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The Yin and Yang of Desire

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Today I’d like to talk about: The Yin and Yang of Desire — Dopamine, Prolactin and Testosterone.

Let’s talk about love, lust and desire. But instead of looking at these things as social phenomena, let’s look at the chemical reactions going on inside our bodies that make us feel and behave the way we do.

sex-on-the-brainThere are clear links between certain chemicals and our most basic drives, which explains, for example, why we feel horny one moment and utterly disinterested the next. Or why our sex drive peaks after exercise. At the core of our sexual and affectional interests and behaviors lie the two chemicals — dopamine and prolactin. In many ways they are complimentary to one another; dopamine turns on desire and prolactin turns it off.

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter. This is basically your body’s pleasure and reward system. Our brains releases dopamine, to one degree or another, when we see, read or think about something sexy, taste something sweet, puff a cigarette, or come into skin-to-skin contact with another person. When dopamine levels are high, our libido goes into overdrive. Sometimes levels can be so dramatic that a person will neglect other essential bodily functions like eating and sleeping. Some “street” drugs —meth and coke among them — can mimic the body into thinking it’s dealing with dopamine.

Dopamine is critical to the way the brain controls our movements. If there’s not enough dopamine, we can’t move, or control our movements. If there’s too much dopamine, we are plagued with repetitive moments like jerking, tapping and twitching.

Get this; novel situations can increase dopamine releases. For example, hooking up with someone for the first time triggers especially high levels of dopamine. Curiously enough, these same high levels will not occur again during subsequent hookups with that same person. This is called the one-night-stand phenomenon; it’s why you can be attracted to someone at first encounter but not afterward.hormones and the brain

However, falling in love with someone can sustain high dopamine levels for a longer period of time. This explains why physical infatuation is at its peak in the beginning months of a relationship. Also dopamine floods the brain when we get drunk or take certain drugs, which is why drinking alcohol can make a potential partner look more attractive.

Prolactin is dopamine’s foil. It causes dopamine levels to plummet. Prolactin is a hormone, as opposed to a neurotransmitter, like dopamine. It floods the body during orgasm, virtually shutting down the sex drive, which is nature’s way of allowing us to attend to other essential bodily functions like eating and sleeping. Prolactin release in men will temporarily disable our ability to have an erection. This is called the refractory or recovery phase of our sexual response cycle. And prolactin is at least partially responsible for that happy, relaxed state after we cum. This is precisely the release women get while breastfeeding; in fact, the word “pro-lactin” directly indicates its role in milk production.

growing larger and largerProlactin primes the mind for long-term attachment — a role that helps the mother bond with her suckling child as well as lovers to each other. This means that if you stick around cuddling with your partner right after sex, you may actually start to like him/her more and more. This is called the pair-bonding effect. But prolactin’s dopamine-reducing action has a darker side. It cancels the tolerance you may have for your partner’s flaws.

While dopamine and prolactin are good indicators of the immediate workings of sexual pursuit, it is testosterone that best explains long-term changes in courtship. Testosterone is responsible for the masculinization of the adolescent male body during puberty. And it increases the dopamine levels that regulate our sex drive. But testosterone leaves its fingerprint on the body as much as the brain. It’s the catalyst for changes in skin tone, fat distribution, musculature and demeanor, which are signals to others that this individual male is sexually mature and in good health.

However, if you get a fever or become depressed, your testosterone levels can drop significantly. Malnutrition or high levels of anxiety or stress will also interfere with testosterone levels. The most immediate effect of this is a decrease in libido, and a noticeable drop-off in energy levels as well as confidence. There’s no doubt about it; testosterone levels will signal to potential mates that you are in the throws of depression, stress, anxiety or malnutrition. You will appear a little less attractive to people subconsciously. That’s why a confident, dominant male with high-testosterone levels generally enjoy more mating success.tits

Testosterone levels are highest in the morning, then wanes throughout the day. It’s also much higher in men in autumn and lowest in the spring.

