Gender and sexual orientation do not matter in romance.
The VTA is active in romance no matter what your gender or sexual orientation.
We are often asked if there is any difference between men and women in terms of what we see in the brain in love. There really isn’t. We were surprised at how similar men and women are, at least at this reflex level of romance at work in the reward system.
That said, when we lowered our statistical threshold specifically to look for any gender differences, we did find some variations between men and women in the higher critical areas of their brains.
Among men, we found activity in a brain region linked with the integration of visual stimuli. This was not surprising; most anthropologists believe that men’s visual acuity evolved millions of years ago to size up a woman to see if she was going to be healthy enough to bear and raise babies. In other words, men are built to look.
We found something equally interesting in women: activity in brain regions linked with memory recall, evaluation and planning. Helen has a hypothesis about why: for millions of years, women couldn’t look at a man and know whether he was going to be a good husband and a good father. She would have to remember what he promised he would do two summers ago and whether he did it or not. Women spend their lives comparing notes with each other about what a man did and didn’t do. They were probably doing this a million years ago too: trying to figure from memory the measure of a man’s reputation to determine if he would be a good reproductive mate.
A London study, by Zeki and Romaya, which had a larger sample size than ours, looked at the gender question very specifically. They didn’t find any differences either.
What’s more, they also scanned people in same-sex relationships of both genders. They found no differences in the data between heterosexual couples and homosexual couples.
Regardless of whom you love, the experience of love seems to be the same for everyone. It’s just as potent, just as electrifying, and just as involuntary regardless of your sexual orientation.
This makes perfect sense, when you think about it. The brain system for love evolved millions of years ago, and we’re all carting it around, no matter whom we fall in love with. It’s a basic system that we all share.