Guest Post: An Unfortunate State Of Affairs

Hilary Greaves, University of Oxford

Ashley Madison is an online extramarital dating service, running with the succinct subtitle “Life is short. Have an affair.” On July 20, 2015, the service announced that hackers had breached its data security defences, and obtained identifying details for the site’s 37 million members. In the months that have since past, the newspapers have reported case after case of divorce, resignation from top jobs, blackmail and, tragically, suicide.

Reactions to the Ashley Madison scandal have been many and various, ranging from unreserved sympathy for the ‘victims’ to the view that subscribers to Ashley Madison were stupid and ‘therefore’ deserve everything they get. My own reaction to any case of family trauma caused by infidelity is rather one of sadness: the sadness of witnessing suffering that seems, in many or most cases, so eminently avoidable.

I do not mean that the suffering would have been avoided if the straying parties had kept strictly to their vows of monogamy, true though that may be. What strikes me most is rather the frequency of the refrain that what really hurt the wronged partner was “not the sex, but the betrayal of trust”. This raises the urgent question of why the vows of monogamy were made in the first place. Of course, once a promise is made, (a) it should be kept and (b) one feels cheated, even humiliated, if one is on the receiving end of a promise-breaking; but those observations imply nothing about which promises are good ones to make. If one’s partner really, really likes strawberries, to the point at which he or she would find them a source of great temptation if they became forbidden fruit, it would be a bad idea to make one’s relationship conditional on an oath of strawberry-abstinence, and then to be torn apart by the betrayal of trust when said oath is inevitably broken. The advocate of monogamy should take a long, hard look at whether the arguments for insisting on sexual abstinence are any stronger than the arguments for insisting on strawberry abstinence.

Continue reading

“The medicalization of love” – podcast interview

Just out today is a podcast interview for Smart Drug Smarts between host Jesse Lawler and interviewee Brian D. Earp on “The Medicalization of Love” (title taken from a recent paper with Anders Sandberg and Julian Savulescu, available from the Cambridge Quarterly of Healthcare Ethics, here).

Below is the abstract and link to the interview:


What is love? A loaded question with the potential to lead us down multiple rabbit holes (and, if you grew up in the 90s, evoke memories of the Haddaway song). In episode #95, Jesse welcomes Brian D. Earp on board for a thought-provoking conversation about the possibilities and ethics of making biochemical tweaks to this most celebrated of human emotions. With a topic like “manipulating love,” the discussion moves between the realms of neuroscience, psychology and transhumanist philosophy. 


Earp, B. D., Sandberg, A., & Savulescu, J. (2015). The medicalization of love. Cambridge Quarterly of Healthcare Ethics, Vol. 24, No. 3, 323–336.

“The Medicalization of Love” – call for peer commentaries – DUE SEPT 1


The paper, “The Medicalization of Love” by Brian D. Earp, Anders Sandberg, and Julian Savulescu, has been accepted for publication at the Cambridge Quarterly of Healthcare Ethics. Scholars interested in submitting a short reply paper or peer commentary are encouraged to contact the editor, Tomi Kushner, at

The final deadline for commentaries/ papers is September 1st. The abstract for the paper is below; the accepted manuscript is available at this link. Inquiries to the editor should be sent as soon as possible.


Pharmaceuticals or other emerging technologies could be used to enhance (or diminish) feelings of lust, attraction, and attachment in adult romantic partnerships. While such interventions could conceivably be used to promote individual (and couple) well-being, their widespread development and/or adoption might lead to “medicalization” of human love and heartache—for some, a source of serious concern. In this essay, we argue that the “medicalization of love” need not necessarily be problematic, on balance, but could plausibly be expected to have either good or bad consequences depending upon how it unfolds. By anticipating some of the specific ways in which these technologies could yield unwanted outcomes, bioethicists and others can help direct the course of love’s “medicalization”—should it happen to occur—more toward the “good” side than the “bad.”

Here is the link to the accepted manuscript.

* image from

The last sweet years or bad romance? Handling infidelity in the nursing home

Ulf suffers dementia and lives in a nursing home. He often interacts with Lena, who also has dementia. They seek each other out, invite each other to their rooms, hold hands and kiss. They can clearly express what they prefer (or not). The staff think they enjoy life and each other’s company. There is just one problem for the happy couple: Ulf is married, and his wife is not happy. She and their children strongly dislikes the relation between Ulf and Lena and asks the staff to keep them apart. They argue that if Ulf had been free of dementia he would not have desired contact with Lena; he might sometimes even be confused and think Lena is his wife.

The situation was posed as a question to the ethics committee of the National Board of Health and Welfare in Sweden, and it recently responded that the staff should not try to interfere in the relationship: the welfare and autonomy of Ulf is prior to the wishes of the family. An earlier question dealt with a somewhat similar case, where the cuckolded wife demanded that her husband be both separated from the other woman and medicated to “dampen” him. The committee found that it would be against the autonomy of the man to be medicated against his will, and the staff did not have a right (legally or morally) to prevent patients from seeing each other.

The interesting question is what to make of romances that come about due to dementia. Are they authentic? How do they relate to the interests expressed earlier in life?

Continue reading

Should you take ecstasy to improve your marriage? Not so fast …

Love drugs and science reporting in the media: Setting the record straight 

By Brian D. Earp, Julian Savulescu, and Anders Sandberg

Love. It makes the world go round. It is the reason we have survived as a species. It is the subject of our art, literature, and music—and it is largely the product of chemical reactions within the brain.

No wonder science is starting to unravel the ways in which we can influence it, and perhaps even control it.

Just as Darwin’s finding that we are descended from apes shocked people in the nineteenth century, so people will be shocked to find that our most lofty social ideal is something we share with our mammalian cousins and which is the subject of scientific scrutiny and even chemistry-book manipulation.

In 2008, two of us (Julian Savulescu and Anders Sandberg) published an article in the journal Neuroethics on the topic of “love drugs” – a term we use to refer to pharmacological interventions based on existing and future bio-technologies that could work to strengthen the bond between romantic partners. All three of us have an article just published in the journal Philosophy & Technology in which we build upon that earlier work. Interested readers will take the time to study those papers in full, but we have a feeling that much of the population will stop at a handful of media reports that have recently summarized our ideas, including at least one article that we think has the potential to mislead. Let us set the record straight.

Continue reading

Love and other drugs, or why parents should chemically enhance their marriages

By Brian Earp

See Brian’s most recent previous post by clicking here.

See all of Brian’s previous posts by clicking here.

Follow Brian on Twitter by clicking here.

Love and other drugs, or why parents should chemically enhance their marriages

Valentine’s day has passed, and along with it the usual rush of articles on “the neuroscience of love” – such as this one from Parade magazine. The penner of this particular piece, Judith Newman, sums up the relevant research like this:

It turns out that love truly is a chemical reaction. Researchers using MRIs to look at the brain activity of the smitten have found that an interplay of hormones and neurotransmitters create the state we call love.

My humble reckoning is that there’s more to “the state we call love” than hormones and neurotransmitters, but it’s true that brain chemistry is heavily involved in shaping our experience of amour. In fact, we’re beginning to understand quite a bit about the cerebral circuitry involved in love, lust, and human attachment—so much so that a couple of Oxford philosophers have been inspired to suggest something pretty radical.

They think that it’s time we shifted from merely describing this circuitry, and actually intervened in it directly—by altering our brains pharmacologically, through the use of what they call “love drugs.”

Continue reading