THE MOLECULE OF MORE
WHY MOM WANTS YOU TO WAIT
UNTIL YOU’RE MARRIED
Though changes in culture have made the attitude passé in
some quarters, there are still a lot of mothers (and anxious
fathers) who encourage their daughters to “save themselves
for marriage.” This is often a part of a larger moral or reli-
gious teaching, but is there any advantage to waiting that is
based in brain chemistry?
Testosterone and dopamine have a special relation-
ship. During passionate love, testosterone is the one H&N
that is not suppressed in favor of dopamine. In fact, they
work together to form a feedback loop—a perpetual motion
machine that enhances our feelings of romance. Passionate
love usually increases the desire to have sex. Testosterone
revs up that desire. Increased desire in turn increases pas-
sionate love. Therefore, denying sexual satisfaction actually
enhances passion—not necessarily forever, of course, and
not without significant sacrifice, but the effect is real. Thus
we find a chemical explanation that, long ago, may have
been at least part of the basis for behavior we see today.
Waiting prolongs the most exciting phase of love. The bit-
tersweet feelings of distance and denial are the business
end of a chemical reaction.
Passion deferred is passion sustained. If mom wants her
daughter to get married, amplifying the passion is a good
way to help things along. Dopamine tends to shut down
once fantasy becomes reality, and dopamine is the driving
chemical of romantic love. So what would raise dopamine
more: agreeing to sex now, or keeping it in the future? Mom
knows the answer, even if we’re only now learning why.