The psychology of our lasting love

On the 8th of August my partner and I celebrated our fifteen year anniversary. We had planned to drive over to Blackpool for a weekend away once my partner had finished work. Whilst I waited for his shift to end I began to discuss with one of his colleagues ‘how difficult it was not to rush over and give him a big hug and kiss’, I told her that ‘he was my best friend and that I had missed him all day, that I had felt anxious and had a strong desire to be in physical contact with him, despite only seeing him that morning’. She said ‘wow, it is very rare to still have those feelings after so long together’. During the long drive to our weekend retreat I began to ponder her words: What was the secret to our lasting and loving relationship, I wondered why we were so different when research suggests that relationship breakdowns are the most common among people who grew up in a divorced household, are from a low socio-economic group and who are young partners (Duck, 1988) all of which describe my partner and I, and yet we are still happy and very much in love.

Love can be explained by dividing it into two very basic categories; romantic and companionate (Hatfield, 1988). Romantic love has been described as having similar physiological effects as alcohol or marijuana (Baumeister, 1991) causing feelings of anxiety, jealousy, elation, altruism and joy, all overwhelming the senses at once (Bersceid & Walster, 1978). These feelings of intense and often uncontrollable emotions are short lived and in most successful relationships companionate love takes over (Caspi & Herbener, 1990; Hatfeild, 1988; Neimeyer, 1984). It could be suggested that our relationship has reached the pinnacle of Sternberg’s triangle of love model; consummate love (Sternberg & Barns, 1988). My partner could be described as my best friend –who I find extremely sexually attractive, yet at home we are a team; sharing money, childcare and the household chores. Sternberg believes that for a relationship to reach the deepest state of love there must be intimacy, passion and commitment: all of which describe our relationship. Our commitment to each other began when our parents tried to keep us apart as young lovers: The Romeo-and-Juliet effect (Driscoll, Davis & Lipetz, 1972). Until only recently I was unaccepted into my partners’ family, rather than this having a negative effect to the relationship it seems to have brought us closer together.

From our early beginnings we have been close friends who ensured that our lives were entwined as though we are one. This companionate side to our relationship could be defined in evolutionary terms as a bond which would greatly improve the chances of our offspring surviving (Hazan, Campa, & Gur-Yaish, 2006; Fletcher, 2002). Our relationship roles could play an important role in the success of our lasting relationship too, as Murstein’s (1976; 1986; 1987) stimulus-value-role theory suggests: Relationships invariantly pass through three stages; stimulus stage-when initial attraction is based on physical attributes as Green, Buchanan and Heuer (1984) agree, the value stage-when similarity and values become important with supporting research from Kandel (1978), Tesser, Cambell and smith (1984), and finally the role stage emphasises the importance of commitment and the acquiring of supporting roles. The roles which each of us has taken complement the other well and yield great rewards within the relationship, according to social exchange theory our relationship benefits because we are well matched in our abilities to reward the other partner, or at the very least we believe that no one could reward us as well as our current partner (Thibaut & Kelley, 1959). Homans (1974) goes further to say that we judge our feelings about the relationship in terms id the reward less the cost: The higher the emotional profit, the happier the relationship.

In conclusion, I would like to suggest that each theory and model in part can explain elements to our relationship, but there is not one single theory which can explain why we are still together and in love fully, highlighting the very complicated nature of love and modern relationships. However, the best description for the love I feel for my partner comes from Fromm’s (1962) description of true-love: True-love being defined as a giving love. Mike (my very much adored partner) and I are a communal couple who as Clark and Mills (1979) posit give out of love and concern and not to receive, perhaps this is the reason why we remain blissfully happy. 


 Baumeister, R. (1991). Meaning of Life. New York: Guilford Press

Bersceid, E., & Walster, E.M. (1978). Interpersonal attraction (second edition) Reading, MA: Adison-Wesley.

Caspi, A., & Herbener, E. S. (1990). Continuity and change: Assortative marriage and the consistency of personality in adulthood. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 58(2), 250.

Clark, M. S., & Mills, J. (1979). Interpersonal attraction in exchange and communal relationships. Journal of personality and social psychology, 37(1), 12.

Clark, M. S., & Mils, J. (1993). The difference between communal and exchange relationships: What it is and is not. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 19(6), 684-691.

Driscoll, R., Davis, K. E., & Lipetz, M. E. (1972). Parental interference and romantic love: The Romeo and Juliet effect. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 24(1), 1.

Duck, S. (1988). Relating to others. Dorsey Press.

