Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Dopamine, The Cruel Bitch Mistress

If you'll open your books to where we left off the other day...we talking about the exquisite agony of The Crush. The crush, as you recall, is where we basically become dreamy fuckheads, walking ids powered by the hideous/delicious combo of single-mindedness, spaciness, magnanimity to your fellow humans ("Everyone is so awesome!"), hateable neediness, and general giddiness alternating with sudden despair--all set to the constant backdrop of the throb of unquenched sexual desire.

As reader can't keep anything to myself put it:
Crushes are torture, but the most delicious kind of torture. They make you realize what a masochist you really are. It's such a fun feeling though when your insides are squirming and you're smiling at random people like an idiot because you're thinking about them again and your jaw hurts from smiling so hard/much.
If you are suffering thusly right now, please know that you're not acting like such a pitiful lovesick idiot because you're inherently weak or out of your fucking head, but because cruel, cruel dopamine is totally screwing with you. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter, "a kind of natural drug associated with the expectation of a reward that brings us pleasure," writes Sheril Kirshenbaum in The Science of Kissing. Dopamine can start fucking you up even during a first kiss. Writes Kirshenbaum,
Spiking during a passionate kiss, dopamine is responsible for the rush of elation and craving, and can also result in obsessive thoughts that many of us experience in association with a new romance--almost like an addiction.
I'm sorry, did she say "almost like"? Because dopamine is involved with stimulating the mesolimbic reward system (Mmmm, you like it when I talk to you all scientifically, don't you?), the part of the brain involved with virtually all of the addictive drugs. Wheee!
It primes us to make us want more, making us feel energized. Some people pumping lots of dopamine even lose their appetites, or feel that they cannot fall asleep--not surprisingly, the same 'symptoms' commonly described when "falling in love."
So maybe you're not in love, maybe you're just high on dopamine, you friggin' junkie. Which can go either way, depending if your ardor is returned. Writes the delightful Helen Fisher in Why We Love:
Because romantic love is such a euphoric "high," because this passion is exceedingly difficult to control, and because it produces craving, obsession, compulsion, distortion of reality, emotional and physical dependence, personality change, and loss of self-control, many psychologists regard love as an addiction--a positive addiction when your love is returned, a horribly negative fixation when your love is spurned and you can't let go.
If you don't get your love fix, well, it's not good. The suffering includes all kinds of sucky withdrawal symptoms like "depression, crying, spells, anxiety, insomnia, loss of appetite (or binge eating), irritability and chronic loneliness," reports Fisher.

Fisher continues, and I suspect she based her research solely on my diary entries from 1987: "Like all addicts, the lover then goes to unhealthy, humiliating, even physically dangerous lengths to procure their narcotic."

Which is not good, either. (Well, it's sorta good.)

Our takeaways from all this?  Hmmmmm, I guess, if you're going to get all hepped up on dopamine over someone, at least try to make sure that they might be someone who'll like you back. Which, you know, is totally easy. (Helpful hint: After years of painstaking research--ahem, Nobel committee--I can say with a fair degree of certainty that emotionally unavailable, meanish, and your basic garden-variety insane dudes are not, to my great surprise, good choices. You're welcome.)

Anyway, after awhile nature finally gives us a break. Because even a good dopamine ride can be, well, a bit much. I mean there's only so much time you can spend in a state of constant arousal, contemplating such uber-focused matters as the insanely lickable curve of a loved one's particularly enchanting body part. "Our biology places a limit on how long the 'high' conferred by dopamine can last," writes Kirshenbaum. "Studies have shown that levels of this intoxicating neurotransmitter decrease as we become more accustomed to a romantic partner, which might be why sexual desire tends to wane with the same person over time." (See also: the Coolidge Effect in "Our Genes Can Be Heartless Puppeteers").

On the other hand, it also doesn't seem reasonable, or at all fun, to avoid excessive, stupid, sexy, out-of-your-fucking-mind passion, for fear of getting the dopamine monkey on our backs. As "Slow Sex: The Art and Craft of The Female Orgasm" author Nicole Daedone's current, possibly grammatically problematic, Facebook status says, "Desire is there to be lived inside of."

I will await your tales from the front....

xoxo
jill

[addendum: As the unrelentingly brilliant and hilarious Betty Fokker points out below in the comments, the sweeter, more mellow high of attachment and bonding chemicals conveniently kick in just as the harsher high of the dopamine fades.]

