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Written by Joseph Dunsay. After earning a Masters of Science in Ecology and Evolution, Joseph Dunsay became a science writer for international audiences. Find more Jewrotica writing by Joseph here.
Moderate alcohol consumption is a regular part of traditional Jewish life. Whether its a glass of wine for Shabbat or four cups on Passover, this ritual drug use reminds Jews of their freedom. Free people can take their drug of choice, and certain drugs free the mind when taken in moderation. Alcohol weakens the barriers between one’s thoughts and one’s tongue. It can promote the type of intimate conversations that normally follow a night of passion.
Alcohol makes a person more willing to speak his mind, because drinking eliminates anxiety over the consequences of speech. It encourages someone to start talking and to keep talking long after risky words escape his lips. Moderate alcohol consumption can even improve foreign language skills by reducing the nervousness that second language learners often feel.
The neurological effects of alcohol are behind the sudden bouts of honesty that social drinkers suffer from. Alcohol calms down pathways in the brain by increasing the effects of GABA and decreasing the release of glutamate. This makes a drinker less inhibited when he speaks. Dopamine is the third neurotransmitter affected by alcohol. Drinking is pleasurable, because it promotes the release of dopamine.
Like alcohol, sex leads to pleasure and revealing chats. The release of dopamine makes a person enjoy and crave sex, just as it can make him seek out food, gambling, or cocaine. Heck, who doesn’t want more dopamine flowing? It’s what makes yoga enjoyable. Humans evolved to want one another and to put a sexual partner above other members of the tribe. The dopamine surge that comes with sex is one mechanism of action for that adaptation.
The honest discussions that come out after copulation cause a sexual partner to stand out in one’s social life. They result from the trust one naturally feels towards a sexual partner. Self-disclosure then strengthens the bond between two people, opening the door to a long term positive feedback loop of revealing skin and embarrassing memories. This process begins before entering the bedroom. Viewing a love scene in a mainstream movie can be enough to get a partner to speak about his past.
Evolution often must cross a narrow bridge between two opposing selective pressures. The need to preserve one’s life and the need to create new life can push evolution in opposite directions. On the one side is the tin soldier who survives all but never opens his heart enough to continue his family name. On the other side is the man who sows enough wild oats to die of an infection before he can help any of them grow. Selective intimacy is the fine line between these extremes, but it creates the challenge of knowing whom to select. Sharing secretes is an honest signal that a loved one will remain in one’s life after breakfast is over.
Adaptations can mix and match in many ways to bring about similar goals. A flick of the hair may get the cycle of intimacy going, but a bit of leg does not have to be the next step in the process. A treasured memory followed by a glass of wine could get the ball rolling and signal that a potential partner wants to do more than flirt. Even if a couple never touches each other, they can be intimate by spending all night talking without the possibility of mobile phones interrupting. Perhaps that is why, “Do you have plans for Shabbat dinner?” is such a popular question.