Fletcher, G. (2008). The new science of intimate relationships. Wiley. com.

Green, S. K., Buchanan, D. R., & Heuer, S. K. (1984). Winners, Losers, and Choosers A Field Investigation of Dating Initiation. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 10(4), 502-511.

Hatfield, E. (1988). Passionate and compassionate love.

Homans, G. C. (1974). Social behaviour: Its elementary forms. Taylor & Francis.

Kandel, D. B. (1978). Similarity in real-life adolescent friendship pairs. Journal of personality and social psychology, 36(3), 306.

Murstein, B. I. (1977). The stimulus-value-role (SVR) theory of dyadic relationships. Theory and practice in interpersonal attraction, 105-127.

Murstein, B. I. (1986). Paths to marriage. Newbury Park, California: Sage publications.

Murstein, B. I. (1987). A clarification and extension of the SVR theory of dyadic pairing. Journal of Marriage and Family, 49(4), 929-933.

Neimeyer, G. J. (1984). Cognitive complexity and marital satisfaction. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 2(3), 258-263.

Sternberg, R. J., & Barnes, M. L. (Eds.). (1988). The psychology of love. Yale University Press.

Tesser, A., Campbell, J., & Smith, M. (1984). Friendship choice and performance: Self-evaluation maintenance in children. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 46(3), 561.

Thibaut, J. W., & Kelley, H. H. (1959). The social psychology of groups.


The Female Orgasm: The Light Switch of Love?

Welcome to my third and final instalment of the series titled The Female Orgasm. If you have been following my two previous blogs, you will by now, be very aware that orgasm as a reward is the single most reported incentive which motivates sexual intercourse (SI) (Deckers, 2010). The evidence presented has shown that both males and females rate orgasm as their primary reason for engaging in SI (Meston & Buss, 2007; Deckers, 2010). My previous blog Nice… But Not Needed established that women aged 18-22 rated ‘feelings of romantic love’ as the second biggest motivator of SI (Meston & Buss, 2007). Thinking back further to Her Incentive… or His we saw evidence that women were not reaching orgasm during 92% of copulations (Lloyd, 2005). As so many women fail to reach orgasm during SI and despite that being their primary motivator it seems clear that feelings of love must drive behaviour much more than the women in the studies are actually aware of. The primary aims of the present blog are to uncover what romantic love is, to find evidence of its existence and to conclude with evidence which could shed light on why romantic love is such a potent motivator for SI.

‘I love my mum’, ‘I love my children’, ‘I love my new partner and all the great sex we are having’: three plausible sentences to an English speaker, but if the reader were asked to write down a definition that could be applied to all three sentences – he would struggle claims Sukel (2012). In 1996 thirty-eight credible neurobiologists penned the first accepted scientific definition of love “Love is a lifelong learning process that starts with the relationship of the infant to his or her mother and the gradual withdrawal from the mother with a search for emotional comfort and fulfilment” McEwen (1997). Upon the definition being revealed during a presentation named Is There a Neurobiology of Love? a flurry of neuroscientists began looking into the brain to see if love was an observable entity. Most notably came a study from Bartles and Zeki (2000) which sought to identify which areas of the brain are activated when participants were shown a photograph of their partner –who they claimed to be very much in love with- as compared with a photograph of a friend who was the same sex as their lover. Seventeen participants of mixed gender were placed into an fMRI-scanner and shown the photographs. The neural activity which could be attributed to recognition was discounted and the scientists were left with what could be the neural blueprint of romantic love. The strongest activation was seen in the left middle insular, an area which governs self awareness, emotion and inter-personal relationships; the anterior cingulated cortex also showed a strong activation, an area linked to decision making, reward anticipation and emotion. Activation was also seen in areas involved in learning and memory such as the hippocampus, caudate nucleus, nucleus accumbens and putamen. In a second study Fisher, Aron, Mashek and Brown (2002) asked ‘in-love’ participants to think about their loved one in a non-sexual way, the activation overlapped with findings from the Bartles and Zeki study. Fisher suggests that for the first time scientists are seeing ‘what romantic love looks like’ (Fisher, 2002).

