Member Reviews

Book Review

Title: Attraction, Love, Sex: The Inside Story by Simon LeVay

Genre: Science, Psychology

Rating: 5 Stars

The opening to Attraction, Love, Sex was interesting as Simon LeVay introduces us to several areas regarding sex that he is going to be looking at from why we have sex in the first place to a variety of different sexual behaviours and why they occur. In the opening chapter, he questions why we even engage in sex in the first place and this has a more complicated answer than you might expect. When US college student we asked they came up with a variety of reason except procreation whereas the Aka hunter-gather tribe didn’t understand that there were reasons for having sex outside procreation. He dives deeper into this looking into the differences between sexual and asexual reproduction, now asexual reproduction is less demanding and more effective than sexual reproduction but the majority of mammals including humans reproduce sexually and haven’t gone extinct meaning there must be a reason for this type of reproduction to persist in nature. There are two leading theories for this, The Red Queen theory and the Rubies in the Rubbish theory. I won’t go into detail on them but the Rubies theory has a little more weight since it states that the way genes are combined to increase good mutations and depose of bad mutations might be the key but there are still many grey areas that need looking into.

Chapter two focuses on attraction, and LeVay dives into the methods and motivations of attraction in both humans and non-humans. When comparing animals to humans they use more of their senses to seek out a mate than humans. Although, there has been some study done into humans using their sense of smell to determine attractiveness but these are currently inconclusive. Humans primarily uses their eyesight to determine attractiveness and this is seen in multiple studies. In one participants were presented with various images of faces and many that were classified as mixed race were rated the most attractive reinforcing the idea that gene mixing determines attractiveness. In another study done on weight it was found that environmental and cultural factors played a huge role in determining attractiveness. In Western cultures women with a BMI on the lower end of the normal range was the most attractive but in countries with food scarcity those with higher BMI’s were more attractive. Now LeVay makes the distinction between attraction and arousal which is covered in the next chapter.

Chapter three focuses on arousal, where LeVay makes the distinction that attraction is semi-conscious while arousal which is an almost unconscious response to stimuli. Studies done on the brain have determined most of the areas responsible for arousal but this list isn’t complete as many areas of the brain work in tandem with other areas to complete a single task. LeVay describes the high and low roads in humans, the high road is conscious and requires you to react and respond to stimuli while the low road doesn’t and it is the low road that is responsible for most arousal since it is the faster of the two route. While some studies on arousal have been conducted in humans, the areas of the brain that need to be studying make it extremely difficult to perform with humans so we look at similar studies done in animals, specifically mice. It was found that two different types of gene expression were found in male mice which changed their course of action depending on the sex of the new mice introduced to the enclosure. If the mouse was female, one gene type would be expressed leading to mating behaviour and if the mouse was male it would lead to aggression. It has been theorised that there is a similar type of expression in humans but this does need further study.

In chapter four, LeVay moves onto orientation. This was a chapter I was eager to get into to see LeVay’s perspective on this being a gay man himself and it turns out that orientation is both more fluid than we originally thought and is partly determined by the neurohormonal process within our bodies both during development and after birth. LeVay first makes the statement that women tend to be more fluid in their orientation than men but men have been known to change their orientations later in life and examples are provided of this. When we get into the science there seems to be part of the brain and certain genes that are partially responsible for nonheterosexuality. While some of these things are still being studies today it seems that there is some genetic predisposition to nonheterosexuality but our environment and upbringing also plays a part in this. LeVay goes deep into these biological and neurological indicators to these types of orientation and it was interesting to see that those who identify as lesbian or gay have physical indictors of their orientation. These statement are taken with a grain of salt since some of the studies contradict each other and many are still undergoing further investigation.

