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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.

Selfish So ‘n So

Name: Andrew
Gender: Male
Age: 34
Location: Texas
I’m selfish. I don’t feel like having sex with anyone, not even my boyfriend. I can masturbate all I want and get off just fine but I prefer to do it alone. My boyfriend is frustrated and wants me to go to therapy, but I’m extremely uncomfortable with the idea. I’ve had selfish times like this before, but this one has been the longest (almost 2 years). Usually they’d last a few months at most and seem to have happened independent of whether I’m doing great or depressed. I’m also fairly certain that this isn’t to do with my current relationship. The reason is that past selfish times have happened whether or not I’ve been seeing someone. When I get this way, even guys who are perfectly my type (like my boyfriend) can try all they want to get into my pants (literally and figuratively) and will not be successful. When I’m like this I notice that I barely think about sex unless a dirty picture, movie or text is in front of me, and I’m only trying to get away when a hot guy is trying to get in my pants. I’m usually good at finding out what’s going on in my head, then solving an issue but this one has me stumped.

So you’re tellin’ me you’ve been withholding sex from your long-suffering BF for nearly 2 years? That’s not being selfish, my friend; that’s torture. Your refusal to see a therapist about this, because you are “extremely uncomfortable with the idea,” also tells me that your issues are deep seeded and you’d rather keep these things hidden and stifle your relationship then get them out in the open and resolved.

love music

I’m sorry, Andrew, but I have virtually no patience for folks like you. If you were single and you wanted to live your life like this; that would be fine. But you’ve involved your sexually messed up self with another human who has needs that are just as important as yours. And that, sir, ain’t right.

I have one real simple premise that I live by. And it is, each of us has a right to a happy, healthy, integrated sex life. If there is something that is getting in the way of achieving that, whatever it might be, it is a problem that needs to be addressed immediately.

As far as relationships go, I am of the mind that we ought, first and foremost, work to honor our commitments of mutual support. Are there ways that these two moral principles — a right to a healthy sex life and one’s relationship commitments — can coexist when one’s relationship excludes the possibility of happy sexual expression? Yes, I believe there are. And many couples achieve that balance, because they have an overriding love and concern for one anther.

Now the facts — not all loving relationship, including many marriages, have a sexual component. Many, for one reason or another, simply don’t. In fact, most long-term relationships are not sexual in nature. However, a partner in loving relationship who is unable to provide sexual satisfaction to his/her partner should give that partner permission to find sexual fulfillment outside the relationship. I hasten to add that these are often very difficult negotiations to hammer out. But to do less than try to make these accommodations is, I believe, a form of sexual abuse.

If your partner is trying to negotiate a satisfactory solution to your problem and you are opposed to even discussing the issue or seeking the professional help you desperately need you will destroy a perfectly good and viable relationship. And that is unconscionable in my book.

I am not suggesting that you deny your sexual issues just to appease or pacify your partner. Nor do I condone simply letting your selfishness become the path of the least resistance. These options will only create a divide between you and your partner that will not be able to be bridged.

If you ever hope to escape the corner you’ve painted yourself into, you’ll have to buck up and be honest with your partner and commit to getting the help you need.

Good Luck

You want me to do WHAT?

First Name: Beth
Age: 52
Gender: Female
Location: New Jersey
Your question or comment: My husband and I have swung in the past and have had an open marriage for a short time about 5 or 6 years ago. We have, for the most part, been monogamous for the past few years. He now tells me that the only thing that will make him interested in having sex with me is if I find men to have sex with and send him pics of myself in the act with other men. I have no desire to do this but am considering doing it if it will help my sex life with him. I have read about Candaulism (a sexual practice or fantasy in which a man exposes his female partner, or images of her, to other people for their voyeuristic pleasure) and am beginning to think he may be a latent homosexual or bisexual and trying to fulfill his desire to be with a man by living vicariously threw me. He says that the torment of knowing that I am with another man is exciting to him and I don’t understand how that can be a healthy thing for him. I am desperate for guidance in this area. Your thoughts??

Well then, Beth, things are gonna get very interesting in your life real soon, huh?