However, sexual desire is still more complicated than is known to science, and there may be multiple archetypes of partners we’re drawn to — there is evidence that aggressive high-testosterone men appear sexier to women and gay men for a one-night stand. But softer, more sensitive balanced men are more likely to tug at our heartstrings in a relationship. Scientists reason that the bulkier mate is more likely to be physically powerful and carry good genes to create strong children. While the slimmer guy is a more loving, reliable partner likely to help raise the kids so they survive to adulthood. The effect of this strange contradiction seems to be a biological predisposition against monogamy and sexual exclusivity.

But none of this is carved in stone. A man’s hormone’s levels increase when he is in a competitive environment or carries out acts of aggression, which can explain how guys seem to bulk up quickly when they go to prison or join sports teams. These levels decrease when he feels intimidated or humiliated, which might explain why those who get picked on at school stay skinny and mild-mannered compared to their peers. This in turn made them easier targets and only increased the likelihood of them being bullied.

butt shakeThis is not uncommon behavior among primate colonies that have huge alpha males looming over a population of smaller, submissive males and females. While this is not a perfect parallel to human social groups, it does go a long way in explaining how a social environment can be a precursor to physical body changes. And just so you know, our testosterone levels also drop during long-term relationships, giving the male brain a sense of stability and mellowness, easing off the drive to forage for new sexual partners.

Science alone lacks a moral element, and fails to explain, in a modern context, why we should desire to be masculine, aggressive, potent or dominant in the first place. In nature, the alpha-male is the most likely to enjoy reproductive success, but that isn’t what gives our lives value today. We might have more success being an average male that falls in love and becomes a good provider. And in the modern world it’s probably the more stable and sensitive man who is most likely to sire children.

Still, science gives important clues to what’s going on in our minds and bodies and that of our potential partners. A lot of our basic inclinations are out of our control, but when we know what causes them or what to expect, we can work with them for the best outcome.

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Mean Girl

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Name: Fay
Gender: Female
Age: 23
Location: LA
I met this guy on the Internet and he seemed nice and all, but I wasn’t that turned on to him. All I remember is he was pretty nerdy and had really sweaty palms. We went out a couple of time, nothing serious. He just wasn’t my type. So I stopped responding to his calls. Last week I was out at this club with some friends and I saw Mr. Nerdy with this other chic. And I was like, wait a minute, that skank’s hornin’ in on my stuff! I know I wasn’t returning his calls, but still, I saw him first. It was like totally freaky, how they were all kissy-kissy right there in everyone’s face. What should I do?

mean girl

Seriously? What should you do? How about getting a life your vacuous twit? And I mean that in the nicest sort of way.

If you could just pull your head out of your ass for a minute and listen to yourself, your misguided notions about dating and your fundamental lack of respect for the feelings of others would surly grate on you as much as it does me. Your chatter is like fingernails on a blackboard. I mean REALLY!

Think about what you are suggesting here. You’re gettin’ all territorial about some guy you could barely bring yourself to give the time of day to and then blew off like he was excess baggage. You didn’t bother to take the time to look beyond his nerdy-ness and his sweaty palms, like this other woman have done. Had you, you might have discovered what this other “skank”, as you so lovingly refer to her, has found.

Like most nerds, this guy probably has developed other means of making himself attractive and interesting to compensate for his nerdy-ness. Maybe he’s got a big dick, or he’s great in the sack. Maybe he got a big bank account or maybe he simply has a handle on the basic social graces, something that you, my dear Fay, have yet to grasp.

Your jealousy is neither cute nor charming. It does, however, mark you as self-centered and childish. For the most part, jealousy is a byproduct of a person’s lack of self-confidence and self-esteem. Here’s a tip. Try and develop a healthier sense of self, so that you can mature into someone who can interact with others in a respectful manner that is befitting other human beings.

Oh, and have a nice day! Sheesh.

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The Great Porn War

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Name: Jennifer
Gender: Female
Age: 23
I am 23 years old and I like lesbian and gay porn. It’s been my favorite since I discovered it a few years ago. But my boyfriend hates the thought of people of the same gender having sex. I don’t like hetero porn, and that’s all he uses. Is there any way I can get him to enjoy my kind of erotica?

porn.jpgYour boyfriend a dreadful drag, huh? What’s he afraid of, do you suppose? Ya think he’s afraid he’ll pop wood while he’s watchin’ gay porn with his girlfriend. That’ll surly to shake his masculinity to its foundation. I mean, it’s one thing for him to get a boner when he’s checking out the queer stuff by himself — and you know he does! It’s another thing all together for him to get hard watching two dudes fuck while he’s with you. It’s clear to me that your BF has issues, darling. And I think you know that too.