LeVay then look into the physical act of having sexual intercourse and I was intrigued to see his views on this given what he has already covered in orientation, arousal and attraction. LeVay begins by seeking to understand the psychological reasons people engage in sexual acts and the easiest answer is because it feels good due to the flood of hormones during and after sex. The leads us down the rabbit hole of male vs female orgasms and some of the research into this was extremely interesting despite the awkwardness of those situations. It also address the similarities in anatomy and the differences in how orgasm is achieved. This leads quite nicely into sexual dysfunction in both men and women. While more study and research has gone into male sexual dysfunction with the creation of Viagra, women also suffer heavily with similar issues with little relief. LeVay also briefly looks into asexual people and the potential reasons for their lack of sexual desire despite being capable physically and mentally of sexual arousal.

The following chapter looks at relationships which LeVay has avoided until now focusing on the scientific side of things. LeVay begins by looking at how we form relationships both physically and emotionally, although this doesn’t include pair bonds as he will be covering this in another chapter. The look at how we form relationships in the modern age was interesting as well as the differing perspectives on how men and women form and maintain relationships. LeVay explains the idea of homogamy and how we tend to pick partners similar to ourselves in terms of personality although some studies suggest having a partner that is complementary, introverts dating extroverts, to ourselves lead to higher relationship satisfaction. He also looks at jealousy, in heterosexual couples jealousy seems to be sex specific. This suggests that men fear cheating whereas women fear their partner having an emotional connection to someone else. Essentially men are jealous towards physical attractiveness while women are jealous towards emotional connection. This was a very interesting chapter but doesn’t cover much outside simple psychology but we are getting into some harder topics.

The next chapter is on paraphilias or sexual behaviours that lie outside the societal norm. Paraphilias are an interesting topic especially if you have an interest in psychology or have studied it in the past as I have. According to the DSM 5 paraphilias are no longer classified as a mental disorder unless it causes distress to the person(s) affected. While many paraphilias have become more accepted in society, LeVay does dive into how these emerge. In most people paraphilias come to light during their first sexual experiences whether self-pleasure or sexual encounter. However, most people studied develop further paraphilias later in life which counters this early emergence. Some studies have also noted that some paraphilias can be induced through conditioning although this is debated. There also seems to be some distinction between sex since men tend to display more overt behaviour with paraphilias whereas women tend to express paraphilias through fantasy. One distressing paraphilia that LeVay doesn’t touch on in this chapter but dives into in the following chapter is paedophilia or the sexual attraction to children.

While paedophilia is classed as a paraphilia it is also the one most people think of when paraphilias are mentioned. It is still also classified as a mental disorder since it causes distress in a way other paraphilias do not. LeVay believes that paedophilia is a sexual orientation in the fact that it can’t be cured or changed. He also believes that those who identify as paedophiles but never commit offences against children deserve some measure of respect and support rather than being vilified for something they are actively fighting against. While I don’t personally agree with everything LeVay says on this, I do believe some of his points have merits in understanding how and why someone is a paedophile and how we can provide support and guidance to these individuals especially those that don’t commit offences.

LeVay then turns his attention to pornography, something very mainstream in the modern age but it can be something that can cause a lot of issues. Porn has become something completely normal and most people have or do consume pornographic content on a regular basis. LeVay explains that statistically men consume more porn than women but this is a biased number since the form of content is different. Men tend to watch videos while women use literature or auditory content. He also goes into the benefits and harms of consuming porn and evidence is conflicted on this. Some say that consuming porn is harmful as it increases violence against women but most studies prove the opposite as those more likely to commit sexual offences have an outlet through porn that they otherwise might not have. However, sexual crimes including rape are a major issue in modern society and this is what LeVay is covering next.

This chapter on rape doesn’t actually go into many of the psychological effects of rape on its victims but rather he chooses to focus on why rapes occur which is a question asked quite often. The scientific evidence is torn on the reasons for rape occurring as some believe it might be genetic or evolutionary in nature since similar events happen in nature but others firmly believe it is social in nature meaning there is no cause of it, people just want to do it. I personally believe it is more likely some combination of the two where a person if genetically predisposed to sexual crimes or violent crimes and combined with a social element like rejection might lead to rapes occurring. LeVay does also touch on both the short and long term effects people have after rape and sexual assault as well as many different treatment options.