Romantic love has similar neural activation as that seen with cocaine posits Zeki (as cited in Sukel, 2012). A dose of cocaine is known to have an effect on the neural reward pathways in the brain and cause the individual to ‘crave’ more (Linden, 2011). The same pattern could be true of romantic love hypothesise Aron and Aron (1991). Romantic love has been shown in numerous studies to engage the motivational system (Brown 1992; Lidsky, & Brown, 1999), this includes the neural systems which are associated with ‘motivation to acquire a reward’ in contrast to the previous consideration that romantic love was an emotion (Bartles & Zeki, 2000). If romantic love is not an emotion but is in fact a goal oriented state, we can describe romantic love as a motivational drive much the same as hunger or thirst. Being motivated to engaging in SI by the lure of feelings of romantic love can now be understood in scientific terms as a strong incentive. Interestingly when comparing the activation seen in orgasm and romantic love there appear similarities. During orgasm the nucleus accumbens, the area of the brain implicated strongly in romantic love and the hippocampus, known for its involvement with memory becomes activated. Fisher (2002) hypotheses that orgasm may in fact contribute to falling in love and strengthen pair bonding.

In conclusion love can now be identified as a lifelong learning process which scientists are now able to observe and measure using the very latest neuroimaging techniques. However study findings which rely on neuroimaging measures are bound by measurement limitations such as time and accuracy. Nevertheless, scientists are in agreement that a brain which is in romantic love shows neural activation very similar to the neural activation of cocaine. Recent studies are hinting at the possibility that romantic love is a powerful motivational drive, which is responsible for motivating SI in younger females at the very least. Many more studies are required on the area of sexual motivation before scientists can show that orgasm and romantic love are inexplicitly linked.


Aron, A., & Aron, E.N. (1991) Love and sexuality. Sexuality in Close Relationships, 25–48.

Bartles, A. & Zeki, S. (2000). The neural basis of romantic love. Neuroreport, 11(17), 3829-3834.

Brown, L. L. (1992). Somatotopic organization in rat striatum: evidence for a combinational map.Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 89(16), 7403-7407. Retrieved from

Deckers, L. (2010). Motivation: Biological, Psychological, and Environmental. Allyn and Bacon.

Fisher, H..E. (1998) Lust, attraction, and attachment in mammalian reproduction. Human Nature 9: 23–52.

Fisher, H.E, Aron, A, Mashek, D. Li. H, & Brown, L.L. (2002). Defining the brain systems of lust, romantic attraction, and attachment. Archives of Sexual Behaviour, 31(5), 413-419

Lidsky, T. I., & Brown, L. L. (1999). Behavioural context and a distributed system: Metabolic mapping studies of the basal ganglia. Canadian Journal of Experimental Psychology/Revue canadienne de psychologie expérimentale,53(1), 35.

Linden, D. J. (2011).The Compass of Pleasure: How Our Brains Make Fatty Foods, Orgasm, Exercise, Marijuana, Generosity, Vodka, Learning, and Gambling Feel So Good. Penguin. com.

Lloyd, E.F. (2005). The Case of the Female Orgasm: Bias in the Science of Evolution. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.

McEwen, B. (1997). Meeting report: Is there a neurobiology of love? Molecular Psychiatry, 2(1), 15-16.

Meston, C. M., & Buss, D. M. (2007). Why humans have sex. Archives of Sexual Behavior,;36(4), 477-507. Retrieved from

Sukel, K. (2012). Dirty Minds: How Our Brains Influence Love, Sex and Relationships. Free Press. NY

The Female Orgasm: Nice… But Not Needed?

Continuing on from my first blog ‘The Female Orgasm: Her Incentive… Or His?’ the present blog aims to dig further into what motivates sexual behaviour. To recap, the evidence presented indicated that a strong incentive was important in driving motivation to end state. We established that the short term reward of an orgasm was a strong motive, particularly in sexually deprived males, and that it was unclear if an orgasm was a strong incentive in females. The primary aim of this blog is to address if sexual motivation is a valid area of scientific interest and to seek out the primary motivating factors which contribute to females engaging in sexual behaviour.

The study of sexual motivation is important and has been largely ignored by psychologists. Sexual motivation is time consuming and unlike almost all other species of animals, humans often do not copulate with the sole purpose to reproduce (Rathus, Nevid & Fichner-Rathus, 1993). moreover societal problems such as unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases are problematic, it is therefore imperative we validate sexual motivation as an area for scientific enquiry. Until recently the area of sexual motivation had largely been ignored, arguably due to the perceived simplicity of the answer; to reproduce, to alleviate sexual tension or for sexual excitement and/or pleasure Meston and Buss (2007) hypothesise. Psychology textbooks, such as Lambert Deckers book on motivation, gives rise to this simple hypothesis. Deckers (2010) briefly explains over a single page that orgasms, feelings of excitement, intimacy and closeness are all motivators of sexual behaviour. Sexual motivation is often overlooked and simplified in modern psychology and in particular whether gender differences exist and if so what they are.