[addendum 2: My dear friend Tricia sent me this bad-ass article on the fleetingness and horrible unsustainability of such passion.]


(photo: Marlo Broekmans, Photo extraite de la serie "Autoportraits")

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Overthinking the Magic Bra

Sandra and I were shopping for bras in what is still called--in this day and age!-- the "Intimates" department when I saw it: the Maidenform Women's Ultimate Push Up Bra

Have you seen this thing? "Add two cup sizes!" it promises, as well it should, since it seems to contain a small throw pillow's worth of padding in each cup. The bra was pretty ridiculous, really, so we gave it its proper mockery then continued with the special hell that is bra-shopping. [Oh, men, you don't even know! The egregious misstocking, the deciphering of strange terms (is "demi" good or bad?) and the hideous also-rans (I'm talking to you, green pin-striped push-up bra.) It's enough to drive you to the smelling salts, quite honestly.]

After some time (hours? days?) I had gathered a few bras that appeared that they might work (though "gathered" is not nearly a strong enough term for the savage, skillful foraging it took.) Though oddly, as though guided by some sort of unseen force, I kept finding myself circling back to the Ultimate bra. "Oh look," I thought to myself, with a forced casualness that didn't fool me one bit. "It's that ridiculous bra again." In a jump of logic that remains unclear to me even now, I concluded, "Well, may as well try it on."

I did, and well....DAMN! I had huge boobs, insanely inflated porno boobs, boobs that could not be tamed by man nor bra. My bosom, as they say in the romance novels, was swollen. My cups runnethed over. I was like the chick in this photo modeling the bra in question, but...more. Way more. My boobs were so huge, I was unclear on which side of the sexy/comically large divide they fell. "Sandra!" I called to the other dressing rooms. "You must come in here and behold my giant boobs." She looked. "Damn!" she said (as well she should.)

"I don't know...I look...different," I said, hoping Sandra, who knows about such feminine matters, would tell me whether to get it or not. Sandra took charge immediately. "Well, girl, I look different when I'm not wearing make-up--that doesn't mean I don't wear it, " she said definitively. "You Are Getting That Bra."

So I got it. And it sat, unused, in its preternatural perkiness on my dresser. I put it on only two times. Once to show Leah and once to show my husband. "Look at my boobs!" I said. Leah looked. My husband looked. "Damn!" they said.

I liked it. Kind of. I think. I don't know. The bra was becoming... problematic. I just couldn't bring myself to wear it. Was it indeed sexy, or was it just too damn big, borderline silly? Would I feel comfortable showing up to my usual haunts with my suddenly gigantic rack? (It should be noted that I already have a pretty smokin' D cup, but the difference with the magic bra was noticeable, way noticeable.) What if someone started flirting with me just because of my big fake boobs? Would I be irked that they were into something I didn't actually possess? Hey, my eyes are up here, Mr. Big Boob Lover.

And what if you were still dating and wearing this bra? The padding was so flippin' thick--would you even notice when things had gone to, as we used to say, second base? And what about a "home run"? As you flung your bra to the floor, so would go your boobs, piled there on the carpet, still waiting perkily at attention. (Warning: never do your real boobs look so dreadfully inadequate than after taking off the magic bra.)

The magic bra was causing me to overthink. I mean, not that I control the direction of society with my bra choices, but did I really want to be promoting this as what a women's chest should look like? By wearing the bra, in some small--albeit, incredibly busty--way, I would be raising the bar of what a woman's chest was supposed to look like. If my D-cup needed enhancement, what about my C, B and A-cup sisters? Would they be forced to don a completely fabricated chest, similar to those boys' superhero costumes with the build-in foam muscles? Would we one day just all don our blonde-haired, big-boobed, sweetly smiling full-body foam costumes, completely covering our unworthy, misshaped, shameful selves? No, by jingo! I would not be a part of it!

I found the tags and the receipt for the bra. I had to return it--for the Good of Society.

But first I tried it on one more time.

Damn.

xoxo
jill

Addendum: Btw, if you, like some of the commenters below, wish to play your part in bringing down society, you can get the thing--it's full of lies, I tell you!--at a department store like Kohl's or order it via In Bed With Married Women through the link above:

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

What I Do When I Leave You

Hey gorgeous,

Even though I've been away hustling words to afford enough Lexapro so I don't harm myself or others, I'm still thinking about you. All the damn time.