The final chapter of the book focuses on love and we know from an earlier chapter that LeVay will be looking at pair bonds. LeVay discusses primarily pair bonds in animals and how we know through experimentation that they actually have a slightly different brain structure and response to hormones than animals that don’t pair bond. Pair bonding in nature is quite rare and very few animals do it which might explain something of human behaviour. While human can and do pair bond many scientists believe that it is not in human nature to do so making us outliers like these animals in nature. While the reasoning behind pair bonding in animals and humans is still unknown, the main thought is that it is to do with the securing of resources and stability for future offspring which makes sense. Overall, I found LeVay’s book to be insight and cover aspects of these topics that aren’t often discussed and if you are interesting in psychology then I’d highly recommend checking it out.

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In Attraction, Love, Sex, British-American neuroscientist Simon LeVay provides a compelling overview of the science behind human intimacy and relationships. I have been a fan of LeVay's work for a couple of decades. His research and writings about how the brain impacts everything from gender to sexual orientation has been groundbreaking. This book is just another addition to a series of highly researched and clearly articulated texts in this area. Attraction, Love, Sex explores the biological, psychological and social dimensions that shape romantic and sexual attraction.

A major strength of the book is LeVay's ability to synthesize research from diverse fields into an accessible narrative. He draws on insights from neuroscience, evolutionary psychology, genetics, hormones, childhood development and more to piece together the foundations of attraction. The book tackles questions like what underlies sexual orientation, how we choose partners, the purpose of emotional intimacy, and the brain science of love.

While grounded in research, LeVay's writing style is engaging with colorful examples and thoughtful explanations of concepts. He balances scientific rigor with empathy in tackling issues like the fluidity of sexuality and the impact of trauma on relationships. Although wide-ranging, the book has a coherent flow thanks to LeVay's skill as a science writer.

Attraction, Love, Sex stands out for providing perspective on both the cultural and biological factors that shape human relationships. LeVay offers a nuanced take on controversial issues and debunks simplistic evolutionary explanations for sexuality and gender dynamics. His biosocial perspective integrates multiple levels of analysis.

Readers will find the book an illuminating overview of the science of intimacy. LeVay succeeds in conveying complex ideas about human behavior in a style accessible to a broad audience. For anyone seeking to understand the psychology and biology of relationships, Attraction, Love, Sex provides a fascinating and insightful analysis.

I thank NetGalley for an advanced copy but the review is completely my own.

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Overall, the author provided an interesting overview of the scientific research on human attraction and romantic relationships, though I had hoped for a more in-depth analysis.
The book covers a wide range of topics related to attraction, including the evolutionary origins of attraction, the neuroscience of love and attachment, gender differences, sexual orientation, and the psychology of long-term relationships. Levay is a neuroscientist who has conducted extensive research on the biological underpinnings of sexual orientation, and he brings his scientific expertise to the book.
A strength of Attraction, Love, Sex is that Levay summarizes scientific studies in an accessible way for a general audience. The book is written for non-experts who are curious about what research can tell us about romantic relationships. Levay translates complex ideas into clear prose and avoids getting too technical in his explanations.
However, the overview format also leads to a lack of depth. Each chapter covers a distinct subject, but only scratches the surface. As a reader hungry to really dive into the details of the science, I was left wanting more. I wished Levay would have gone more in-depth on some of the studies and theories instead of providing a quick summary before moving on.
The book also focuses almost exclusively on heterosexual relationships, with only a small section about homosexual attraction and relationships. It would have been interesting to see more research applied across sexual orientations.
Overall, Attraction, Love, Sex serves as a solid basic introduction to the scientific research on human relationships and attraction. Readers unfamiliar with the subject will likely find it an enlightening read and learn quite a bit. However, those wanting a more thorough and analytical examination may be disappointed by the cursory treatment. Still, I think many could benefit from and enjoy at least a brief foray into the fascinating science behind love and relationships by reading Levay's accessible book.