Meston and Buss (2007) undertook a large scale study which intended to identify what motivates women to engage in sexual behaviour. Clinical psychologist Meston and evolutionary psychologist Buss collaborated on a cross-cultural study interviewing 1046 women of varying age (16-42) and across the whole spectrum of sexual orientation (heterosexual, bisexual, gay/lesbian). The study identified a total of 237 motivators of sexual behaviour. The most frequent answer as to why women engage in sexual behaviour was to achieve orgasm. The second highest rated answer was the prospect of romantic love. The Meston and Buss (2007) study generalise their findings to all women, however there are notable limitations with both the ecological validity of this study and the methodology. Firstly, the sample consisted of 1046 participants aged between 16 and 42, yet, as stated explicitly, 96% of the women interviewed were aged between 18 and 22. The participants aged 16 to 18 and 22 to 42 made up less than 4% of the tested population. Additionally, to allow for generalisation towards the greater population, a larger sample range would be required.  

To address the proposed question of the scientific validity of the field of sexual motivation; sexual motivation, and as an extension, sexual behaviour, are aspects of Psychology that have largely been neglected in the literature until recently. This can be regarded as an error of the perceived answer, that is to say that sexual motivation has been regarded solely for the purpose of reproduction, and a source of pleasure. Simply, the answer was perceived as being too obvious to require experimentation and study. To summarise the material covered; sexual motivation, when regarded specifically to women, requires a strong sexual incentive: whether this is the rewarding stimulus of an orgasm or the prospect of romantic love as highlighted by Meston and Buss (2007). There are many more motivating factors, some 235 motives which can be, and are, motives to sexual behaviour in females. The scientific enquiry into why people have sex outside of reproduction is in its infancy and more studies are required which have greater external validity to assess such a complicated multi-dimensional model of sexual behaviour.


Deckers, L. (2010). Motivation: Biological, psychological, and environmental. Allyn and Bacon.

Meston, C. M., & Buss, D. M. (2007). Why humans have sex. Archives of Sexual Behavior36(4), 477-507. Retrieved from

Rathus, A. R., Nevid, J. S., & Fichner-Rathus, L. (1993). Human Sexuality: In a World of Diversity. Boston: Allyn and Bacon

The Female Orgasm: Her incentive …. Or His?

Love that so many people have read my blog – would love some comments though!

The Psychology of Love, Sex, Orgasms and more

How are humans motivated to copulate and reproduce? Are both males and females motivated into action to fulfil an innate biological need, which could in fact, be comparable to seeking out water when thirsty? Instead, could a strong psychological desire for physical intimacy be sufficient to provoke behaviour? Alternatively, could an individuals motivation be pulled along with the incentive of a rewarding and pleasurable experience: an orgasm? Arguably of most interest is how motives and incentives interplay to prompt behaviour. This blog will address the matter of how internal dispositions and environmental incentives direct the motivation of both males and females into the act of sexual intercourse, while addressing gender differences from an evolutionary perspective.

Sexual intercourse (SI) requires a high investment of precious resources from both parties, including; energy and time. The possibility that in forty weeks new life may enter the world would seldom be a strong incentive…

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The Female Orgasm: Her incentive …. Or His?

How are humans motivated to copulate and reproduce? Are both males and females motivated into action to fulfil an innate biological need, which could in fact, be comparable to seeking out water when thirsty? Instead, could a strong psychological desire for physical intimacy be sufficient to provoke behaviour? Alternatively, could an individuals motivation be pulled along with the incentive of a rewarding and pleasurable experience: an orgasm? Arguably of most interest is how motives and incentives interplay to prompt behaviour. This blog will address the matter of how internal dispositions and environmental incentives direct the motivation of both males and females into the act of sexual intercourse, while addressing gender differences from an evolutionary perspective.

Sexual intercourse (SI) requires a high investment of precious resources from both parties, including; energy and time. The possibility that in forty weeks new life may enter the world would seldom be a strong incentive to move immediately, posits Deckers (2010.). Indeed a great number of psychological studies have shown that incentives are more powerful when the reward is available in the short term (see; Sutton & Barto, 1998; Gable & Berkman, 2013; Anselme, 2013). Deckers hypothesises that the reward for copulating is an orgasm, which is achieved upon consummation of the motivated behaviour. Deprivation of a biological need, such as food, has been shown to increase the reinforcing value of the reward (Raynor & Epstein, 2003). Kanin (1985) suggests that SI deprivation does increase the incentive value of the rewarding orgasm. However, males and females may not react in the same way to deprivation as Nelson and Morrison (2005) showed: The results indicated that male participants whom were deprived of food rated heavier women as more attractive than male participants who were satiated. The effect of deprivation had no effect on female preferences.

