The dangers of too much dopamine too soon


Dear Duana,

I recently ended a 10-year relationship, and shortly after that I started dating Robert.  I like him a lot, and I am afraid of moving too fast.  I’m afraid I might run him off.  It seems like he really likes me, but he also just broke up with his boyfriend, so I’m nervous about that.  I just don’t want to get my feelings hurt.  Any advice?  I’ve only been talking to him for three weeks, and I just cannot stop thinking about him.  We have not had sex and both agreed not to, so we don’t mess anything up.  Looking forward to your response.



Dear Clark,

I don’t know a lot about rebound relationships, other than that a) they happen, and b) you’re wise to take things slow so they’re less likely to happen to you.

But I do know what psychs men sexually.  And you are onto something with holding off.  Let’s start by explaining how this works with straight guys.

Straight men need dopamine, a biochemical that floods reward centers of the brain, in order to fall deeply in love.  Men who have sex straight out of the gate tend to experience a surge in dopamine just before—but a huge drop just after.  Meaning, men who get sex really early in a relationship tend to lose interest in the person they just had sex with.

Sometimes, straight women write to me wondering: What the hell just happened?!  He asked for sex, I gave it, and he was gone!  I thought he was into me!

Well, he literally *was* into them, but only for a moment.  He may actually have meant it when he said he wanted them, and not just for sex.  But men’s dopamine drop appears to be a mechanism to protect men from committing to women who might cheat on them and put the guy’s genetic line at risk.

Women know the baby’s theirs, but human psychology comes from an ancient time when paternity tests didn’t exist.  And as it happens, even today, women who say Yes to sex very easily, very soon, or with very many partners are slightly more likely to keep their sexual options open even after commitment.  As you might imagine, the line of men who want to unwittingly raise someone else’s kids?  Is short.

Upshot?  Ancestral men who preferred hard-to-get partners were likelier to leave behind more children that were actually theirs—not a competitor’s.  Thus, lots of psychological adaptations have arisen to protect men from becoming part of human history…but not part of human ancestry.

One of those adaptations is what I call Ninja Sperm.  Turns out, most sperm aren’t actually there to fertilize anything; they exist to wage war on another guy’s sperm, strangling them to death.  Men are fighting a battle to cast their own genes forward, and some men are fighting it in their partner’s hoohoo.  They’re not consciously aware of that, of course.  Evolutionary psychology is non-conscious.  But it’s happening nevertheless, and it only happens in species that aren’t 100% monogamous.  Like ours.

Another adaptation that helps protect a guy’s certainty that The Kids Are His Own is Love Junk.  About 97% of what’s in semen isn’t sperm at all; it’s love chemicals, including dopamine.  These chemicals are absorbed into a woman’s vaginal walls.  Impact?  They make women feel like being faithful to the Guy Who Shagged Me.

And a third adaptation is what I started this response with:Dopamine Drops.  Straight men simply lose interest in She Who Was Oh-So-Easy-To-Get, because guys can’t fall in love without dopamine.  And dopamine falls with easy access.


What does this have to do with you, as a gay man?  A lot.  Even though you are into men, you share those same emotional and physical qualities that protect straight men from making a bad genetic bet.  Just like them, you require dopamine to fall in love.

And just like them, your dopamine levels probably won’t rise enough for love to form if you have sex too soon. 


© Copyright 2014 Duana WelchPh.D., All rights Reserved.