A recent study, from the University of New Brunswick, that provoked a high-level of attention from mainstream media brought up this exact question and challenged the myth that men prefer sex to romance.
Ashley Thompson is a UNB psychology student who authored the paper, called Gender Differences in Associations of Sexual and Romantic Stimuli: Do Young Men Really Prefer Sex Over Romance? Her testing of subconscious responses from 182 UNB students proved surprising results. By showing study participants both images of couples engaged in various sexual activities as well as images associated with romance, what was discovered is that both men and women were unreservedly drawn to the romantic images over the sexual ones.
Another earlier study conducted by Dr. Helen Fisher, Biological Anthropologist, evaluated the same theory. Fischer, who is also a Research Professor at Rutgers University, put 32 people who were madly in love, into a functional MRI brain scanner: 17 who were madly in love and their love was accepted, and 15 who were madly in love but recently heartbroken.
Fischer describes, in a 2008 TED talk, that while scanning the brains of these 32 test subjects she discovered that the same brain region that becomes active when you feel the rush of cocaine mirrored that of a brain looking at a photo of a romantic love. Fischer began to realize that romantic love is not an emotion but a drive.
She states, “It comes from the motor of the mind, the ‘wanting’ part of the mind, the ‘craving’ part of the mind. The part of the mind, when you’re reaching for that piece of chocolate, when you want to win that promotion at work: the motor of the brain. It’s a drive. And, in fact, I think it’s more powerful than the sex drive.”
She also believes that our sex drive evolved to get us out there to get looking for anything at all, that romantic love developed to focus our mating energy on just one individual and attachment works to tolerate this individual long enough to raise children as a team.
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