The Science of Attraction and Desire


By Duane Hewitt

A more appropriate title for this article might be “The emotional triggers of desire.” But some background to the actual science of love and attraction will be referenced, so please read on.

Just what is it that makes us “desire” another? Such desire can encompass a number of things. We desire someone to talk to and share with, we desire touch, we desire connection, friendship, respect, recognition, and we desire love.

And then there is the likelihood that many of these layers – or types of desire – are a mere disguise for sexual desire.

Our emotional responses to stimuli large and small say much about us and our triggers for desire. If someone brushes up against us, or touches us in a gentle becoming manner, it can lead to a heightened sense of desire. We might engage another in conversation. If that conversation is enjoyable and mutual, it will be understood subconsciously and often very consciously that desire is at play. Then again, we’ve all spoken to and have engaged conversation with someone that leaves us feeling flat, unwanted, uninspired, and in no way desirous. But in other cases, even the smallest amount of talk can entice one’s interest. And that interest can be stoked like a fire.

But there’s more. One might be a great conversationalist and the two of you might hit it off in this area, but if there is no interest physically then desire is not likely to exist. And what about all the little messages and triggers like the way a person moves, or how they dress, or how they modulate their voice and the kind of eye contact they make with you?

Many of us have our preferred types of people that we desire, but where do we develop these categories by which our desire is triggered? Much of our human nature is determined by our human heritage, both personally and culturally. We might have had an attraction to someone that was kind to us in our youth. Compounding this, we all have some type of culture and philosophy. Then there are the very personal preferences that we develop over a lifetime.

But it turns out that there does appear to be a science behind love, lust, and attachment. An excellent article titled, “Love, Actually: The science behind lust, attraction, and companionship” (February 14, 2017) by Katherine WU and with figures by Tito Adhikary can be found on the Harvard University website – The Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. See:

The article is worth a read. It speaks of the hormones broken out in three categories of the love/lust/attachment cycle: Lust: Testosterone and Estrogen; Attraction: Dopamine, Norepinephrine, and Serotonin, and; Attachment: Oxytocin and Vasopressin.

And yet we humans are so much more than hormones, are we not? After all, you might want to have sex with someone, but you may also find that their interests and proclivities to certain topics are a real turn-off. However, if the sex is good, why not?

It’s all worth considering when we reach out for the next companion in the dance of human sexual attraction and desire.

Copyright 2021 Duane Hewitt. All rights reserved.

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