Survival-Mode Kicks Sexual Desire Into High Gear

Posted by on 03 27 13 in Love Addiction News | Comments Off on Survival-Mode Kicks Sexual Desire Into High Gear

Maybe you’re familiar with a wildly popular song “Love the Way You Lie” by rap artist Eminem, with  Rihanna singing the hook. The song was written by Skylar Grey, inspired by her “abusive romantic relationship” with the music industry, but Eminem and Rihanna approached it from their own histories in relationships with domestic violence. In the video shot for the song, a couple takes turns violently fighting and having sex – as if they cannot decide between hate and love. So intense is their passion and explosive their violence that it appears to have ignited; Rihanna is singing in front of a burning house.

The song and the video were controversial particularly because of Rihanna’s very public domestic violence case against former boyfriend Chris Brown. Women’s studies professors showed the video to their classes to inspire discussion about “disturbing” and “confusing” images of relationships in popular culture being directed at young audiences, and many Rihanna fans lost faith. How could the artist support a song and video that portrayed a young woman in what appeared to be a violent relationship, especially after what had happened to her with Chris Brown?

The Social Science of Fear and Sexual Attraction

While anyone who was upset by the song or video may have had a noble point, there is data on the side of the video makers. Social psychology has been able to replicate studies that show that in chaotic and/or frightening situations, attraction is heightened. One such study took place in Vancouver, British Columbia.  Participants were asked to walk across a shaky suspension bridge 230 feet above a river canyon. Once at the other side, the participants (all were male) spoke to a woman. The study found  that the men, who became anxious and afraid while crossing the bridge, were far more likely to find a particular woman sexually attractive than were men who crossed nearby bridges that weren’t nearly as scary, and who thus did not become noticeably anxious upon crossing the bridge.

Says neuroscientist John Montgomery: “Something about the state of fear or anxiety, in other words, appears to make many of us more likely to experience feelings of sexual attraction toward other people.”

Evolutionary Perspective

It has also been reported that sexual attractions are readily activated in war zones and other violently chaotic situations. From an evolutionary perspective, it may be that bonding, even temporarily, has an adaptive advantage. If the two-heads-are-better-than-one cooperation element does not help to get the individual out of the frightening situation alive, the urge to reproduce and therefore carry on the species may be ignited by the fact of the turmoil.

Chaos and the Addiction Drama

There are times in relationships when we feel as if we’re being forced to walk out 230 feet above a surging river on a shaky suspension bridge, and even times when relationships feel like a war zone. It would seem logical that at such times, people choose to take breaks from such relationships. Anything that feels that chaotic can’t be safe or healthy and should probably be reevaluated. But even the science tells us that what often happens is the opposite. Logic does not prevail; libido does. People become chemically charged and sexually induced. They cling to one another despite the danger. The terror of the fall and the orgasmic high become feelings people seek out over and over, regardless of the emotional and psychological damage it does to them and to their partners. In this way, sex and relationship become a part of a cyclical pattern, an unconscious drama couples play and replay until they have burned so long they no longer feel.

Survival-Mode Emotional States

Montgomery writes about the “survival-mode emotional states” reenacted in relationships when old traumas are triggered. An enduring theory of psychology is that unconscious trauma from one’s childhood or early life is sought out and repeated in another form in adult relationships until or unless those traumas are resolved. When trauma is experienced or re-experienced, stress hormones, or the fight-or-flight hormones, are released in the body – cortisol, adrenaline, and even endorphins. It is the endorphins, Montgomery suggests, that are addictive. Despite the high states of stress, people may unconsciously seek out those circumstances and repeat behaviors that will release endorphins again and again.

The Abyss of Sex, Love, and Relationship Addiction

What sex, love, and relationship addicts have in common are not relationships of peace and emotional security. Encounters of safe, healthy intimacy are not consistently compelling. The common denominator for relational addicts is a certain level of chaos, an unconscious promise of trauma, the disabling element of this-cannot-sustain-itself. Forcing oneself to remain in this perpetually insecure emotional state is a way to avoid moving forward into self-actualization, because “survival-mode emotional states” preclude the possibility of self-actualizing. And if one refuses to self-actualize, one cannot fail. Therein lies the paradox of choosing to remain trapped in relational addictions: failure to attempt to truly love for fear failure.

At some point, though, the pattern of relationship and sex addiction has burned one’s house to the ground. It no longer makes sense (not that it ever did) to move into another just like the last, letting libido and illogic choose the neighborhood. Endorphins alone cease to satisfy. It’s time to choose more wisely.