When you experience lust, the hypothalamus in your brain stimulates the release of the sex hormones testosterone and estrogen. These hormones drive reproduction, an evolutionary need shared by all living creatures.The next level of romantic love – attraction – involves the brain’s reward center, which produces serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine. All these feel-good hormones get released during pleasurable activities like bonding with loved ones and having sex.
Dopamine and norepinephrine make you feel giddy and euphoric, which explains why you may have “butterflies” when falling in love.A surge in these neurotransmitters creates an intense desire and longing for the person you’re attracted to, and you can’t seem to get enough of them. However, serotonin levels decrease as the stress hormone cortisol dominates, a natural response to attraction. In this case, it’s a positive form of stress brought on by emotional dependency, desire, and infatuation.In these first two stages of intimacy, you may experience sweaty palms, flushed cheeks, a racing heart, and even anxiety.
The body can’t differentiate between a rewarding and punishing source of stress, so it reacts the same way. But love rewards the brain since it deactivates the neural pathways that trigger negative feelings, such as fear and judgment.Then, as attachment deepens, the hormones oxytocin and vasopressin are released. Oxytocin, the “love hormone,” enhances feelings of attachment, calmness, and safety.