So many people don’t understand how dopamine drives sexual desire.
Definitely the case for Josh, who was hugely frustrated with his sex life.
Josh’s Story – Twice a Month Sex
–37, married 8 years, 2 kids
My wife and I get along really well; we almost never argue, except about sex.
Lori’s turned into a control freak. She has this thing where she’ll only have sex 2 times a month, 3 if I’m lucky.
And she sets so many conditions – place, time, day of the week, everything.
It’s not enough for me. And it’s so frustrating that she insists on controlling every single thing. It’s like she can’t just roll with things anymore.
When we do have sex, it’s pretty good.
But nothing like it used to be. When we first met, sex was amazing! Frequent. Crazy frequent. Anywhere, anything. Spontaneous. She was down for pretty much anything.
I don’t get it. I’m decent-looking, my best weight since college, and I work hard and make a good income.
She says she’s sick of talking about it, so I don’t know where to go from here.
Dopamine is the #1 missing ingredient in most marriages.
Dopamine – neurotransmitter of excitement, challenge, novelty, uncertainty, and reward.
It’s what was missing in Josh’s marriage and what’s missing for a vast majority of couples.
And the absence of dopamine is really messing with our sex lives.
I’ve touched on this topic before, but I want to drill down into it today.
It’s the single-most important concept when it comes to attraction in marriage.
Here’s what we’ll cover:
- 3 Love Systems
- How Dopamine increases attraction & sexual desire
- Why excessive Comfort decreases attraction & sexual desire
- Best way to increase your Dopamine to Oxytocin ratio to take back exciting sex
3 Love Systems
Really quick refresher. There are 3 love systems when it comes to romantic love. They’re separate systems but operate together.
When any one system is out of whack, your sex life suffers.
- Attraction System – powered by dopamine & norepinephrine
- Comfort System – powered by oxytocin & vasopressin
- Hormone System – powered by estrogen & testosterone
If you want a deep dive on the 3 love systems, check out Dr. Helen Fisher’s huge volume of work.
Attraction is King
All 3 systems are important, but when it comes to sexual desire in women, the Attraction system is king. When Attraction is high it can override an amazing number of obstacles (even hormonal deficits at times).
Let’s start with how dopamine drives sexual desire.
How Dopamine Drives Sexual Desire
People think of dopamine as the pleasure neurotransmitter, but it’s actually more about novelty, motivation, and reward.
Challenging, non-routine, exciting activities cause our brains to produce dopamine. So does uncertainty.
Think rollercoaster vs. merry-go-round.
Rising dopamine levels prime brain and body for sex.
It’s very clear that when you raise dopamine levels, sex drive increases. As does attraction.
You’ve seen this in everyday life. For example, sex tends to be great in new relationships.
What drives that?
The novelty and uncertainty of not being able to fully anticipate the new partner’s behaviors cause you to produce dopamine.
In addition, you do more exciting activities together when you’re first dating and have much less routine, bumping up dopamine and thus Attraction.
Why does that matter, a lot of guys ask. Sometimes, they say, sex can just be sex without all the bells and whistles. Orgasms are a good thing, no matter what.
Well, yes and no. Mostly true for men, but not so true for women.
Spontaneous vs. Responsive Desire
Remember that women have responsive vs. spontaneous desire. As a man, you tend to have spontaneous desire so for you, a dopamine deficit doesn’t completely obliterate your sex drive.
Higher dopamine definitely increases and enhances your sexual desire, but it’s not a necessary ingredient for you.
For you, humdrum sex > no sex.
Not so for your wife.
She mostly has responsive desire (unless she’s ovulating). She absolutely needs a certain level of dopamine in order to want sex.
For her, no sex > humdrum sex.
These are biological realities that need to be recognized and navigated.
Men and women are very different. Especially when it comes to sex.
Sexual dimorphism. Love it or hate it; you can’t get around it.
Dopamine Deficit Kills Your Sex Life
It’s the dopamine deficit that’s suppressing your wife’s sexual interest.
Without dopamine, her sexual desire evaporates.
She can’t make bricks without straw.
Excessive Comfort Decreases Sexual Desire
Here’s the interesting corollary.
Oxytocin is the bonding hormone, the hormone of relaxation, trust, and stability. Producing oxytocin is great for the Comfort system, but you can get too much of a good thing.
Most married couples are swimming in oxytocin, drowning in it, in fact. Oxytocin helps you relax and bond, sure enough, but when you have too much, you can get complacent.
And complacency is the enemy of attraction.
Remember that we need a certain level of uncertainty to produce dopamine.
You’ve succeeded in making your wife feel safe and secure because you’re responsible, dependable, and reliable. That’s a good thing.
