Love & Sex

Will the Drugs of the Future Cure Heartache?

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Science now offers us a means of hacking our love and sex lives, but do we really want it?

Yesterday, USA Today announced that marriage rates have hit a historic low. It seems like we hear this statistic every week, and most people use it as a prognosis for the fact that the whole institution of marriage is steadily disappearing, and that a hundred years from now all romantic relationships will be comprised of pansexual polyamory. But what if the opposite is true?

Intriguing scientific progress that we’ve made in the last few years indicates that scientists are developing drugs that could do just the opposite, strengthening marriage bonds and perfecting the process of finding a mate. Imagine a world in which you reach a certain age, go to the doctor, submit all sorts of blood samples, fill out a questionnaire, and then wait as a computer compiles a list of people from all over the world who would be an ideal match. No blind dates. No waiting by the phone wondering whether or not he’ll call. No bad breakups. It may sound like the stuff of science fiction, but recent developments in research makes this kind of speculation seem like more and more of a possible reality.

We know, for example, that the brain of a person in love looks just like that of a coke addict (which is why, in scientific terms, love is an addiction). We also know that the reason kissing some people feels better than others is because, when you kiss, your body collects genetic information about the person to determine if they’re a good match. We know that when you “fall in love,” your serotonin levels drop and your dopamine levels increase, and that there’s a surge of oxytocin (the chemical that causes that rush of affection). And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

But now scientists are developing ways to translate these findings into real life applications for couples. Scientists at the University of Oxford are already developing medication that will help stimulate feelings of love in a couple. They've been using oxytocin sprays on couples in the midst of an argument and showing how it mitigates feelings of anger and boosts those of intimacy. And there are already plenty of medications being developed to help simulate feelings of lust, including the Lybrido, the controversial "Viagra" for women. Innovation in this area could also help solve the lack of passion that most long-term unions suffer from. If you increase these feelings, it only follows that you might be able to manufacture inhibitors of these (sometimes) unwanted emotions as well. To think, our great-great-grandchildren may live in a world in which unrequited love becomes increasingly rare. And a computer might be able to provide you with matches of people who are good biological fits, eradicating bad sex forever.

But, of course, creating infallible long-term unions is about more than just affection and sexual attraction, compatibility is key as well. Esteemed biological anthropologist of all things amorous Helen Fisher wrote in her bestselling Why Him? Why Her? about the personality traits that people have based on their chemical composition, and what the ideal matches for those chemical compositions would be. She’s now using this research as one of the chief scientific advisers on match.com, a site that boasts an ever-increasing number of followers and “successful” partnerships.

An advanced version of the method that it uses today (one that is based on chemical composition rather than whether or not you like long walks on the beach) points to the possibility of a future in which a computer could quite accurately yield a selection of people with whom you can lead a very compatible life. When you factor in drug stimulators to account for emotional variables, you’ve got a straightforward, tear-free, systemized approach to finding your so-called soul mate.

Though speculation of this sort can seem like over-projection, we don't always consider how radically different the culture of love, sex, and dating was only one hundred and fifty years ago. We can consider how differently courtship was handled at the time, especially how bizarre it now seems that men would intentionally march onto a hill and shoot one another in a completely civilized and structured fashion, all because of a purported insult hurled at a woman who wasn’t even their partner. And this is only one example of how the culture of relationships has drastically changed. If drugs and technology help us to make and maintain better matches, then perhaps the future of relationships isn't so dismal after all. Perhaps it's more empowering than that.