Dirty Minds: How Our Brains Influence Love, Sex, and Relationships
by Kayt Sukel. Free Press, 2012
Consider this ubiquitous yet poorly understood affliction: love. It is likely to cause drastic changes in behavior, difficulty concentrating and rapid mood swings. Even after it ends, the sufferer gains no respite. Instead more erratic behavior emerges, and the afflicted often report a loss of appetite, crying and obsessive thoughts. Yet we all want it.
In Dirty Minds, journalist Kayt Sukel takes on this nearly universal brain scrambler. She tackles provocative questions to determine why love can relieve us of our sanity, why we seem to pick the wrong people, and why the turmoil of a relationship can induce feelings resembling both love and hate. She sprinkles in personal anecdotes from her recent divorce, her trials on the dating scene and advice from her friends.
On her investigative journey to uncover the truth about the brain in love, Sukel also interviews scientists and combs through the literature. A highlight of the book comes when Sukel bravely agrees to participate in a study that requires her to bring herself to orgasm in the claustrophobic confines of a functional MRI machine while researchers look on.
Dirty Minds is not short on moments of insight, such as when Sukel discovers that an orgasm involves as many as 30 different areas of the brain. She learns that cheating likely has a genetic link, which lends some credence to her married friend’s idea that his biology requires him to take lovers. Moreover, she finds that many of the same parts in the brain become active when people feel both love and hate, a confusing phenomenon she admits she got to know well during the dissolution of her marriage.
Sukel, however, is quick to caution that although today’s studies on the subject of love may indeed explain a thing or two about one’s patterns in relationships, they cannot serve as an instruction manual any more than DNA discoveries can predict the diseases you will contract. In other words, when it comes to love, much of the mystery remains. That, Sukel says, is just the way she likes it, even if it means her newly single future will involve plenty of awkward dates and false starts.
A fun and insightful read, Dirty Minds manages to evoke the feel of both a wine-laden conversation with an old friend and a great neuroscience lecture from your favorite college professor.