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Your Brain On: Love

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New love can make you feel like you're going crazy. You can’t eat or sleep. You want to get it on...all the time. Your friends throw out words like “infatuated” (and you don’t deny them). But even if you’ve been with someone for decades, love continues to stimulate your brain in remarkable ways, not to mention How Strongly Your Relationship Impacts Your Health. Frankly, love goes straight to your head—literally. Find out how your brain is involved in your romance.

New Love
Some call it the “lust stage.” But some of the ways fresh love affects your brain will persist as long as you’re with your mate—even if your relationship lasts 50 years, says Helen Fisher, Ph.D., a biological anthropologist and author of Why We Love.

At this early stage, Fisher says the main area of love-related brain activity is the ventral tegmental area (VTA). It controls your reward system, and plays a big role in your feelings of desire, your ability to focus, and your energy levels. How? Your VTA stimulates the production of dopamine—a natural stimulant that floods other regions of your head and produces a drug-like high, Fisher says. “You feel elated and euphoric, and maybe even a little obsessive when you’re thinking about your partner,” she explains.

She says there’s also activity in an area of your brain called the insular cortex, which manages feelings of anxiety. This explains the sometimes-difficult, just-a-tiny-bit fanatical side of new love that can make it hard for you to sleep or eat normally, Fisher adds.

Several Months Into A Loving Relationship
Your insular cortex has mellowed out, which means you’re a little less nutso than you were when your love took wing. You’ll probably feel less anxious and clingy than you did before, and your appetite and sleep have likely settled back into their normal grooves, Fisher says.

There’s still an increase in your brain’s production of the stimulant dopamine whenever you think about your partner. But he may not dominate your thoughts the way he did when you first fell in love, Fisher suggests.

Research from the UK shows a hormone that controls your brain’s cortisol levels—which spike when you’re stressed—also tends to tick up when you’re not with your partner. Fisher says it make sense that you would feel a little less secure and more stressed when you’re apart from your love. (These other 9 Health Benefits of Love may come as a surprise too).

Long-Term Love
Though some say otherwise, Fisher’s research shows your VPA still fires up when you think about your man. “Even after many years, we observed the same kind of dopamine release and euphoria when people thought about their partners,” she says. And activity in your ventral pallidum has slowly developed—that region may be linked to feelings of deep attachment, Fisher says.

“There’s also activity in two regions linked to feeling of calm and pain relief,” she explains, referring to the raphe nuclei and periaqueductal gray. She says there’s even research showing people in loving relationships can tolerate more pain than singles.

So whether your love is brand new or well-aged, thoughts of your partner stoke your brain in remarkable ways. “Love doesn’t change as much as people probably suppose, even after many years,” Fisher says. And you can really reignite that fresh-love spark and amplify your orgasm by testing out one of these 6 Naughty Sex Products in the bedroom....or really anywhere (just try not to get caught!).

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