2477075029_d8e7e288c4Before I get to answering your query, let me ask you some questions. You say you and the hubby used to be swingers and even had an open marriage for a while some years ago. Why, after all that nontraditional relationship stuff, did ya’ll go back to sexual exclusivity? Did you both agree to go back to the straight and narrow, or did one of you decide for the both of you? This is an important point. If one of you decided for the both of you, the one tagging along with the decision may not have been totally on board from the get go. And when that happens, what looks like domestic tranquility is actually nothing of the sort.

It appears to me that your marriage has somewhat of a cyclical pattern to it. You guys have vanilla periods and kinky periods. Would that be an accurate representation of the dynamics? If so, let me ask a few more questions. Who or what determines the swing, you’ll pardon the pun, from vanilla to kink? Is it a boredom thing? And who determines the swing back to vanilla? And does that have anything to do with fear and jealousy? Do you guys discuss the transition before hand? Or is the migration from vanilla to kink and back again more of a follow-the-leader sort of thing? And who leads whom into kink? And does the same person lead out of kink back to vanilla? These questions are all very important and I would want to know the answers before I suggest a path forward.Candaulism

Now I know you are not here to answer my outstanding questions, so that means I need to punt. From what you tell me, I discern that the hubby is in need of a little spice. And maybe he is the one who traditionally leads the marriage out of vanilla into kink. You appear to be resisting this migration for whatever reason. Maybe that’s your traditional role in the marriage. I’m also guessing that you guys don’t talk things through before a momentous change is in the offing, but ya should. A lot of the heartache and misdirection could be avoided if you did.

I also think your husband is not veering into particularly dangerous or uncharted waters with his Candaulism. Seems to me you’ve been there already, at least in spirit, with your periods of swinging and open relationship. It also occurs to me that your hubby has a big fat cuckold fetish that he is trying to itch. And in terms of fetishes, this is a relatively harmless one, especially if everyone involved is on board for the fun and games. Check out my How To Video Library for some swell movies on that theme.

mr-honmaIs his cuckold fetish latent homosexuality? What a funny question to ask considering your relationship history. Isn’t it more likely that he might have a bisexual streak? And the fact that you are puzzled by all of this suggests, at least to me, that you guys don’t know each other very well. And that’s astonishing considering what you’ve been through together.

What I’m getting at though all of this is, if you want to restore some balance and harmony to your marriage, the answer is not simply hanging out at the vanilla end of relationship spectrum because it’s comfortable and safe. At least not until there is consensus on the part of both you and your husband. The big mistake many couples make is to assume that if one person is along for the ride, just to make peace, there is consensus. That’s not consensus; that’s conciliation.

Again, because you guys aren’t here to discuss this stuff with me, but I’d still like to help, let me turn you on to an exercises that will facilitate the open and honest discussion you need to have with your man and he with you. What follows comes from a workshop I developed called; The Gospel of Kink. I’ve also conveniently packaged this workshop into a workbook with the same title. You can find the book HERE!

GOK small cover

Both the workshop and book are designed to help people, like you and your husband, develop the skills they need to effectively communicate with one another and improve their problem solving skills. The workshop and book, as the title suggests, are specifically geared toward folks in kinky, BDSM, and alt-culture relationships, but even vanilla couples will find what I present very helpful.

Even the strongest relationships go through periods of distress and turmoil. Disagreements, misunderstandings, and personal foibles can cause contention and conflict. So let’s see if we can come up with some practical tools and techniques to 1) handle common alt relationship related issues, and 2) successfully navigate our relationship conflicts.

EXERCISE 2 — Tools and Techniques for Navigating Alt Relationship Conflicts

Begin by jotting down a half dozen or so key words or phrases that identify the issues and problems you’ve encountered in your alt relationships. And then see if you can come up with a list of a half dozen or so key words or phrases that suggest possible solutions to those issues and problems.

Once both of you have completed your lists you’ll need to set up a time for a formal discussion of those lists. With a little luck, this exercise will help you identify the stumbling blocks that both of you see and help you develop a strategy to overcome them.

Of course all of this will depend on how well you listen to and absorb the message coming from your partner. Need help with that too? Never fear, The Gospel of Kink has exercises for that as well.

