Sometimes I’ll read something I’ve thought about a lot but had trouble putting into words. Should desire be curable? is that. I went on an SSRI for my stomach last year. Before doing so, I thought long and hard about the potential sexual side effects. Specifically, I thought about whether I might want a lower libido.
I thought about whether I might want to escape the “frustrated or insane” binary.
Falling in love and the generally attendant sexual desire is associated with a cascade of chemical changes in the brain which impact your decision-making and mood. It turns out love is a drug for more than just Ke$ha (Free Ke$ha).
One of those changes is a dip in serotonin. You know, like when you’re depressed.
This dip results from higher levels of dopamine in the brain, leading to feelings of euphoria. But when you add in adrenaline, another chemical you see more of in the brains of people in love, this leads to anxiety. Falling in love is associated with a lower-functioning frontal cortex, which is vital to judgment. A person is love also feels less fear.
Some theorize that SSRIs inhibit libido by precluding that serotonin drop.
So the question I had is, if you prevent the serotonin drop, do you prevent the whole shebang?
Apparently I’m not the only one asking.
Certainly you can prevent the wanting to bang. I had no idea before reading “Should desire be curable” the extent to which people are using Prozac for the purpose of lowering libido, from yeshiva students to sex addicts.
But tampering chemically with love “is seen as taboo because society now places love in an exalted category all of its own.”
“We see whom we love and how we love as among the most important parts of our identity. Love trumps most of our other values, such as ambition or even the desire to be free from suffering.”
This is frustrating.
To be not super young or super old and neurotypical means you have two options. You can yearn for great sex (the difference between sexual love and friendship for a neurotypical person) and be frustrated. Or, you can get it and be on drugs/insane. People who aren’t currently insane are doomed to miss being insane or wish they could experience it.
I’ve wondered what it would be like to have a third option: opt out. Genuinely not care about sex. Be a good friend. Love without being insane.
“Access to anti-love drugs could bring some of us closer to one of the core values of Western society: personal autonomy, and a future where we control our lives and become the people we most want to be.” My heart leapt when I read this, because it was an acceptable reason for me to feel the way I do about love, which is how I feel about most things that aren’t personal autonomy: deeply ambivalent. Personal autonomy I love with an unconflicted love. Love itself I am unsure about. That’s not true. I’m big on love. I’m very on board with the skepticism this author brings to the question of the utility of love the chemical cocktail.
Of course the author’s skepticism is colored by their aesexuality. It never occurred to me that the author might be aesexual until they casually dropped it into the article. Mine is colored by personal experience.
Romantic love makes me anxious and stupid. Straight up. Those are two things I don’t like being more of.
“By insisting that no one can opt-out of the love experience, suffering and all, we often ignore the very real damage that love can cause simply because the source of the damage is seen as so necessary.” Why bother weighing the pros and cons of something like love? I don’t need to write about getting hurt again. It’s funny how one experience completely changes the risk section of your analysis. It’s always been my personality to think about how to avoid the inevitable and realize the impossible.
I think two things. First, I think the author is right that we are silly to treat romantic love as if it’s necessarily better or more important than other sources of meaning in someone’s life.
Second, writing this makes me want the drugs less.
While romantic love still makes me anxious and stupid, I feel better after reminding myself that it makes everyone anxious and stupid. The worst part about the anxiousness and stupidity of being in love is feeling like I should be better than this. I expect more of myself, and feel shame when I don’t deliver. It’s not the anxiousness and stupidity which is so bad, but the self-loathing I feel about it.
There’s also a gendered aspect to my self-loathing. Any time I feel jealous or possessive or insecure, I am reminded of the cliche that girls are “crazy.” The last thing I want is to prove that women are jealous or possessive or insecure. But by not allowing myself to be jealous or possessive or insecure (aka human) I’m just subconsciously accepting the premise that those are feminine, and therefore not okay, things to be.
While they’re not ideal, they are okay.
Writing this has made me evaluate myself more like I evaluate other people. It’s helped me see my nervousness and idiocy like I see theirs, as kind of cute and funny. My being in love again is not meaningful or important, certainly no more than my other relationships. But it’s fun.
And it’s a part of who I am, for better or worse.
I thought about what I’d do if I took the drugs and they worked. Would I stop thinking about sex? That would mean I’d stop writing about it. I’d have to change the name of my blog and newsletter. Would I stop asking my friends about their love lives first? Would I finally learn to code?
But none of that seems as fun as falling in love, even with the attendant insanity. So the thing to do isn’t to avoid the insanity, but to make it less painful. It’s to try to be less jealous and possessive and insecure without hating myself for having to try.