email page print pageAll Topic Reviews
269 Amazing Sex GamesA History of MarriageA Pocket History of Sex in the Twentieth CenturyActionAll the WayAmerica UnzippedAmerica UnzippedAmerica's Sexual TransformationAmerican EugenicsAmerican GirlsAmerican HookupAn Interpretation of DesireAnarchism & SexualityAnatomy of a BoyfriendAnatomy of LoveAnthony GoicoleaAnticlimaxArt and HomosexualityArt/PornAssuming a BodyAutoportraitBachelors and BunniesBecoming OrgasmicBehind the Red DoorBest Sex Writing 2005Better Sex Through YogaBetter Sex Through YogaBetter Than EverBetween Mom and JoBeyond Diversity DayBeyond SexualityBeyond SpeechBeyond ToleranceBig Porn IncBill HensonBodies in DoubtBody ImagesBonkBoys Don't CryBreasts - A DocumentaryBrothelBuying SexCase Studies in Communication about SexCase Studies in Sexual DevianceCaught in the WebCelibaciesChildren and SexualityChildren and the Politics of SexualityChildren with Sexual Behavior ProblemsChildren, Sexuality and SexualizationChristy ReportClay's WayClinical Manual of Women's Mental HealthClose toYouClumsyCold HitCollege SexComing of Age in AmericaConfessions of the Other MotherCybersexCyborgasmDare... to Make Love with 2, 3, 4... or MoreDare... to Try BisexualityDating: Philosophy for EveryoneDeadly ButterflyDebating Same-Sex MarriageDeep GossipDeparting from DevianceDesire, Love, and IdentityDigital DiariesDilemmas of DesireDirty MindsDirty StoriesDisorders Of DesireDisorders of Sex Development:Doing ItDoing ItDoing It Down UnderDown and Dirty Sex SecretsDude, You're a FagEarly Embraces IIIEmerald City BluesEmotionally InvolvedEnjoying Guilty PleasuresErotic CapitalErotic InnocenceErotic PassionsEthics, Sexual Orientation, and Choices about ChildrenEveryday PornographyEvolution and Human Sexual BehaviorExploring TranssexualismFade to BlackFagbugFaking ItFamilies Like MineFast GirlsFinal JeopardyFinding H. F.Fire on the Mountain DVDFor Lesbian ParentsFor The Bible Tells Me SoForbiddenFrictionFrom Disgust to HumanityFrom Shame to SinFuckologyGay, Straight, and the Reason WhyGender in the MirrorGender OutlawsGeography ClubGetting OffGetting RealGetting the Love You WantGirls & SexGirls Gone MildGirls Gone SkankGLBTQGoddess WorshipGoing DownGood GirlsGood PornGood Sex IllustratedGreat Answers to Difficult Questions About SexGuide To Getting It OnHandbook New Sexuality StudiesHandbook of Counseling and Psychotherapy with Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual ClientsHard to GetHardcore from the HeartHear Us Out!HeterosyncraciesHit & MissHomosexualitiesHookedHooking UpHow Sex Became a Civil LibertyHow Sex ChangedHow Sex WorksHow To Be GayHow to Do Things with Pornography How to Give Her Absolute PleasureHow to Have Magnificent SexHow to Make Great Love to a ManHow to Make Great Love to a WomanHow to Make Love Like a Porn StarHow to Think More About SexHypnography for MenHypnography for WomenHysterical MenI'd Rather Eat ChocolateI'll Be Your MirrorIf Men Could TalkImpotenceIn a Queer VoiceIn Praise of the WhipIn the Mood, AgainInsatiable WivesIntense Games DVDInvestigating Young People's Sexual CulturesIt's Perfectly NormalIt's Perfectly NormalItís Your HourJane Sexes It UpJock SturgesJust Between UsKama-Sutra--The Secrets to the Art of LoveKids Gone WildLegalizing ProstitutionLegalizing ProstitutionLet's Get This StraightLets Talk about SexLetters to Penthouse Vol. 50Likely to DieLittle ChicagoLoose