Animal magnetism, or just hormones?

When I think about animal magnetism, I think about sex that is not attached to feelings of love or romance.

When we refer to a man or woman who possesses animal magnetism, we are referring to their sex appeal, to the raw desire to have sex they engender in us humans. In spite of this, we would like to believe we are more evolved than being pure victims of animal magnetism since humans have feelings and attach to one another. Indeed, we have built an entire culture surrounding the concept of looking for the right person, not just a sex partner.

Before we explore the realities of our expectations, let’s take a look at animals since the term refers to the animal kingdom and we are part of that kingdom after all.

All of us who share our lives with animals know they have feelings. Just think of that cuddly puppy at your feet or in your bed, or the cat rubbing herself against you, purring up a storm. Of course, animals’ feelings are not to be confused with their sexuality and their choices of whom they mate with. It’s pretty clear to all of us.

So maybe, animals have figured out how to separate sexual interaction from attachment and romance.

For instance, prairie voles are models of monogamous behavior – sort of – since they have one lifelong partner with whom they have baby prairie voles (although they do happen to go out for “drinks” on occasion with other prairie voles, if you know what I mean).

OK, so humans are not supposed to do that. But if we’re honest, we don’t have to look too far to see that humans are not necessarily that different from prairie voles. We do marry one or maybe more people over the course of our lives, but we may stray once in a while, too. Just look at our politicians and celebrities. It’s kind of expected, if not condoned.

But does what happens here come from the deep, dark secrets of our hormones? Could all our behavior be motivated by hormones? Is our entire belief that we’re evolved and make thoughtful decisions a ruse? Or are we just a ball of hormones that decides for us whom we should mate with and for how long?

Science has been trying to figure this out for about 100 years – not very successfully, I might add.

This is what we know: We know that be it prairie voles or human beings, we find one mate to have children with and spend our lives with – monogamously or at least serially – in part because the hormone oxytocin runs high when the time is right. It is the hormone of connection and attachment.

We have been trying to bottle it just to get the right man and woman to stay together.  But if someone tells you they’ve got it in a bottle, don’t believe them.

The only way to get the hormone is through the intravenous drip called pitocin that many of us women receive when we are being induced to have babies in time for our obstetricians to go on vacation. As a result, you do have the baby on demand, but you also feel instant attachment to the baby.

I know that may not be what you want to hear, because women want to believe attachment comes from carrying the fetus for 10 months – oh, right, nine months – and that maternal love is just that love with no explanation needed. But, from the standpoint of hormones it’s a little more like oxytocin makes it happen.

Just think, why don’t the fathers get attached as fast as the mothers? Yep, you got it: They don’t have that overflow of oxytocin running through their veins.

But back to sex: When you feel attraction to a particular movie star and say, “I wouldn’t throw him or her out of bed,” that is just your testosterone, estrogen and progesterone in balance talking.

The reality is that it would be very unlikely that you would get the opportunity to have the movie star in your bed. But maybe that’s just as well.

The younger you are when you start having sex, the less likely it will be complex, connected, emotional, evolved sex and the more likely it will be animal magnetism and a serious dose of insecurity – whereupon your body, full of hormones, runs your life and your emotional development lags way behind.

So in perspective, yes, hormones dictate our sexual desire, but evolution and humanity decide the outcome. Or at least, they should.


For more information, email Dr. Erika at



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