Now I’m not suggesting that he has to like everything you like, or that you have to like everything he likes. A couple can have a really healthy relationship despite differences in the kind of smut each prefers. But matters of taste aside, I think a smart chick, like you, knows that porn is as much a political statement as it is a sexual statement.

Here’s what I mean. Most straight porn features male identified sex — exclusively. That’s probably why you, and 90% of your sister women, don’t like it. The producers of most of the stuff in this genre create it with a predominately straight male audience in mind. And you can pretty much count on it exploiting women in the process. Gay porn does not exploit women, for obvious reasons and lesbian porn is the most radical of all. It is unabashed female identified sex. No female exploitation there. Of course, I’m talkin’ about real lesbian porn, not the caca that simulates girl-on-girl sex that gluts the “straight” porn marketplace.

Most straight males get off on hot girl-on-girl action in straight porn, because the performance represents male identified sex. In fact, one of my good gal pals in the porn business often says that girl-on-girl sex in straight smut is about as far away from authentic female sexuality as gay porn, which has no women in it. i just can't

I’m gonna go out on a limb here, Jen and guess that you’re a little too radical for Mr. Whitebread. But if you think that he’s worth the effort involved in loosening him up, start by reassuring him that there will always be a place in your heart for his johnson even when you’re enjoying a sweet lesbo fantasy. If you really want to enjoy yourself with your guy while you enjoy your dyke porn, give him permission to do a voice over for the movie you’re watching together. Tell him you want him to pretend he’s a porn star and he’s gonna appear in the next scene with the two chicks you’re watching. Watch the lezzie scene together and then have him tell you what’s gonna happen in the next scene when he catches the two naughty vixens. Perhaps you could suggest that he roll play that with you after the movie. Ya see, Jen, you’re gonna have to trick the monkey into watching what you want, cuz he ain’t gonna open his mind all by his-own-self.

Deprogramming him of his homophobia may be a bit more challenging, but there are ways. You could start by telling him that everyone knows that no one sucks a guy’s dick like another guy. And so you want to pick up a few pointers from the pros before you go down on him again. When the big cock-sucking scene begins start grabbing at his package. We all know he’s gonna be hard as a rock. Those repressed types are so damned predictable. Now if at all possible start blowin’ him with the same vigor as the dudes in the movie. Blowjobs are the great equalizer. Mr. Whitebread will be enjoying himself so much he’ll hardly have time to reflect on how radical he’s becoming.

lesbian pronIn the end, I don’t think you should compromise and watch hetero porn unless he’s willing to compromise too. Of course you both could watch your chosen porn privately, but where’s the fun in that. Or you could just trade-off one scene of his for one scene of yours. Or compromise with some hot bisexual porn. There’s not a whole lot of really good bi porn out there, but there is some. Just be discriminating. Life is just too short for bad smut.

You could try dueling porn. Two screens, two TVs or a TV and a computer screen, each playing a different type of porn. Or you could really throw caution to the wind and have a full-blown fuck-O-rama — multiple screens with multiple images all going at once. It’s so easy to do these days with the proliferation of computers tablets, phones even, and online porn. And just about every household has at least two TVs and two computers lying around. So knock yourself out, girl!

It’s clear to me, Jen, that you’re gonna have to take the lead in this. You being the more enlightened one. I believe that your arousal will arouse him. And if your fire doesn’t ignite his, simply throw the bum out!