Good luck

Embrace Your Inner Bear

Name: Ramon
Gender: Male
Age: 40
Location: Denver
Hi Dr. Dick. I have a lot of thick body hair and I spend a lot of time and money keeping it trimmed. I even use Azulene Oil, which allegedly slows the rate of hair growth. I don’t think it works although it makes my skin nice and soft. My question is: are there any products that work to slow, or stop hair grow? I would even consider hormonal treatment if it was safe. Thanks for your time. Your devoted fan; Ramon

Well, devoted fan Ramon, I’d be willing to bet that you’re gonna be as successful in finding a hair growth inhibitor as other men have been in finding a hair growth accelerator. Which, for all intents and purposes, means not successful at all. Sorry!

very hairy & hotAnd are you really serious about tampering with your natural hormonal balance for cosmetic purposes? My, my, my to what lengths we will go to compensate for, or alter something, we don’t like about ourselves. Just imagine how vulnerable this makes you to the unscrupulous purveyors of the proverbial snake oil? I always say; desperate men make desperately wrong decisions.

I don’t have any personal experience with any of the products you ask about. But I do have a whole lot of bear friends. So I quizzed them for some advice to pass on to you. Several of the men I spoke to confessed to having tried one or another non-prescription product for at least a short period of time. Some of my bear friends said they used one or another or several such products for a long enough time to say for certain that nothing they tried worked. No surprise there, I suppose.

Not one of my bear friends is currently experimenting with a hair growth-inhibiting product now. When asked why, every one of them said it was easier, cheaper, and less detrimental to their psyche to make peace with the fact that they are hairy guys…plain and simple.

What I did learn from my friends is that typically one uses a hair growth inhibitor after employing a method of hair removal (waxing, shaving, tweezing, etc.) in an attempt to slow the regrowth of the hair just removed. These products come as lotions, creams, or sprays and are applied directly to the area where the hair has been removed.

The claim is that the enzymes in many of these products can get into the hair follicle and affect the rate and texture of regrowth. Hair that does regrow is often finer, even if there’s not less of it. At least that’s the claim.hairy369

There are dozens of these over-the-counter products. And my research has also turned up a wealth of negative comments from disgruntled former users. Apparently some of these products are not only ineffective, but also dangerous. So beware!

Here’s a tip: if you, or anyone else in my audience is thinking about plunking down hard-earned money for a product of dubious worth. I suggest you do an online search using the name of the product or the company producing it, along with the word “scam” or “complaints.” In short order you will find what I found; there are a lot of very unhappy people who regret falling prey to the hype and being ripped off.

From what I can gather, electrolysis and laser hair removal are about the only permanent hair removal methods currently available. But even these techniques can be spotty, so to speak. Results can vary from person to person and there can even be regrowth in some cases.

In the end, there is but one undeniable fact: there is no published clinical data that backs up any claim that any of product or technique will slow or stop hair growth. With those odds against you, devoted fan Ramon, maybe it would be easier and way less expensive to simply embrace your inner bear.

Good luck

High And Dry

Name: Stephen
Gender: Male
Age: 47
Location: Sacramento, CA
Dear Dr. Dick I am at the end of my rope. I am a white male, 47, 50lbs over what my Doctor would like me to weight. I am per-diabetic, with blood pressure and cholesterol just a little higher than my Doctor would like. I have been married for going on 13 years, and have a 7-year-old special needs son. And my sex life sucks.
My wife who I love dearly has chronic pain that leaves her muscles aching all the time, so the last time she and I had sex was the night we conceived our son. I have tried to take care of my needs though masturbation, but to be honest I am getting very bored with the whole idea of jerking off. Even using my hand I have trouble sometimes getting a hard on. I have managed to have an orgasm while my dick is soft, it just takes care of the itch, and it does not really satisfy me like fucking or a good slow hand job while fully hard.
I have tried using a cock ring, but I think I am doing something wrong because I don’t stay hard while using one and none of my partners has used one so I have no one to ask. I also have the problem of finding the time when I can be alone. Without my wife finding out what I am doing, because she does not approve of me watching porno, or jerking off. The last time she caught me, she did not speak to me for over two weeks.
I am trying to find a family counselor for my wife and I, but I’m having problems with finding one covered by our Insurance and one that can make appointments that will fit in with my wife’s work schedule.
I have been exploring my BI side with men I meet on the web. I am fussy because I want to be safe, and they have to have somewhere we can meet. Most married BI guys have the same problems I do, nowhere to go to have a little fun. There are no bathhouses in our area. And on top of all those problems I can only get a hard on if I use one of the ED drugs. Which my Medical Insurance will not pay for so my Doctor has been giving my free samples that he gets.
So of the five or six times a year I get to have sex, maybe one of them I will get to fuck someone. While I like being a bottom, there are times I just want to fuck someone. There are times I just want to pack up my bags and leave to find the sex life I want, but I do love my wife and son, and I don’t think leaving will make anything better.
So here I sit, I have run out of ideas, my counselor has run out of ideas. Having sifted thought most of your web site with no luck I hope that maybe you can shed some new light on this disaster of a sex life.

