Love them deeply? Don’t have sex

You are not reading a sermon about abstention.

This argument against sexual intercourse under influence of deep romantic feelings transcends a marriage. The argument is: If you are in deep love, you should abstain from sex because that feeling may, if not nullify, erode the veracity of consent. Deep love causes one’s decision making abilities to suspend due to the mind-altering and hypomanic nature of the feeling. Simply put, just like you cannot consent while high on crack cocain or while temporarily insane, you also cannot really consent while too deeply in love. As such, your sexual intercourse, with or without marriage, may be interpreted as rape.

Not legally, of course, yet, but morally, maybe.

The purpose of this short write-up is not to provide a moral absolute, but to raise a philosophical dialogue about consent and contract as it relates to physical relationships and making a soft argument against engaging in such while intoxicated by deep love. This is an apt time to raise this dialogue because it is now, in the era of #metoo, when we are seeing a great reexamination of consent requirements and deep romance should not be left above scrutiny. During these times, we must take a hard look into whether a sexual relation can be consensual if one or both of the engaging parties are intoxicated by a deep love.

Why sexual consent is dubious while intoxicated by love

The wording of the previous paragraph has already given a primary outline for my first argument. Consent is a paramount requirement for a sexual relationship just and moral. However, there are some preconditions to consent.

We will now look at these preconditions from a legal standpoint as that is the most enumerated and clearly delineated guideline. Let us choose US and UK law to go by, The legal definition of consent as per UK law (74 Sexual Offences Act 2003) is the following:
Someone consents to vaginal, anal or oral penetration only if s/he agrees by choice to that penetration and has the freedom and capacity to make that choice.

Now, let us focus on the freedom and capacity requirements. According to most legal codes, consent must be freely given. It cannot be given under the influence of drinks or drugs. Many governments even criminalize sex with a person with a mental illness, as they cannot freely express consent, although this doctrine has repeatedly been challenged. We will now look at deep love from these two angles and analyze if deep love makes one incapable of consenting.

Love as a mind-altering drug

Now let us take a look at how deep and intense love affects the brain and human relationships. Let us look at the chemical effects of love on the brain to begin with.
Dr. Arthur Aron, a professor of psychology at State University of New York (SUNY) Stony Brook, and Dr. Sean Mackey conducting a study at Stanford University where they focused on the euphoric, obsessive phase of early love.

In the study, functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) studies showed that dopamine-rich areas of the brain light up when the subjects thought about a romantic partner. Those regions, such as the ventral tegmental area (VTA), are known as the motivation and reward system, and appear to activate whenever people get something they deeply desire-food, water, cocaine or perhaps a girlfriend’s phone call. Using the same method, Andreas Bartels and Semir Zeki of University College in London showed that the same areas of the brain are active when abusing drugs and when in love.

Dr. Helen Fisher, an anthropologist and relationship researcher, conducted a series of illuminating studies similarly found that many of the same brain pathways and structures are active when we are falling in love and enjoying a cocaine-high.

Although the most direct effect of this cocain high is mental euphoria and physical endurance of pain, there are other effects as well including feeling euphoric, mentally alert, energetic, talkative, and hypersensitive to light, sound, and touch. Cocaine can also temporarily reduce the need for food and sleep. This description is also equally applicable to early love. Many times, people in early love will feel these phenomenons. The increase in energy that people newly in love experience-their ability to stay up all night talking-may be due to a flush of dopamine, says one of the administrators of the Stanford research cited earlier.

Love as a behavioral incapacitator

Looking at it from a less neurobiological and a more behavioral lens, early love can be seen as a factor that erodes the decision making abilities in humans. Dr. Shauna H Springer says calls early love a “cocain-rush phase,” The cocaine-rush phase is an initial period of intense, highly pleasurable bonding based on the mutual fantasy that makes people think that they are ideally matched and perfectly suited for each other. During these times, the explosion of pleasurable chemicals leads to some monstrously short-sighted decision-making in the cocaine-rush stage of relationships.

In the end, Springer explicitly suggests that people should not decide to get married during these times because that may be a bad decision. To stretch that argument, would having sex during these times also not be a bad decision, and, if we consider deep love as intoxication, immoral?