But when your life and marriage are so routine that every step can be predicted in advance, you go into a dopamine deficit. And sexual desire flounders.
Analyze Your Dopamine to Oxytocin Ratio
To get back to the amazing sex you used to have, you need to analyze your ratios.
Dopamine : Oxytocin
Take a look at all your activities and assign them to 1 of 2 categories: Attraction or Comfort. (Disregard the Libido system, for now.)
Attraction involves anything that increases dopamine … activities that are novel, exciting, uncertain, or even slightly scary.
(Incidentally, this is why make-up sex is a thing. Conflict surprisingly increases dopamine. The increased dopamine activates desire.)
Comfort is anything that is routine, dependable, and predictable.
My guess is you’ll find upward of 90% of your activities fall within the Comfort category.
That’s the problem. That’s what’s muting her sexual response. And that’s the part you need to change.
Fix Your Ratio
How Dopamine Drives Sexual Desire
Once you add more entries to the Attraction circle, you’ll start to see an uptick in her sexual interest.
Start adding dopamine activities to your own life before you try to add them to the marriage.
If you start by trying to engage her in more exciting activities, it will come across as neediness and it will decrease rather than increase her interest.
The challenge of exerting herself to engage your attention and interest causes her to produce dopamine.
She needs to feel like you’re the prize she wants to win. (Remember challenge and uncertainty are essential to dopamine production.)
So go ahead and enlarge your world. Create some mystery. Go to the ‘Magic Place of Out’.
Then, and only then, do you start pulling her into your world, which has become larger and more exciting.
Attraction, like leadership, is always about pull, never about push.
Getting back to Josh.
What Josh didn’t understand is that there wasn’t enough dopamine in his life to create the attraction needed to flip the switch on his wife’s responsive desire.
He had basically sublimated all his own interests to spend time with his wife and family because he had been taught that’s what good husbands do.
Until he added the missing dopamine first to his own life and then to his marriage, he and his wife were never going to have the sex life they used to have.
The first thing I asked Josh was to describe a typical day.
- Lunch together every day (both worked from home)
- Pick up kids from daycare
- Eat dinner (always stressful because of kids’ behavior at the table)
- Wash dishes.
- Bath time and bedtime routine for kids (always stressful because kids popped up multiple times every night)
- Bring his wife tea
- Listen to her day
- An hour of TV
- Walk the dog
Weekends were roughly the same, except they sat down in the evening and talked while they had a few margaritas together before bedtime, at which point Josh would try to initiate sex.
Josh really enjoyed talking together because it made them feel more connected.
It didn’t do much for their sex life, though.
And now you understand why.
Quietly talking together may increase Comfort and connection but it doesn’t do much for Attraction and dopamine.
Okay, let’s break it down for Josh’s interactions.
Activities 1-10 are all Comfort.
A full 100% of Josh’s interactions with his wife fall squarely in the Comfort circle.
Absolutely nothing in the Attraction circle.
It’s simple mathematics.
Attraction to Comfort ratio = 0:10
That’s a huge dearth of dopamine. How do you build Attraction and sexual desire with that?
It’s kind of like trying to grow a maple tree in the Sahara.
No water = Dead tree
Josh’s initial recommendations were simple: Increase dopamine activities in his own life first.
- Join a gym so he could work out with other guys
- Go out once a week with friends & do something he loved
- Increase his friend group
It wasn’t immediate, but Josh started seeing progress. I’ll let his results speak for themselves:
Josh still has a way to go in terms of quality, but he’s much happier with frequency.
Once he establishes more confidence and leadership in and out of the bedroom and can stand his ground more firmly with his wife, I think he’ll see the quality soar.
For now, he’s pretty happy with having more sex, even if it’s not yet as exciting as it was when they were dating. He’ll get there.
Exciting Life = Exciting Sex
It’s that simple.
The reason you had exciting sex in the beginning of the relationship is that your life was more exciting. You had friends, activities, and fun!
Now that you understand how dopamine drives sexual desire, you’ve got to bring that back. Not only for better sex, but because it’s no fun to live the way Josh was living.
It’s tougher with kids, I get it. I’ve got 5 of my own, and they can suck every bit of life out of you if you let them.
You can’t let them.
Look, you don’t have to jump out of planes or become an undercover spy. Just gradually start edging more fun and excitement into your life.
It can be anything … live music, martial arts, local festivals, jet skis, indoor rock climbing, go karts, the list is endless. Start small, but start.
Go forth and conquer! This is what men are meant to do.
Bring the dopamine home to your wife, to your life, to your family, to your bedroom. Reap the rewards!
If you like to geek out as much as I do, take a look at Dr. Andrew Huberman on dopamine in relationships. Well worth watching!
And another one just for fun –