Emotional states of love moderate the association between catecholamines and female sexual responses in the laboratory

J Sex Med. 2012 Oct;9(10):2617-30. doi: 10.1111/j.1743-6109.2012.02799.x. Epub 2012 May 23.

Abstract

Introduction: Research suggests that there are three interrelated, yet distinct, emotion-motivation brain systems for human love (lust, romantic love, and attachment), each associated with a unique catecholaminergic and hormonal profile. Of interest for the current study are norepinephrine (NE) and dopamine (DA), which have a hypothesized connection with romantic love. As NE and DA are also known to facilitate sexual arousal, it is plausible that NE and DA may have a greater positive association with the sexual arousal responses of women in romantic love compared with women in lust.

Aim: This study investigated if the effects of NE and DA activity on sexual arousal responses would differ depending on emotion-motivation state (Lust or Romantic).

Main outcome measures: Physiological sexual arousal was assessed by photoplethysmography and subjective sexual arousal was assessed with a participant-controlled lever.

Methods: Seventeen women were included in the Lust group and 29 in the Romantic group. All participants provided a urine sample (to assess NE and DA) and completed a psychophysiological assessment.

Results: Elevated NE was positively and significantly associated with greater subjective and physiological sexual arousal for the Lust group, but not for the Romantic group. Similarly, elevated DA was positively and significantly associated with greater subjective sexual arousal for the Lust group, but not for the Romantic group.

Conclusions: The sexual arousal responses of women in the Lust group, but not in the Romantic group, were positively and significantly associated with elevated NE and DA. It is feasible that, when women are seeking a partner (Lust), NE and DA may facilitate attention toward sexually relevant stimuli.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Arousal / physiology*
  • Catecholamines / urine*
  • Dopamine / urine*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Love*
  • Photoplethysmography
  • Sexual Behavior / physiology*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Vagina
  • Young Adult

Substances

  • Catecholamines
  • Dopamine