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This was just not as in-depth as I was hoping for. The premise was good but I was hoping for far more scientific merit. Too pop-y for my taste, and there are other books better suited to the library’s shelves and a broad audience.

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As an aromantic asexual person, all three things in this book’s title have confused me at one point or another! Attraction, Love, Sex: The Inside Story examines our scientific understanding of makes humans interested in one another, romantic stylez (yes, with a Z). Simon LeVay, a neuroscientist, brings together research from psychology, biology, chemistry, and more in order to help the reader understand the physiological, psychological, and even evolutionary underpinnings of sexuality and romance. There’s a lot of good science in this book, along with some really bad science that left a bad taste in my mouth. An eARC was provided by Columbia University Press via NetGalley.

This book is organized into discrete chapters that are easy to pick up and put back down. LeVay takes us on a tour, if you will, through different aspects of sex and sexuality. Each chapter has a simple title, like “Love” or “Attraction,” yet that simplicity conceals the beguiling complexity of each topic. I really liked the structure and especially the way LeVay consistently includes a conclusions section at the end of every chapter to give us the bottom line.

What I liked: this is a book that doesn’t oversimplify and clearly acknowledges that science can be a flawed, human endeavour. As LeVay mentions various studies and the theories they support, he is ever diligent in noting if a study couldn’t be replicated or was contradicted by a more recent study. This is a practice I respect, for I find that sometimes science communicators, in their desire to distill science into a more streamlined narrative, pick one theory (or a couple of most likely theories) and present that version of the science as more settled than it actually is. Given that science is an ever-evolving discipline, LeVay’s approach to discussing these topics is a lot more transparent. In particular, I appreciated how he presented evolutionary psychology theories in a more skeptical light.

I also think this book has a great deal of useful information in its pages. For anyone just setting out to get a comprehensive overview of all things love, you could do worse than to read Attraction, Love, Sex. Even a single chapter in isolation, for example as an excerpt in a high school class, could be really useful. LeVay’s writing is skilled, and I learned all sorts of useful tidbits.

On the other hand, there were times when this book frustrated me as a queer person. Now, LeVay is gay and also, from what I can infer here, attempts to be trans inclusive. At one point he discusses sex-linked differences in the brain and includes the intriguing result that brain scans of binary trans people are often more similar to the sex they identify as rather than their sex assigned at birth (something also discussed in Cordelia Fine’s Delusions of Gender. So I want to give LeVay some credit here. Nevertheless, I have some reservations.

First, LeVay seems to put a lot of stock in defining sexual orientation in terms of physical arousal and being able to quantify this by hooking people up to machines that measure that arousal through, say, blood flow. I understand the desire from a scientific standpoint to be able to talk about sexual orientation in a more objective, measurable way. Yet plethysmography has a troubling history (undiscussed here) linked to authorities wanting to out gay people and even then subject them to conversion therapy. More broadly, I think LeVay misses the point. While there is undoubtedly a physiological component to orientation—whether that is neurological, hormonal, genetic, etc.—like so many other emergent aspects of our identity, I don’t think we will ever be able to reduce orientation down purely to a single test or to concrete and tidy definitions like the ones he mentions here.

Second, LeVay’s treatment of asexuality is woefully inadequate. Again, credit where credit is due: he at least mentions asexuality and explicitly declares that “asexuality is not a problematic lack of sexual desire” and also states that “most asexual people are satisfied with their orientation.” So why am I dissatisfied with this mention? Simply put, even though LeVay charitably says that “asexuality should probably be thought of as a sexual orientation,” this single mention of asexuality (all of these quotations come from a single paragraph) occurs in the chapter on “Having Sex” rather than the “Orientation” or “Attraction” chapters. We are once again an afterthought, little more than a footnote—a positive, inclusive one, yes, but not much more than that.