GirlLosing Matt ShepardLoveLove and DesireLove and SexLove JunkieLove Lust DesireLove SickLustMad for FoucaultMagical ThinkingMaking American BoysMaking Babies the Hard WayMaking Chastity SexyMaking Peace with PornMaking ScenesMale SexualityMalefemaleMaster BreastsMating in CaptivityMedicalized MasculinitiesMelancholia and MoralismMenMental Health Issues in Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Communities MiddlesexMoney ShotMoral Panics, Sex PanicsMy Girlfriend Comes to the City and Beats Me UpMy HeartbeatMy Horizontal LifeName All the AnimalsNatural BeautyNerveNerveNew Sex Now DVDNightswimmingNone of the AboveNormalNormalNot GayNot My ShameNot The Marrying KindNot Under My RoofNothing PinkOedipus WreckedOn Being RapedOne Hot SecondOne Hour in ParisOpenOrgasmOrgasm Inc.OrgasmologyOrgasmsOver 100 Truly Astonishing Sex TipsOverexposedPeekPeriod PiecesPervPhilosophizing About Sex Philosophy of Love, Sex, and MarriagePin-up GrrrlsPINSPlease Don't Kill the FreshmanPolicing SexualityPolyamory in the 21st CenturyPornPorn NationPorn StudiesPorn UniversityPornifiedPornlandPornographyPornographyPornography, Sex, and FeminismPosition Of The Day PlaybookPray the Gay AwayPredatorsPremarital Sex in AmericaPrinciples and Practice of Sex TherapyPrivate Dicks - Men ExposedPrivate Practices DVDProblem GirlsPrudePsychopathia SexualisQueer PhilosophyRapeRape Is RapeRated X - A Journey Through PornRazmatazRecruiting Young LoveRedefining GirlyRedefining RapeRegulating SexRelax, It's Just SexRethinking Gender and Sexuality in ChildhoodRethinking RapeRunning with ScissorsSatan's Sex BookScreening SexSelling Sex ShortSexSex & Single GirlsSex (Ed)Sex and SpiritSex and the American TeenagerSex and the SoulSex and the Soul, Updated EditionSex and WarSex at DawnSex by NumbersSex DetoxSex Fiends, Perverts, and PedophilesSex in CrisisSex ObjectSex OffendersSex on the BrainSex PositionsSex Q & ASex, Family, and the Culture WarsSex, or the UnbearableSex, Therapy, and KidsSex, Time and PowerSextasySexting and Young PeopleSexual ArtSexual Boundary ViolationsSexual DevianceSexual DisordersSexual EcstasySexual EthicsSexual FluiditySexual IntelligenceSexual Orientation and Psychodynamic PsychotherapySexual Orientation and School PolicySexual PleasureSexual PredatorsSexual Teens, Sexual MediaSexuality in AdolescenceSexuationSexyBookShameShamelessShy GirlSlutWalkSmall FavorsSmutSocial Control of Sex OffendersSome Assembly RequiredSplit ScreenStir-FryStraight to JesusStrange BedfellowsStripped BareSurviving Sexual ViolenceSymptoms of Being HumanTalkTalk to Me FirstTechniques of PleasureTestosterone RexThe Anthropology of SexThe BabiesThe Better Sex Guide to the Kama SutraThe Big Book of PornThe Birth of the PillThe Blue Moon Erotic Reader IIIThe BodyThe Breast BookThe Breath of Tantric LoveThe Busy Couple's Guide to Great SexThe Case of the Female OrgasmThe Chemistry Between UsThe Clitoral TruthThe Education of SophieThe Emergence of SexualityThe End Of AliceThe End of SexThe Erotic EdgeThe Erotic Lives of WomenThe Essential KamasutraThe Evolution of BeautyThe Fate of GenderThe First Man-Made ManThe First TimeThe Gay Baby BoomThe Good Vibrations Guide to SexThe Happy Hook-UpThe Hite ReportThe Humble Little CondomThe Illustrated Guide to Extended Massive OrgasmThe Illustrated Story of OThe Love CureThe Madness of WomenThe Men They Will BecomeThe Mirror of LoveThe Miseducation of