Let's just get to it then...

Disembodied Labia

I was working on a story about sex toy accessories* and came upon something that wasn't technically an accessory, but I had to tell someone (you!). I'd already seen a dick casting kit that you use to make a vibrating dildo out of your favorite penis (oh yeah) but what struck me was the ad for the Clone-A-Pussy Molding Kit.

Clone-A-Pussy seemed good for equal opportunity reasons (ERA Yes!) but apparently pussy-casting technology is not yet as advanced as for their dicky brethren. In fact, it kinda sucks. Mentions the site in not nearly bold enough font:

"Please Note: Your new pussy replica is a shallow likeness, without a hole, and not designed for ...ahem.... insertion."

So you can't even fuck it. It just sits there, like a homeless dried peach, but even less functional. Perhaps sensing the complete uselessness of such a product, the site offers this weak plan:

"Use the mold over and over again and create your own treasured collection of life-like vaginas."

(Warning: displaying "treasured collection" of disembodied labia pretty much insures you will never get in anyone's panties ever again.)

In quite related news, Clone-a-Pussy is now on clearance.

Disembodied Labia, Part 2:

Speaking of disembodied labia, as one does, I found this unsettling photo of the RealDoll labia repair kit.  I both love and hate how the labia is just sittin' there all unsexy and out-of-context, next to the tongue depressors and glue. It also makes me a bit cringey, maybe how like men feel when they see another man being kicked in the balls.

I showed this pic to my husband, because I cruelly enjoy making him uncomfortable, and he said "I kind of don't want to know why you might need that." Which is a pretty reasonable point.

My Cheatin' Heart
Here's some stuff you might like that wrote for other people (don't worry, they mean nothing to me and I was thinking about you the whole time.)
--An AlterNet story on the delightful dick pic judging site Critique My Dick Pic.
--A Cosmo piece I wrote on how to give a corkscrew blowjob, including the word "fucking," a possible suggestion to stick a sparkler up your bum and/or suck off household vegetables and a random Rankin-Bass reference is now running in friggin.....Redbook magazine. Yes, 70s mom mag, Redbook. I no longer understand the world.
  