To come back to the neurobiological finding that early/deep love affects one like crack cocain, can we not argue that one cannot really consent while deeply in love? Surely, one cannot consent while high/intoxicated. If early intense love can be seen as a form of intoxication, it definitely, if not negates, erodes the validity of consent provided during periods of intense love and makes sexual acts during that period morally questionable, in my opinion.

Love as temporary insanity

It is argued that a person is incapable of giving informed consent owing to mental disorder, if a mental disorder prevents them from understanding what s/he consents to and if a mental disorder prevents them from choosing decisively. Thereby, if love can be seen as some form of mental state that prevents a person from fully understanding the sexual contract or affects their decision making process, the consent they provide while in that state becomes questionable.

Firstly, let us examine some literary/metaphorical expressions. Some of the most repeatedly heard expressions about love are: love is blind and love makes people crazy. Granted that these are metaphorical and hyperbolic expressions, there is some veracity to the claim that intense romantic feeling exaggerates a person’s physical and personal qualities to a person and affects the decision making process of the person as they are overly eager to make their partner happy during those times.

According to the principles of Hippocratic medicine passionate love almost invariably turns into ‘love melancholy’ – a form of depression. Neurochemical and brain scanning investigations have shown a considerable overlap between ‘the brain in love’ and ‘the brain in the throes of mental illness’.

In 2007, Serge Brand of the Psychiatric University Clinics in Basel, Switzerland, and his colleagues interviewed 113 teenagers (17-year old), 65 of whom reported having fallen in love recently. The conclusion? The love-struck adolescents slept less, acted more compulsively more often, had “lots of ideas and creative energy”, and were more likely to engage in risky behavior, such as reckless driving. The researchers demonstrated that adolescents in early-stage intense romantic love did not differ from patients during a hypomanic stage.

Having personal experience of being hypomanic, I can testify to the temporary suspension of decision-making abilities during those periods. No sense of sound judgement works during those times. From personally having felt the sensation of being in the hypomanic stage and newly being in love, I can also testify to the fact that they have a lot of similarities, and my personal experience is backed up by opinions of psychological professionals. A research from the University of Rome Sapienza shows that those with mental illnesses that induce mania and hypomania “might be at risk of incapacity to give valid sexual consent.”

As such, viewing early love as a suspension of complete mental capabilities and hypomanic tendencies of early love may render the consent provided in that stage invalid. Therefore, it is risky to consider the consent given by early lovers as ironclad.


It is very natural to have desires to be physically intimate with the person you deeply love. However, as consent is seen as a paramount requirement for the intercourse to be morally valid, having sexual relations during the first days of a romantic relationships many be morally dubious. As early love creates a chemical imbalance in the brain and induces temporary insanity, according to the scientific community, and intoxication and suspension of decision-making abilities is considered as precondition for the negation of providing consent, there exists a moral hazard in engaging in sexual relations in the early days of a romantic relationship.

What is to be done, then? Should we abstain from sex altogether for the sake of moral integrity? Not really. Intense love fades intensely. Dr. Shauna H Springer says, contrary to our behavior in the early phase, our behavior in later stages tends to be governed more by the laws of normal reality. When the initial, stimulatory effect of new love wears off, we are much more likely to tell our partners that we love them and that we wish them a good night’s rest, lest we invite massive headaches and foggy thinking at work the next day. Consent in those stages can be given without any overcoming influence and can, therefore, be unambiguously complete. Therefore, it would be prudent for newly lovestruck individuals to wait for the puppy love to wear off before they engage in physical intimacy in order to stay safe from a moral conundrum.

Ideally, we should wait for some time after getting into a romantic relationship for the feelings to settle down and for both of the parties to truly expose themselves. When the human imperfections of a person comes forward, it is easier for the romance to be grounded in reality and for the cocaine like euphoria to turn into sustain happiness. How long does it take for this to happen? I am sure that there is no definite rule. It would vary from people to people. But from personal experience, I would think that it would help if people were open and honest with each other. They need to be willing to be vulnerable and proactively expose their flaws.

Only then can the partners, in good faith, full freedom and full capacity, consent to share their bodies with each other.

Author Bio

Anupam Debashis Roy is a Bangladeshi writer, speaker and activist. He can be reached at Read his full bio here.

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