Cameron PostThe Moral Panics of SexualityThe Naked Truth About SexThe Nature of Sexual DesireThe New Erotic PhotographyThe New Gay TeenagerThe Notebook GirlsThe Only Girl in the CarThe Order of the Poison OakThe Origins of SexThe Other HollywoodThe Other PlaceThe Other Side of DesireThe Perils of MasculinityThe Perversion of YouthThe PervertThe Philosophy of PornographyThe Philosophy of Sex: Contemporary ReadingsThe Pleasure's All MineThe Politics Of LustThe Porn TrapThe Pornographer's GriefThe Pornography IndustryThe Praeger Handbook of TranssexualityThe Psychodynamics of Gender and Gender RoleThe Purity MythThe Real Truth About Teens and SexThe Right to Be ParentsThe Secret Lives of GirlsThe Sex Addiction WorkbookThe Sex Lives of TeenagersThe Sex MythThe Shared HeartThe Sleep of ReasonThe Smart Girl's Guide to PornThe State of AffairsThe Story of SexThe SurrenderThe Ten Minute Sexual SolutionThe Tenth CircleThe Transformations of GwenThe Transformations of GwenThe Trauma MythThe Ultimate Guide to Sex and DisabilityThe Vagina MonologuesThe ValleyThe Violence of CareThe Virgin BlueThe Virginity ClubThings Tom LikesThinking KinkThinking XXXToo Hot to HandleTransTransTransgender Children and YouthUltimate JudgementUltimate SexUndoing GenderUnlikelyUntangling the WebVirginVirgin NationVirgin Sex for GirlsVirgin Sex for GuysVirginity LostWhat Does Consent Really Mean?What Women WantWhat's Happening to My Body? Book for BoysWhat's Happening to My Body? Book for GirlsWhat's Happening to Tom?What's Wrong with Homosexuality?When Jeff Comes HomeWhen Sex Goes to SchoolWhen the Piano StopsWhere Do We Fall When We Fall in Love?Who Has What?Who's Been Sleeping in Your HeadWilhelm ReichWired for IntimacyWomen and Child Sexual AbuseWomen and MadnessWritten in the FleshYou Know Me WellZen Sex
I remember the first time I looked at cell through a microscope. After dripping the solution onto the thin glass plate, I eagerly zoomed in, adjusted the focus, and waited for a little critter to come into view. I waited for a while, but nothing came. Finally, I zoomed out a little, and searched for tiny specs. I found some, adjusted the glass plate, and zoomed in again. I stared in awe at the tiny moving parts. However, I found myself zooming out every once in a while to figure out which part of the cell I was spying. Only after several iterations of zooming in and zooming out, was I ready to complete the lab assignment. That is, I not only needed to see what was happening at a microscopic level, but also at the macro-level. Without context, perceptions are empty; and vice versa.
The hope to understand everything about everything by discovering the tiniest, most fundamental pieces of the world ultimately leads to disappointment: the reductionist's suffering. In The contemporary scene of neuromania, where knowing the brain is the cure to all intellectual ailments, Kayt Sukel's story about the emerging neuroscience of love - told through an exploration of her own "dirty mind" -- displays a refreshing realization of this practical - and arguably theoretical - reality. With personal anecdote from her friends, herself, and prairie voles, she brings to life the terminologically dense world of brain structures, neuropeptides, and epigenetics in a way that any beginner, who spends sometime with a brain map and Kayt's book, can become a star-studded neuroscientist - at least at dinner parties.
