By Robert M. Ungerer
Valentine's Day, a week away, is one of my favorite days of the year since I can send valentine cards expressing my affection for my wife, four daughters, godchild, sister and godmother. Cupid, the ancient god of erotic love and desire, is described as a naked, winged, baby boy with bow and quiver of arrows. When someone is shot by one of Cupid's arrows, uncontrollable desire for another person results.
In my life, Cupid has been a problem and a delight. When my daughters were growing up and shot by Cupid, I wanted to but was embarrassed to tell them, ''Just say no'' to the young man. In my marriage when Cupid shot his arrows, my wife heard me say, ''Just say yes.''
Scientists believe desire and passion have been imprinted in our brains for millions of years. Anthropologists conclude 90 percent of cultures studied in the world feel passionate love. That is quite fortunate because desire leads to lovemaking and that creates babies.
A ''National Geographic'' article by Lauren Slater in 2006 related findings of Helen Fisher, who studied the biochemical pathways of love from infatuation to romance and long-term attachment. A first-time attraction between couples may be triggered by attractive appearance, subconscious appeal of body chemical smells or attentive behavior. The chemical, dopamine, released in the brain during initial attraction creates high energy, euphoria and exhilaration conducive to taking risks. Over time, nerve endings in the brain become immune or unresponsive to the chemical, dopamine. Passion wanes, but another chemical, oxytocin, becomes predominant in couples in a long-term relationship. This is the same chemical used to induce or bring on labor in a pregnant woman and released during breast-feeding her infant. Oxytocin, called the ''cuddle hormone,'' is released when stimulated by a desirable partner with foot massages, back rubs, kissing or making love. This ''hormone'' generates feelings of bonding, closeness, security and attraction. The more often this ''hormone'' is released the more apt one is to feel greater attraction to their partner.
The early stages of love produce an imbalance and lowering of another brain chemical, called serotonin, similar to the level found in people with obsessive compulsive disorder. Therefore, the conclusion is, early love and mental illness may be difficult to distinguish from each other.
Studies in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) in 2007 by lead author Stacy Lindau reported that sexual activity declines with age, but half of the people studied ages 65-74 and 26 percent of those 75-85 still were sexually active. Another NEJM article, this one by Rosemary Basson in 2006, noted declining sexual activity has many reasons. Many people live alone and have no partner. Familiarity with a long-time partner is associated with less desire. Erectile dysfunction in men may dampen their desire and passion and that of their partner. Testosterone, the male hormone even present in women in small amounts, is felt to contribute to desire in men and women. Over the years testosterone levels may drop in men and women reducing desire. She concluded that established couples may lack sexual desire but still find intimacy for satisfying emotional closeness. Emotional illnesses, like depression, can have a profound effect reducing desire as well as damping interest in daily life activities. According to Lauren Slater in her article, anti-depressants designed to elevate one's mood by altering brain chemistry may suppress desire and the ability to fall in love and stay in love.
Roman history documented more than 10 Saint Valentines, but Saint Valentine's Day was likely named after the one who on Feb. 14 in the year 270 AD was killed by a Roman emperor after he tried to convert the emperor to Christianity. It was not until the 1300s that the English author Geoffrey Chaucer and his friends established the feast, Saint Valentine's Day, to be associated with romantic love.
If you select and send valentine cards or gifts to your sweetheart, family and friends, they should be thrilled and you will be joyful for your expression of friendship.