Do you know the phrase, “sinking to the lowest common denominator?” Well that’s what you are doing, my friend. You have precisely the sex life you permit yourself to have. You’ve boxed yourself into a corner by allowing others, particularly your wife, to dictate what you can and cannot do with your sexual energy. So there you are high and dry, as they say.

challenges aheadI appreciate the fact that your wife may have medical issues that might prevent her from joining you in the vigorous sex life you desire. But if that’s where you leave the discussion then you are getting precisely what you deserve.

I realize you’ve committed yourself to your wife through thick and thin, in sickness and in health. But in the absence of a marital sex life, you’ve discovered new and uncharted areas of your own sexuality. This volatile combination will either be destructive or regenerative.

I have one real simple premise that I live by. And that is, each of us has a right to a happy, healthy, integrated sex life. If there is something that is getting in the way of achieving that, whatever it might be, it is a problem that needs to be addressed immediately.

As far as relationships go, particularly a marriage, I am of the mind that we ought, first and foremost, work to honor our commitments of fidelity and mutual support. Are there ways that these two moral principles — a right to a healthy sex life and one’s marital commitments — can coexist when one’s relationship excludes the possibility of happy sexual expression? Yes, I believe there are. And many couples achieve this balance, because they have an overriding love and concern for one anther.stubbornness

Now the facts — not all loving relationship, including many marriages, have a sexual component. Many, for one reason or another, simply don’t. In fact, most long-term relationships are not sexual in nature. However, a partner in loving relationship who is unable to provide sexual satisfaction to his/her partner should give the languishing partner permission to find sexual fulfillment outside the relationship. I hasten to add that these are often very difficult negotiations to hammer out. But to do less than try to make these accommodations is, I believe, a form of sexual abuse.

If what you report about your wife’s revulsion to even you sexually pleasuring yourself is accurate, then you have a very hard row to hoe. Trying to negotiate a satisfactory solution to your dilemma is all the more difficult when one of the partners is opposed to even discussing the issue. This is where a good counselor will come in handy. (If you would like to consult me, see the Therapy Available tab under the About Dr Dick page in the header of my site.) If your therapist is not up to helping you bring this issue to the fore, then you’d better look elsewhere for the help you need. If this issue is left unattended you will continue to sink to the lowest common denominator. You will continue to be unhappy as you skulk around looking for stray cock in unsavory places. And I have a sense that you are not being totally upfront with me about your extracurricular activities. Simply put, you do yourself and your marriage a greater injustice with this kind of reckless behavior than risking the dissolution of your marriage by engaging your wife in an honest search for a healthy solution to your problems.

solutionsThat being said, I’m gonna go way out on a limb here and guess that you’ve already made up your mind about the direction you intend to go. I suspect that you will continue to explore your nascent bisexuality through these furtive liaisons with men you’ve been meeting. I also assume that, divorce is not an option, at least not in an up-front sort of way. The sad thing here is your wife is unable to join you in coming up with a viable solution to the problem at hand, because she is being kept in the dark about your dalliances.

I am not suggesting that you deny your sexual needs just to appease or pacify your wife. Nor do I condone deceiving your wife about your true self. These options will only create a divide between you and your wife that will never be bridged.

If you ever hope to escape the corner you’ve painted yourself into, you’ll have to buck up and be honest with your wife. Looks like you have your work cut out for you, my friend.

Good Luck

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