The first five chapters of the book present a clear introduction to the basics of neuroscience. Kayt's accomplishment in these sections is not so much her ability to explain the different regions and functions, but to couch descriptions of them in an epigenetic context. Epigenetics is a relatively new field of research bridging the gap between the nature/nurture debate, which pits those who believe our lives are genetically determined against others who believe environment is more important. While we may be able to predict red hair or blue eyes with some accuracy using only genetic components, we have been markedly unsuccessful at predicting more complex social and behavioral traits. The epigeneticist neither reduces life to genetics nor environment, but instead explores how the environment affects the likelihood that genetic predispositions may become manifest. My genetic code may have all the trappings of epilepsy, but without the right environmental conditions, I may never have an epileptic seizure. Zooming all the way into our genetic structure is not enough; we need to explore the context and environment in which that genetic structure encodes the various proteins, which program the cells, which make up our bodies.
Understanding this interplay between substance and environment is crucial when making inferences using neuroscience. Just like our genetic code consists of many little pieces, our brains consist of many tiny neurons (which have even tinier moving parts). These neurons conduct electrical current to each other by making connections using chemical molecules called neurotransmitters. There are a variety of neurotransmitters; some increase the likelihood that current will be conducted (excitors) and others which decrease the likelihood (inhibitors). This mix, or soup of neurotransmitters is affected by the environment: sensory experience; the quality of our food, air, and water; our relationships; etc. As Kate describes, the neuroscientific understanding of love has quite a grasp on the kinds of neurotransmitters associated with the various experiences of romantic love, orgasms (she reports on her experience masteurbating in a functional magnetic resonance machine, which measures blood flow in the brain), monogamy, spiritual love of Jesus, and a mother's devotion to her infant. However, despite this catalogue of neural correlation, Kayt reports that researchers overwhelmingly hold a conservative view of their ability to explain the experience and function of love and sex in these terms.
As direct research on human sex and love is in its infancy, Kayt focuses on the study of prairie voles, which are one of the few organisms which also form monogamous relationships with one another, or what researchers call "pair bonding". These bonds are so tight that in cases where two female voles vie for the same male, the loser will die, "we could not tell the cause of death, because in most cases there was no obvious signs of fighting. However, we could predict which of the females would die because the one who would live was always sitting between her and the male, apparently guarding the male."(p.220). In general, researchers could isolate the particular genetic and neural components which result in these kinds of behavior in the voles because the voles neural system is so simple; compared at least to the human brain. As such, this information merely serves as a cue for what to look for in the human brain. While some humans demonstrate this kind of deep devotion to one another, or to Jesus in the case of nuns, the behavior is not generalizable to all human love.
Kayt touches on many hot button topics regarding sexuality. She explores neural correlates of homosexuality, cheating, male/female brains, addiction, religious experience, attractiveness, and hatred. In all cases, she reports that researchers have learned that different experiences are closely associated with either a particular neurotransmitter or brain region. However, to reiterate her thesis, explaining these phenomena solely in terms of the genetic components has proven to be elusive. While there is some hope that better machinery/technology can reveal the specific functions associated the varieties of human love, sex, and relationships, Kayt, no matter how much she may want to know, is not waiting for it; especially when it comes to manipulating love with some pill or treatment, "though we may wish it were so, there are simply no easy answers when it comes to love. There is no clever play book for navigating love's messier situations; there are no promises to be revealed by five-step magazine stories or brain chemistry supplements. The brain is too complicated for that."(p.244) I am inclined to agree with her that unless an explanation can produce practical results, such as a love potion or deterministic genetic engineering, then its value as an explanation should be questioned. While practical implementation may not be sufficient condition for truth (Greco-Roman sailors did fine navigating a "flat earth"), it may very well be a necessary one, at least in so far as accepting that the brain is ultimately in control of our love lives.
© 2012 Roger Hunt
Roger Hunt, Boston Graduate School of Psychoanalysis