How Many Types of Love are There?

May 14, 2019
There are three brain systems in charge of three different types of love: sexual impulse or lust, romantic love, and deep attachment. 

How many types of love are there? In order to answer this question, we’re going to go over a theory that anthropologist Helen Fisher developed. In this framework, there are three brain systems in charge of three different types of love: sexual impulse or lust, romantic love, and deep attachment.

Going against ideal romantic standards, it seems that people can develop an interest or attraction for more than one person at a time. The neurobiology of love has an explanation for it. So, it’s important to know how hormones can affect human behavior, in order to better understand “emotional oscillations”.

This theory can help you understand the conflict between what you desire and what you know is right for you. The different types of love can transform your crippling guilt and help you understand who you love, how you love, and why you love.

Sexual impulse

It can happen in both men and women. The person who has sexual impulse seeks sexual gratification without expecting anything to happen in the future.

When you’re sexually attracted to someone, it triggers a whole physical and psychological process. Your systolic blood pressure goes up, releasing sugar and fat, and increasing the production of red blood cells. Plus, some very important alterations at a neuronal and hormonal level happen.

This impulse is a very basic need, such as thirst or hunger. It starts in the hypothalamus, an organ in charge of basic behavior. The brain in this state produces dopamine, endorphins, adrenaline, and noradrenaline.

Noradrenaline is responsible for your brain feeling attracted to certain people. It clouds your judgment and increases your risk tolerance as long as you satisfy your desire.

types of Love: a woman feeling sexually attracted to her boyfriend

Romantic love

Nowadays, people know that romantic love isn’t an emotion. It’s more like a drive, an impulse. It’s so powerful that it makes you want to see and be with a certain person and no one else. Romantic love has the same effect on the brain as cocaine and increases activity in the brain’s ventral tegmental area, and in the caudate nucleus.

Both areas are linked to the basic motivation and reward system, which relates to the reptilian brain. It’s the same chemical reaction that happens in addicts, especially when it comes to dopamine levels. There’s also a brain area that deactivates in this romantic love state: the part of the amygdala associated to fear. Perhaps that’s why they say that “love is blind”.

Some studies have revealed that, when a person gets rejected, the reward system activity in the nucleus accumbens doesn’t stop, and the same happens with addictive behavior. There’s also some activity in the lateral orbitofrontal cortex related to obsessive thoughts, and in the insular cortex, related to physical pain.

Just like with sexual impulses, the mechanism that activates romantic love is the same in men and in women, although there are some differences. For example, in men, the brain areas of visual stimuli integration are highly active, whereas in women, it’s the memory areas that are most active.

Deep attachment

This happens after all the chemical explosions caused by romantic love in the brain stabilize. It appears to be a process that leads humans to live life as a couple. It’s with this that you look into the future and long-term projects.

In this state, testosterone levels are lower in men and higher in women. This seems to make coexistence easier. The ventral pallidum (a brain area associated with taste and pleasure) activates, producing a feeling of stability.

a couple holding hands

In just a few words…

To sum it all up, it’s possible that you feel deep love and attachment for your partner, at the same time that you’re madly in love with another person and feel sexually attracted to yet another person. So, you can feel all three types of love with different “aims”.

Dr. Fisher’s theories are a bit reductionist to some experts, but there’s no doubt about their value and the hypothesis they present. Thanks to these studies, we now know more about the relationship between body and love life.

If you’re able to understand these processes and how they work, it’s easier to know the role of each person in your life and not let your instincts rule your life.