Need You So Bad
I am working on a piece about the best porn sites "for women" and wondering what you'd recommend. I'm not entirely sure what constitutes a womanly site, but I guess to me it's something where--if there is a woman, or women, involved--they are doing things an actual woman with normal sexual responses would do, or at least would want to do. Where would you send me? (And don't tell me about that book Porn For Women where men are vacuuming, unloading the dishwasher, etc... cause that it's not actually that funny--or sexually arousing either. There's a big difference between "sexy" and just "nice things to do.")

~~~~~~~~~
Okay, lovey, I'm gonna leave you here for a bit, but here's a new bowl of water and a nice fresh leaf.  And don't forget to tell me about your girl-friendly porn!

xoxo
jill

*Hey, reader who bought Taming My Teddy Bear--An Erotic Story (Plushie Fetish Book 1) via the IBWMW Amazon link in the right margin (thanks!), you may enjoy the part about Jumbo Wolf with a SPH. 

Monday, July 6, 2015

The Crush, Explained by Science

Careful, don't get burned.
"What is this volatile, often uncontrollable feeling that hijacks the mind, bringing bliss one moment, despair the next?"
--Helen Fisher, Why We Love

The other day, a reader contacted me to tell me she had something I had to write about. She reported that since attending her high school reunion a month back, her old flame had been poking her on Facebook. "Every day," she said meaningfully. It was clear from her words that this virtual poking was getting her all hot and bothered. "It's knowing that, at least for some moment in the day, I am on his mind," she reported.

At first I reacted like I usually do when someone tells me something I Simply Must Write About, which is to pretend that I am interested, then never actually write about it.

But the more I thought about it, I realized the story was the crush itself. Or how this very practical woman was now obsessively checking Facebook to see if any new pokes had come in from Mr. Reunion Dude. She had actually eroticized the little cartoon poking hand icon from Facebook which, to refresh your memory, looks like this:
Is this making you hot?
Still, her Pavlovian response to Facebook pokey hand is perfectly normal. Anyone in the midst of a crush has all sorts of neurochemical crap going on.

The last time I had a crush, I could tell exactly the moment it hit me. We were talking in my driveway, he said something vaguely risque, and I felt it come down upon me, like an actual thing. Like an affliction. "Oh fuck," I thought.

Because, although a crush is delightful and exciting and makes the world shine brighter, it is an affliction. A brain affliction. An affliction as in "pain, suffering and distress."

In her (quite excellent) book, "Why We Love," anthropologist Helen Fisher identified certain characteristics of people "in love." And I mean "in love" in the sense of "God, I want to lick their neck" instead of the "We've been together 35 years and he's an excellent father" kind of love. Like crazy stupid love where you do fucked up things and act psychotic. That one governor who snuck off to Brazil to meet his lover while claiming to be hiking? His kind of love. The astronaut chick who drove across the country to confront her romantic rival while wearing astronaut diapers to hasten her trip? Her kind of love.

According to Fisher, lovestruck people exhibit certain characteristics, including:
--"Special Meaning": This is giving the loved one an elevated status above others. "Your beloved becomes novel, unique and all-important," writes Fisher.
--Focused Attention: "The love-possessed person focuses almost all of his or her attention on the beloved, often to the detriment of everything and everyone else," writes Fisher. (see above: governor ditching his job.) "Infatuated men and women also concentrate on all of the events, songs, letters, and other little things they have come to associate with the beloved." (That would be you, Facebook pokey finger.)
--Aggrandizing the Beloved:  This means that although you can see the beloved's faults, you somehow reframe them as charming quirks. This what was probably happening to me when the (thankfully unconsumated) Crush above was later telling me about some penis test he got for flippin' gonorrhea. It involved a tube and his urethra, but I was all, "Oh really? That's fascinating!"
--"Intrusive Thinking": This is when you can't stop thinking about your loved one. In a 1988 survey, in love respondents reported thinking about their "'love object' over 85 percent of their waking hours." 85 percent! This happened to me with Gonorrhea boy. I would lie awake in bed thinking of him, so much so that it actually became tiresome. At a certain point, I didn't even want to be thinking of him, but my mind kept returning to him, as though he were a plague upon my brain.
--Looking for clues: This is the source of all "What do you think he really meant when he said I was 'interesting?'" conversations.
--Emotional fire: That's when you're so damn happy that eating or sleeping seems so...pedestrian.
--Intense energy: This includes exhilaration as well as the overwhelming awkwardness in the beloved's presence. Noted Andres the Chaplain in the 1180s: "Every lover regularly turns pale in the presence of the beloved." This would be the feeling of "How do I act normal around this delightful, insanely sexy person to disguise the fact that I am obsessively thinking about putting my mouth upon their upper thigh (the left one)?"

Fisher identified several others symptoms like jealousy, hope, adversity strengthening ardor, and such but I, sadly crush-less and thus unfueled by its exhilaration, grow weary upon listing them all.

Even Richard Burton was not immune to the overwhelmingly potent forces of attraction and noted upon meeting the 19 year old Elizabeth Taylor:
She was so extraordinarily beautiful that I nearly laughed out loud...Her breasts were apocalyptic, they would topple empires before they withered...her body was a miracle of construction...She was unquestionably gorgeous. She was lavish. She was, in short, too bloody much....those huge violet eyes had an odd glint...Aeons passed, civilizations came and went while these cosmic headlights examined my flawed personality. Every pockmark on my face became a crater of the moon.
So why do we act like such insecure ass-wipes when we when love someone? Fisher asked herself the same question, though I don't believe she used the term "ass-wipes." She promptly stuck some lovestruck folks into an fMRI machine to see what the hell was going on in their poor, love-addled brains.

What she found was a neurochemical stew driving the ass-wipeian behavior. The ancient reptilian brain, with its dumb quest for good feelings was going crazy. One part--the caudate nucleus, if you must know--is associated with the reward system of the brain and affects "general arousal, sensations of pleasure and the motivation to acquire rewards." Also active was the ventral tegmenal area (VTA), spewing dopamine about the brain, willy-nilly, giving lovers "focused attention...fierce energy, concentrated motivation to attain a reward, and feelings of elation--even mania." 

As a result, few drives are more basic and strong than the quest to bind with a lover. Fisher calls it, "a primordial brain network that drives the lover to focus his or her attention on life's grandest prize--a mate who may pass their DNA toward eternity."

I'll leave you today with these questions:
--Does any of this sound familiar?
--What undesirable characteristics have you overlooked while hepped up on love?
--And finally, do you not completely love the sentence, "She was, in short, too bloody much"?

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