Your Brain In Love: Neurotransmitters And Their Effects

Medically reviewed by Melissa Guarnaccia, LCSW
Updated February 21, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Neurotransmitters, chemical messengers in the brain, influence complex behaviors and emotions. These messengers impact human life in a variety of ways, with some neurotransmitters defining what we know as love (especially oxytocin, testosterone, and dopamine.) Oxytocin, the "cuddle hormone," fosters social bonding, while testosterone affects sexual desire. Dopamine, prevalent in sexual attraction, early love, and long-term relationships, interacts with the brain's reward system. Other neurotransmitters, such as norepinephrine and vasopressin, can also have important roles in romance and courtship. The processes of love and desire can profoundly impact various brain areas, shaping our experiences and affecting how we form relationships.

Experiencing challenges with love?

What are neurotransmitters?

To know more about what happens in your brain when you are falling in love, you may benefit from understanding neurotransmitters and brain areas involved in emotions. 

Neurotransmitters have physiological jobs, such as starting, stopping, accelerating, or slowing down different bodily functions, and play a notable role in emotions like romantic love. At times, you may notice that your body feels emotions too, not just your mind.

Neurotransmitters are released by nerve cells to convey nerve impulses, occurring throughout the nervous system and brain. In the brain, special cells called "receptors" receive neurotransmitters. However, neurotransmitters don't always remain in the brain; the body may gradually reabsorb them, especially if there's a shortage of receptors or if receptors are damaged.

Many medications for mental health conditions, including clinical depression and negative emotions, work by preventing the body from reabsorbing neurotransmitters before your brain can use them. However, not all mental health medications function this way.


Your brain in love: Assorted hormones

The terms "neurotransmitters" and "hormones" are often used interchangeably, and both can be considered messenger molecules, playing roles in human sexual activity and love. The levels of messenger molecules like serotonin and dopamine, as well as sex hormones like testosterone and estrogen, may be stable and predictable at some points in our lives. However, as our bodies change and develop, primarily during puberty and aging, we often experience changing sex hormones, dopamine levels, and serotonin levels. 

Sometimes, hormonal changes can lead to physical and mental health conditions. These can include:

  • Low libido
  • Premenstrual syndrome
  • Premenstrual dysphoric disorder
  • Postpartum depression
  • Challenges surrounding menopause
  • Other potential hormonal problems related to sexual arousal and attraction

Often, these conditions can be addressed by healthcare and mental health professionals.

Your brain in love: Oxytocin

Oxytocin is one of the better-known messenger molecules when it comes to love. Sometimes called the "cuddle chemical” or “love hormone”, oxytocin is released in significant amounts during close physical contact with others, fostering social relationships and pair bonding, although that's not the only time it's present.

The chemical oxytocin can produce feelings of calmness and contentedness, which is why you may feel "warm and safe" when in a loved one's arms.

Oxytocin, with a key difference in its roles, plays a prominent part in many types of romantic love, including in long-term non-monogamous and monogamous relationships. In addition, this hormone is also involved in platonic and familial love. It is crucial for forming bonds and creating a sense of trust among various types of relationships.

One of the roles of oxytocin in romantic love is the stimulation of another love-inducing hormone called testosterone, which influences sexual attraction and social behavior.

Your brain in love: Testosterone and sexual desire

Testosterone is often referenced as a male sex hormone. However, people of all sexes may have some level of testosterone. Testosterone can affect the human sex drive and contribute to sperm production, so it may have a link to fertility.

Libido can vary due to many factors, such as sexuality, attraction levels, and medications. Testosterone levels may also have something to do with it in some individuals.

Sex drive can also decrease for those experiencing depression. As a result, a lack of libido can be a symptom of depression, and getting mental health treatment can contribute to an improved sex drive. However, you do not have to have a sex drive to be considered healthy. Some individuals, such as those who identify as asexual, may not experience sexual attraction or sex drive at all.

Experiencing challenges with love?

Your brain in love: Dopamine

Human brains are generally triggered to reward us with pleasure via the hormone dopamine. In simple terms, dopamine makes us feel good. It engages the emotional systems and nucleus accumbens when we do things that preserve our own lives or promote the well-being of the species. These activities may include eating certain foods, having sex, or participating in social interaction. Using social media may result in the release of dopamine, as well.

You may experience a burst of dopamine during sex, which is part of what can make it so enjoyable. Dopamine is often associated with both attraction and romantic relationships, which is why a loving relationship (especially in the early stages) may feel exciting, fun, and joyful.

Online therapy can address negative emotions and increase your understanding of love

For some people, understanding the biology of emotions, including amygdala activity and the role of the frontal cortex, can be helpful. However, knowing which love neurotransmitters and hormones like oxytocin and vasopressin play a role in love isn’t always enough. In many cases, you’ll need professional assistance in order to solve the challenges that may come with the initial phase of love and long-term relationships.

Speaking with a licensed therapist online, either individually or with romantic partners, can be very helpful for this. Many therapists have extensive knowledge of the physiology of love and the reward system, and online therapy may provide valuable insights and advice to help you tackle problems and employ healthy coping skills.

Research suggests that online therapy can help address relationship challenges and may be as effective (or more effective) as in-person therapy. A 2020 study revealed that couples found online therapy to directly benefit their relationships, despite their initial doubts about the potential efficacy of working with a couples therapist online. Additional studies have proven the efficacy of online therapy for individuals as well.

Through an online platform such as BetterHelp for individuals or Regain for couples, you may be able to get focused attention and support from a wide variety of specialists. You’re not alone.

Read below for counselor reviews from previous users of online therapy who have reached out for help with their relationships.

Counselor reviews

“Lorena and I worked together, and then my partner joined in with the therapy later on along the process. That transition to couples therapy offered by Lorena was so appreciated, she ensured reliability, dependability, and openness were consistent. Lorena created a safe space for us to talk whilst keeping in place effective challenges to some of the topics and discussions brought to a session; she was always receptive to our needs and was encouraging. We are feeling confident about the progress made and would say this is a credit to her as our therapist. Recommended. Thank you so very much!”

“Fredrick has been helping through a breakup. We’ve been processing my abandonment trauma and I feel much better. Therapy is helping me process this break up we’re also working on my emotional maturity so I can be a better partner for future relationships.”


The neurotransmitters oxytocin, testosterone, and dopamine can play roles in romantic relationships and love, each with a key difference in their function. Oxytocin is often released during physical affection, such as hugging or cuddling, and testosterone can affect sex drive. Dopamine can be involved in both romantic love and attraction.

As Shakespeare once wrote, "Love looks not with the eyes, but with the mind, And therefore is winged Cupid painted blind." Online therapy may be an effective way of learning more about love and how to navigate it healthily, whether you'd like to attend sessions individually or with your significant other.

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