-guarding, to monogamy and infidelity, and mother-child bonding with many stops in between.

    For the most part, this was all riveting stuff. If you’ve read more than a few biology books, some sections will seem a little repetitive – you can start predicting what the human experiments will be like (and their results) while you’re still reading about slugs or voles, but I think the approach was necessary to show to what extent the animal experiments map over to human experience, with our rather more complex brains.

    For me, the biggest irony of the book was in the last chapter, where the authors claim that science can’t answer the ‘big questions’ – that those are better left to religion and philosophy. It’s ironic because the book just finished giving a better answer to one of the biggest questions of all – ‘what is love?’ – than any religion or philosophy I’ve encountered. It seemed like a bone thrown to a largely religious audience in an attempt to make their findings more palatable. Why do I think the authors were insincere here? It might have to do with their flippant analogy of the child who endlessly asks ‘why?’ and the speed at which the parent collapses into an answer like ‘Because that’s God’s plan’ or ‘Let’s go watch Sponge Bob!’.

    Despite these minor quibbles, I found the book delightful and informative and recommend it to anyone getting started in a scientific study of human sexuality. (Also good, with surprisingly little overlap in the studies covered: Dr. Tatiana’s Sex Advice to All Creation.)

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  3. Melissa said,

    Wrote on August 21, 2017 @ 11:58 am

    2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
    4.0 out of 5 stars
    Good mix of hard science and fun reading, June 8, 2015
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    Melissa

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    This book has a nice mix of legit science and fun writing / anecdote. Its a good team of writers consisting of one of the pioneer scientists in this area of research. If you are interested in the biology of social bonds, this is a great overview of the scientific literature in an easy to read and entertaining package.
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