Gender differences also exist when comparing the likelihood of reaching orgasm during penile-vaginal SI. Males are statistically likely to orgasm close to 100% of the time, in contrast women orgasm 8% of the time (Lloyd, 2005). In a different study male participants were asked how to rate important it was for their female partner to reach orgasm, 90% of men rather it as very important (McKibbin, Bates, Shackelford & Hafen, 2010). Advances in the evolutionary theory of human mate selection provide a rational of perhaps why the female orgasm is so highly rated by men. Shackelford and Pound (2006) articulated that “sperm competition has likely been a recurrent adaptive problem for human males over evolutionary history” (p.47). An adaptive solution of ensuring her sexual appetite has been satiated, could impact the likeliness of the female copulating immediately or soon after SI.

Building a personal history that consists of mutually beneficial SI could act as an incentive to copulate again in the future.  On average 65% of women admit to faking orgasms whilst having penile-vaginal SI. During the study the reasons given by women as to why they had faked an orgasm, was an awareness that she was not going to reach orgasm and lack of motivation to continue. (Muehlenhard & Shippee, 2010). The female orgasm, albeit real or fake, signals to the male that he should now ejaculate. Once ejaculation has taken place the SI will come to an end and the motivated behaviour is said to have reached its end-state.

The evidence presented illustrates the importance of a strong incentive in pulling motivation to end state. Moreover the incentive is most potent in times of deprivation, that is in males at the very least. However, it is unclear if orgasm as a reward is the motivating factor in females. Evidence suggests that females are motivated into SI by the incentive of an orgasm as shown in Shackelford and Pound’s (2006) research where women admitted to faked their orgasms; firstly they knew they would not climax, secondly that motivation had been lost. The findings suggest that once any possibility of the incentive is lost motivation diminishes. Personal history of SI must not be a strong enough incentive to reject copulation, as 92% of the time women fail to reach orgasm (Lloyd, 2005). It is argued that an orgasm during foreplay may actually be the incentive rather than during SI. However 90% of men rate a female orgasm during SI as important (McKibbin, Bates, Shackelford & Hafen, 2010), this is supported by the knowledge that sexually healthy men reserve their own orgasm until their partner has achieved theirs – or so he is lead to believe. It is therefore suggested that the male orgasm, and not the female orgasm, is the instrumental behaviour which consummates the motivated act of sexual intercourse.


Anselme, P. (2013). Dopamine, motivation, and the evolutionary significance of gambling-like behaviour. Behavioural brain research. 256, 1- 4. Abstract retrieved from

Deckers, L. (2010). Motivation: Biological, psychological, and environmental. Allyn and Bacon.

Gable, S. L., & Berkman, E. T. (2013). Motives and Goals. Handbook of Approach and Avoidance Motivation. Psychology Press. Retrieved from

Kanin, E. J. (1985). Date rapists: Differential sexual socialization and relative deprivation. Archives of sexual behavior14(3), 219-231. Retrieved from

Lloyd, E.F. (2005) The Case of the Female Orgasm: Bias in the Science of Evolution. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press. Retrieved from

McKibbin, W.F., Bates, V. M., Shackelford, T.K., LaMunyon, C.W., & Hafen, C.A. (2010). Risk of sperm competition moderates the relationship between men’s satisfaction with their partner and men’s interest in their partner’s copulatory orgasm. Personality and Individual Differences, 49, 961-966. Retrieved from

Muehlenhard, C. L., & Shippee, S. K. (2010). Men’s and women’s reports of pretending orgasm. Journal of sex research47(6), 552-567. Retrieved from

Nelson, L. D., & Morrison, E. L. (2005). The Symptoms of Resource Scarcity Judgments of Food and Finances Influence Preferences for Potential Partners.Psychological science16(2), 167-173. Retrieved from

Raynor, H. A., & Epstein, L. H. (2003). The relative-reinforcing value of food under differing levels of food deprivation and restriction. Appetite40(1), 15-24. Abstract retrieved from

Shackelford, T. K., & Pound, N. (Eds.). (2006). Sperm competition in humans. New York: Springer. Retrieved from

Sutton, R. S., & Barto, A. G. (1998). Reinforcement learning: An introduction (Vol. 1, No. 1). Cambridge: MIT press. Abstract retrieved from