Good luck Ya’ll

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You’re Pulling My Leg

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Name: Jerry
Gender: Male
Age: 60
Location: Minnesota
I have a fixation with prostate stimulation. I have recently been giving myself perineum injections to the prostate with 2/3 xylocaine and 1/3 sodium cloride. The xylocaine is 2% with ephinepherine. I am careful to clean the injection site – just above the anus and use a 1 1/2 inch 25 guage needle injecting 3 ml. The feeling is fantastic when I hit the prostate. I actually feel the nerves take the anesthetic. I am careful to always make sure I do not hit a blood vessel before injecting by pulling back on the plunger. Is this fetish common? What dangers to you think are there? I find this a real turn on. I also have done many intra-rectal injections to the prostate but only use sodium chloride (salt water) as I cannot see the syringe to tell if I am injecting in a blood vessel. This requires careful cleaning of the anus but have never had any problems except very rarely giving myself an urethral infection.

You have got to be kidding! I mean really, Jerry! You want to know if this is a common fetish? Ahh, no, I’d have to say not all that much.hypodermic-needle

So I’m sitting here trying to imagine how you go about doing these alleged injections. What kind of physical position must you have to assume to see, and than land the alleged hypodermic needle on just the right spot on your taint (perineum) so that you hit your prostate? I suppose you allegedly do this with a mirror, right? But even then there’s plenty room for error, right?

It sounds like you been doing this alleged needle play for a while? I have to wonder, how in the world did you happen upon allegedly shoot up anesthetics right into your prostate? And where are you getting these alleged anesthetics, I wonder?

Everything about your story makes me very suspicious as to the authenticity of your reporting. If indeed you are doing precisely what you tell me, allow me to advise you to reconsider your actions. I don’t think this is a healthy pursuit for any number of reasons. And I suspect that you also have your qualms. I mean, why else would you ask me about potential dangers.not-a-golfer-cartoon

If you are experiencing periodic infections that tells me you’re not taking care of business properly. I’m gonna guess that you’re not properly attending to sterilizing the medical equipment you are using. And if your anesthetics are coming from a dubious source, well then anything can happen.

I’m guessing you have too much time on your hands, sir. Maybe you should take up golf.

Good luck

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A Boy’s Own Story

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What follows is an exchange I had recently with a young Catholic Canadian man.

Hi Dr. Wagner

My Name is Jack, I am a catholic teenager who is wondering if the act of masturbation is still considered to be a sin. Also is it really considered to be gravely disordered and always morally wrong? I am 18 years old and I am somewhat late going through changes physically. I do believe that it is a natural way to find out about ones body and how it can be used. I have heard that it is not a sin but a natural and healthy thing to do. I have also heard that it is a sin. I have heard mixed reviews I have heard that a vast majority of both boys and girls do it. I can understand if one does it while thinking about other people then it is a sin but if one is doing it to get rid of old stuff then does it count as a sin. I have done it recently and I am going through puberty. There are no thoughts, images or fantasies involved. I do think that it is better then having a nocturnal emission and having to clean your underpants and to hide it so no one think that I wet the bed. I also believe that it is better to masturbate rather than waking up to find a sticky mess in my underpants, which has happened to me, and it was not fun. I don’t want to have to go to bed worrying about a mess in the morning. I have also heard that it can help reduce the risk of prostate cancer. Is it normal to feel confused about it after doing it? I am planning to talk to my parents and a priest to see what they think of it. If my parents say that it is natural and a normal thing to do does that mean it is all right to do. The only tricky thing is that I am not entirely sure how to approach the subject with them. I have mentioned it to my mother and she doesn’t seem to be bothered by it. She said that it is better to do that than to be out having intercourse with girls. I haven t done it in 3 weeks and I feel conflicted over it I see both views on the issue and I am not sure. I don’t want to feel guilty for doing something that has been labeled natural and normal. I love and believe in god and want to know what the views are on it. I do not have any addiction whatsoever I have very good control over myself nor do I need counseling or therapy. I am just a curious teenager wondering if masturbating is a sin or not.

I live in Ontario where the ministry of education has released a updated sexual education curriculum where it mentions that masturbation is natural and normal. There is a part of me that really wants to do it as I feel it takes the edge off. I have heard that some catholic organizations are backing it. This leaves me confused if it is still considered to be a sin. I also believe that it is a crucial part of understanding how ones body works and learning about oneself. I do find it a little hard to understand that we can somewhat accept the sexual orientation of people but people still consider touching ones genitals to be a sin.

