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Dating From the Inside Out
by Susan S. Davis

The OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) Love Connection

Scientific studies have shown, that the evolutionary consequences of love more than likely have a long-established biological process connected to it. Serotonin (the neurotransmitter, derived from tryptophan, involved in sleep, depression, memory, and other neurological processes, also known as 5-HT), may be linked to both neuroticism and sexual behavior, as well as obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).

In 1999, research conducted by University of Pisa psychiatrist, Donatella Marazziti, attempted to identify the physiological origins of love. The study involved measuring Serotonin levels in the blood, of people suffering from obsessive compulsive disorder, which she expanded by adding people who were in love, since, it was reasoned, those individuals can be rather obsessive, as well.  The study won Ig Nobel Prize in 2000 (Psychological Medicine, Vol. 29, p. 741, 1999).  


 The team of researchers found 17 female, and 3 male volunteer students who had recently fallen in love, and obsessed about a new love, for at least four hours every day, but who had not yet consummated the relationship with sex. A separate group of people with OCD was studied at the same time, in addition to a control group.

All of the subjects were tested for the presence of a Serotonin transporter protein in their blood platelets. The control group was normal. As Dr. Marazziti expected, from earlier studies, the people as were the people in love.

Though blood Serotonin is not a perfect substitute to measure Serotonin levels in the brain, it's an interesting theory that from a biochemical standpoint, falling in love can, in fact, provoke madness. In fact, there are numerous articles, essays, books, poems, films and documentaries on that very subject.

Particularly, The Madness of a Seduced Woman, by Susan Fromberg Schaeffer is a very realistic portrayal of obsession, chronicling how a woman's obsession grows, and eventually takes over her life. The story describes, in very subtle detail, how the protagonist first discovers men and relationships. Her first relationship, was with the perfect "nice" man, who completely falls for her. Quickly becoming tired of his doting, she becomes interested in, and then, obsessed with, an “untouchable” man, who, the more he led her on, the more drawn to him she became. Repeatedly giving her just enough attention to engage her, and give her reason to believe; he would just as quickly disappear. Ultimately, the story ends in a tragic turn, with a crime of passion, a courtroom drama, and a declaration of insanity. If this character’s Serotonin levels were measured, it is certain that they would probably be off the charts.

With respect to Dr. Marazziti’s study, some of the students who were in love, when tested a year later, thankfully, were found to have normal Serotonin levels.

The similarities between the typical topics in the early phase of a love relationship, and obsession, has prompted scientists to explore the possibility that the two situations may have alterations at the level of the 5-HT transporter, in common.

From a scientific standpoint, 20 subjects who had recently (within the previous 6 months) fallen in love, consisting of 20 unmedicated OCD patients and 20 normal controls, were included. The 5-HT transporter was evaluated with the specific binding of 3H-paroxetine (3H-Par) to platelet membranes. The results showed that the density of 3H-Par binding sites was significantly lower in subjects who had recently fallen in love and in OCD patients than in controls.

The main finding of the study was that subjects who were in the early romantic phase of a love relationship, were the same as OCD patients in terms of the density of the platelet 5-HT transporter, which proved to be significantly lower than in the normal controls. This finding suggests that common neurochemical changes involving the 5-HT system, are in fact, linked to psychological dimensions, and shared by the two situations.

The above study indicates why it can be dangerous for people to indulge in physical sexuality before they are ready, or before they have had a chance to build a form of trust with a partner. The chemicals, and their affects, are palpable, and it has now been proven scientifically, that a connection does exist when the line of physicality is crossed on an intimate level.

Without becoming too preachy or religious here, interestingly, statistics have indicated, that conservative Christians (also referred to as modern-day "Victorians") actually enjoy the most satisfying sex lives. To wit, Redbook Magazine conducted a reader survey and found, to its surprise, that women who characterized themselves as "strongly religious" reported greater sexual satisfaction than the nonreligious survey respondents.

The above illustrates the psychological changes that can occur during a sexual relationship, and the possibility that better sexual lives can be aspired to, through deeper levels of commitment. Perhaps, then, it might not be too bad an idea, to at least thoroughly understand the ramifications of what goes on chemically, within our own bodies, that can affect us emotionally, before embarking upon a sexual relationship of any kind.

Susan S. Davis is a published book author and writer, currently doing research for a romantic screenplay she is writing. Her Dating From The Inside Out column is published every Tuesday.

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