February, 2015

Why Do We Love?

Why Do We Love? Why Do We Need It Want It, and Seem to Thrive In When In It?

Book_KalilGibran_200pxw There’s a saying, and it goes something to the effect of “ultimately all we have is love.” Or as Kahlil Gibran put it, “Love gives naught but itself and takes naught but from itself. Love possesses not, nor would it be possessed; for love is sufficient unto love.”

Love, which is an experience at the root of human bonding, is so vital to human beings that without it, we don’t develop properly. We remain impoverished. A loving bond between a human infant and a human caregiver not only creates the potential for development, it contributes to it and is necessary for healthy development to occur.

AdultsBonding_300pxwIntimate adult relationships are a great source of love and nurturance. And sexual intimacy with a loving partner fosters connection and bonding. Spiritual experiences even, of oneness and of unity, can be experienced during loving sexual intercourse.

In addition and an important fact specific to human beings is that we are one of the only mammals that practice sex throughout the female’s entire monthly cycle, not just during ovulation. Why? Research is showing that sexual behavior stimulates all sorts of bonding hormones to be released, the “feel good” hormones such as oxytocin and vasopressin and the positive-feeling neurotransmitter dopamine, as well as testosterone and nor-epinephrine. These chemicals are released in even greater amounts during orgasm, all of which nurtures our emotional, psychological, and physical selves. We are fed, fueled, and rejuvenated, if you will, through all forms of contact that engender bonding and intimacy. We are literally designed for it.

Studies of maternal deprivation in Rhesus monkeys conducted by psychologist Harry Harlow in the 1950s were monumental studies not only in the study of primates, but in the study of mammalian attachment and loss. Harlow aligned his experimental subjects to human children and media of his day treated his findings as major observations about love and psychological/emotional development in human beings. These “monkey love” research experiments were powerful studies for any and all separations of mothers and infants, including adoption, as well as childrearing in general.

MamaLoveBabyMonkey_300pxwIn his University of Wisconsin lab, Harlow examined the nature of love, aiming to illuminate its first cause-and-effect mechanisms based on the relationships formed between infants and mothers. First, he showed that mother love was emotional rather than physiological, supporting the adoption-friendly,widely-accepted theory that continuity of care —“nurture” — was a far more important factor in healthy psychological development than physiological “nature.” Next, he showed that the capacity for attachment was closely related to critical periods in early life, after which it was difficult to impossible to compensate for the loss of early emotional security.

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