Thank you
God Bless

Dear Jack,

Thanks for your question. Might I add, you are exceptionally articulate for a teenager.a boy's own story

If ya ask me, Jack, and you are actually asking me, you’ve pretty much answered all of your own questions. And that tells me you are on the right track.

You ask about Catholic sexual ethics. Before you wrote, did you know that I was a Catholic priest for 20 years? And, not to boast, I am the only Catholic priest in the world with a doctorate in human sexuality. This later part explains why I no longer practice as a public minister. It’s a real long story and I’d be happy to tell you all about it sometime, but for now know that I didn’t go quietly. I wrote my doctoral thesis, Gay Catholic Priests; A Study of Cognitive and Affective Dissonance, back in 1981. And once word got out about this groundbreaking research, the writing was on the wall, so to speak, for my public ministry. I fought for my priesthood and ministry for 13 year, but it all pretty much came crashing in on itself in 1994. If you’ve got nothing better to do, you can read about it HERE.

Enough about me, let’s get back to you and your questions. Although, I wanted to mention that when I was in seminary, way back when god was young, in the late 1960’s and early 70’s, enlightened spiritual directors were already beginning to advise us seminarians that masturbation wasn’t sinful or disordered. Of course, even now you’ll find orthodox hard-liners who insist that self-pleasuring is a moral sin, but they think all sexual expression is sinful. Here’s a tip: you’re never gonna find consensus on any sexual matter.

Like you, I found it difficult to believe all that mortal sin stuff that the hardliners promote. I mean, if mass murder and genocide are mortal sins, how could a little wank be their equal. It just don’t make no sense, right?

However, I can’t agree with you that masturbation might be sinful if there are fantasies involved. Remember, using your mind is an essential part of learning about your sexuality. That being said, most teenage boys are randy at the drop of a hat, so maybe you don’t need to be all that specific with your sexual mental imagery.

I also caution you to be careful when tossing around words like normal and natural. What’s normal and natural to some may be abnormal and twisted to others. But you’re right; few people, professional as well as lay people, these days would consider self-loving anything but normal and natural.

For you edification I suggest you use the search function or CATEGORY pull-down menu in the sidebar of my site and search for pertinent topics, like masturbation, wet dreams, sexual response cycle, etc. You’ll find a wealth of information about all these topics in both written and podcast form.

the shadowI too reported, back in 2011, on the startling new data that came out of Australia about masturbation. Australian researchers questioned over 1,000 men who had developed prostate cancer and 1,250 men who had not, about their sexual habits. They found those who had ejaculated the most between the ages of 20 and 50 were the least likely to develop prostate cancer. The protective effect of poppin’ one’s nut was greatest while the men were in their 20s. And get this; men who ejaculated more than five times a week were a third less likely to develop prostate cancer later in life.

I also contend that masturbation is the most basic building block to all of our sexual expression. When you know how your body works; when you are familiar with your sexual response cycle and are confident about talking to others about it; you’ll be better situated to be a good sexual partner to another.

In the end, I encourage you to continue to think for yourself when it comes to things sexual. I can see that you are already doing that, so keep it up. Continue to ask questions and consider the input you get from others, myself included; but then make up your own mind. When you own your sexuality and your sexual response, you’ll be a grown-up. Notice I didn’t say you’d be an adult. That’s because there are lots of adults out there who don’t own their sexuality and sexual response and despite being grown up, they’re not grownups.

Good luck, pup

Hi Richard,
Thank you for responding. You have cleared come of the confusion. I guess I got confused because when I would masturbate I would feel like I let my self down.
Thank you again
God Bless

One thing you should know is there is generally a sort of “let down” phase after orgasm. (See information about the refractory phase of the sexual response cycle HERE.) Your body can’t stay in that heightened state of arousal so there’s often a “deflated” feeling.

There’s even a name for if. It’s called post-coital tristesse. And you should know that it’s a physiological phenomenon rather than an emotional one.

Feelings of elation and wellbeing that accompany arousal and orgasm can sometimes morph into a sense of shame during this “deflated” phase. People with lot of scruples about sex are particularly vulnerable to this.

Thank you for clearing that up and for the reassurance that it is natural and normal and not considered to be a sin.
— Jack

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