Parenting 5: Limerence, Romance – Science, culture and the word of God

Posted by on Jun 5, 2016 in Blog: Doing sex God’s way

Parenting 5: Limerence, Romance – Science, culture and the word of God

Feel the energy of the teenage Romeo’s emotions: ‘Love is a smoke made with the fumes of sighs; being purged, a fire sparkling in lovers’ eyes; being vexed, a sea nourished with lovers’ tears. What is it else? A madness most discreet, a choking gall, and a preserving sweet.’

Sometimes it lifts you to dizzying heights and then drops you to the depths of despair. And at other times, it’s a comfortable, warm togetherness. Above all, it’s a need to be with that person and get to know him or her closely and intimately.

The brain in love:

Scientists are beginning to understand what happens in the brain when a person is in love[1], there is much more to be unravelled.

Thinking of your loved one floods the brain with a chemical called dopamine. Scientists call dopamine a ‘feel-good chemical’ because it makes you-well, feel good. The sight or even the thought of your loved one brings feelings of exhilaration and euphoria, of a happiness that is often unbearable and certainly indescribable. It is only in his or her presence that you feel truly alive. For those of you who love biology, the deep mesolimbic part of the brain involved in this feeling of love (including structures called the ventral tegmental area and the caudate nucleus) is known as ‘the pleasure path-way’. And why not?

Other chemicals also kick in. A chemical called norepinephrine increases in the brain, causing you to be more alert when that special person is around. You look at your lover and your heart rate goes up, your pupils dilate, and you are ready for whatever action may follow. Norepinephrine also causes some of the more annoying symptoms of being in love, like the inability to sleep and loss of appetite.

But there’s more. When you’re in love you keep thinking of your loved one; you want to be with them all the time; and you want a closer, deeper and more intimate connection. This feeling is brought on by a decrease of the chemical, serotonin, in the brain.

Romantic love is different from sexual desire in at least three ways:

  • It’s focussed on another person, not yourself.
  • It’s relational: while it’s connected with your brain chemistry, it’s not just about satisfying a bodily need. It has to do with the nature of your relationship with another human being.
  • It’s specific, not general: your brain drives you towards one person and motivates you towards deep emotional intimacy (not physical sexual activity) with them.

The strong emotion of romantic love is God’s way of drawing two people together in marriage for the purposes of making babies, having fun, being united and building God’s community (that one-flesh relationship again). When two lovers who follow God’s way want to join their bodies together, it’s nothing to be ashamed of: it’s a holy longing, the sort of mutual yearning that the biblical book, Song of Songs, celebrates.

What is the societal view of romantic love?

Many teenagers and adults alike equate the God-given brain drive and motivation of falling in love with wanting to have sex with the person. This is lust. The emotion of love for another says ‘I want to know you. You are special. I will honour you—your body with all I have and am’. Lust on the other hand is the need to ‘own’ the other person’s body by having sexual intercourse. It is a selfish use of the other.

Teenagers tell me that ‘snogging’ and sexual touch is a party pastime with casual acquaintances, and oral sex is OK between two people who like each other. Exchange of explicit sexual pictures on snapchat is a form of introduction—the courtship behaviour of the ‘Z’ generation. So when a teenager falls in love, what is the next step to increased intimacy, other than sexual intercourse? Many also think, ‘Why wait?’ Modern society assumes that we can, and should, gratify our desires—especially sexual desires—straightaway. Want food? Go to a fast-food outlet. Want information? Google it. Want instant sex? There’s porn online. It’s all fast, free, and available 24/7/365.

In a 2013 study[2] with over 10,000 high school students in USA; 46.8% of students had ever had sexual Intercourse and 5.6% of students had had sexual intercourse for the first time before age 13 years

Also in 2013, researchers in La Trobe University in Melbourne[3] conducted a survey of over 2000 year 10, 11 and Year 12 students from secondary schools in the government, Catholic and independent school systems Australia wide. They found that most of the students (69%) had experienced some form of sexual activity. Of all students interviewed, 34% responded yes to the question: ‘Have you ever had sexual intercourse (vaginal or anal)?’ By class, almost one quarter of Year 10 students (23%), one third of Year 11 students (34%) and one half of Year 12 students (50%) had experienced sexual intercourse.

Approximately one quarter of sexually active students (28% girls and 20% boys) responded yes to the question: ‘Have you ever had sex when you didn’t want to?’ The commonest reason given was being too drunk. Other reasons included being influenced by their friends or partner, and being frightened.

What do these stats mean?

Over 30% of teenagers surveyed reported having had no experience of sexual activity. And when it came to sexual intercourse, about two third of the students hadn’t done it. So that line—‘everyone’s doing it’—is a myth. Not everyone is. Being celibate (not having sex) is normal and a healthy choice.

Teens need to beware of peer influence and coercion from their partner. Alcohol and drugs can dull your developing decision making brain.

God’s plan for good loving:

Imagine perfect love between a man and a woman, and sex as God originally planned it—shamelessly naked, trusting and certain of pleasure, confident of the pure love of your partner. Wouldn’t that be perfectly heavenly? That’s how it was in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 2:25) before Adam and Eve turned away from God’s pattern for life. They decided that they didn’t need God’s authority, and would take charge of their life, including their sex life. This is when things got messed up. And the one-flesh relationship was marred and broken. Don’t get me wrong. Great man–woman love is still there to be had. But it needs patience, self-control and the wisdom to choose the right person and then wait until marriage to have that one-flesh nakedness and no-shame experience of sexual intercourse. Sadly, for many of us today, the natural way of living is no longer as it was for Adam and Eve.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could reclaim that pure, safe and special passionate romantic love?

You can do it. Talk to a Godly older brother or sister and ask them to pray and read the bible with you. Ask them to help you to be accountable to them and God for your choices and behaviour.

Want more information?

Read ‘Teen Sex: By the Book’ by Patricia Weerakoon. Available from CEP: https://www.cepstore.com.au/teen-sex-by-the-book

[1] Fisher, HE, Aron, A, Mashek, D, Li, H & Brown, L 2002, ‘Defining the brain systems of lust, romantic attraction, and attachment’, Archives of Sexual Behavior, vol. 31, issue 5, pp. 413–419.

[2] Kann, L., Kinchen, S., Shanklin, S. L., Flint, K. H., Hawkins, J., Harris, W. A., & Zaza, S. (2014). Youth risk behavior surveillance—United States, 2013. MMWR Surveill Summ, 63(4). Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/pdf/ss/ss6304.pdf

[3] Mitchell A, Patrick K, Heywood W, Blackman P, Pitts M. 2014. 5th National Survey of Australian Secondary Students and Sexual Health 2013, (ARCSHS Monograph Series No. 97), Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health and Society, La Trobe University, Melbourne, Australia