Third, I take major issue with how LeVay characterizes trans people. LeVay uncritically draws on the work of Ray Blanchard and his theory of autogynephelia. (Julia Serano has a very cogent explanation of why Blanchard’s work is harmful, so I’ll leave that part to her.) LeVay draws a very artificial distinction between what he sees as “classical” transsexuality and autogynephilic trans women (you’ll notice that this discussion and Blanchard’s original research both focus solely on trans women, with nary a consideration for trans men or non-binary people, insert audible eye-rolling here). Just the label of “classic” sounds icky to me. As with his conversations on orientation, LeVay’s conceptions of gender identity miss the mark in a profound way.

I don’t know anything about LeVay outside of reading his Wikipedia article. It sounds like he has been a longstanding expert in the study of sexuality as it relates to neuroscience, along with an advocate for gay rights. With that in mind, I don’t want to be the uppity youngster who criticizes her elders with undue harshness.

Even so, as I sat down to write a much softer version of this review … well, I got to the part about trans people, and I found myself unable to be conciliatory. LeVay might be a towering giant in his field and have a long career behind him, but it’s irresponsible to publish remarks like this in 2023 in the current political climate around trans people. I cannot in good conscience recommend this book, because well-meaning and curious allies who read this might inadvertently think that LeVay (and by extension, Blanchard) are accurately discussing transgender people. As much as there are valuable nuggets of information elsewhere in the book, this one section alone is too problematic. Additionally, it represents the challenge of talking so broadly about a topic like this. Rather than specializing, LeVay decided to take on all of human sexuality—and even with his decades of experience in the field, that task proved to be too elusive for him to complete with reasonable fidelity.

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This book is well-written, and incorporates a lot of research about the science behind attraction, love, and sex. It was certainly eye-opening, and lead me to think about a lot of questions I had never really considered before - such as why does sex exist? Is it possible for us to evolve to a different means of reproduction? Why are there only a few animal species that practice recreational sex, and how has that impacted them? To learn more, read this book!

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A professional and interesting book about...well, attraction, love and sex.
Yes, what in the title is what you'll learn in this book.

It started with the studies of animals, then we learn more about ourselves as a human, which is also a kind of animal.
I think is book could be used as a textbook for students. I wish I could read it when I was younger.

Thanks NetGalley and the publisher for the ARC!

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This is an interesting, entertaining, and mostly thorough book. It doesn't deal at all with asexuality, which is disappointing.

Strangely, it also suggests that perhaps no women are exclusively straight. The reason? When straight men are shown images of men, they rate their attractiveness as 0. When gay men are shown images of women, they rate their attractiveness as 0. But when straight women are shown images of women, they don't rate their attractiveness as 0. Shockingly, women rate other women based on their objective attractiveness! Which means all straight women are secretly bi, as opposed to judging the beauty of other women without reference to whether we're personally attracted to them!

Give me a break.

This is actually a small part of the book, and the rest of it is enjoyable. But it's kind of a big deal to suggest that women don't understand their own sexuality, rather than to recognize that the word "attractive" doesn't mean the same thing to straight women that it does to men.

Thanks, NetGalley, for the ARC I received. This is my honest and voluntary review.

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Since I was familiar with the author of this book, I was prepared for the style of the book and information included. LeVay was involved with the science of the brain and found ways in which gay brains were different than those of straight men. Lots of fascinating information on the subject, which has been meticulously studied. Fascinating read.

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This was a very middle-of-the-road book for me. But I do know people I can recommend this book to that will love and enjoy it.

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This was a very interesting read, I must say. I did find myself learning some new things. I didn’t get through the book quickly though. This was gifted by Netgalley & the publisher.

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I didn't really know what to expect going into this book - but I was amazed at how interesting it was! Simon LeVay is a scientist, and so he brings to this book all his knowledge that he has garnered over the years from various fields and combines it to give the reader a very unique experience. I learned a lot, and it was presented in such an interesting way that I forgot that I was reading non-fiction (I confess to preferring fiction), but this book was great!
Highly recommended, especially for those who love science and medicine, but even for those who don't, you will be riveted from the first page.

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