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Oxytocin: What the “Love Drug” Is All About

Red pills in the shape of a heart.

The “love drug”, “cuddle chemical”, “trust elixir”; call it what you will, Oxytocin is a powerful chemical that plays a major role in maintaining the relationship we have with another.

In women, oxytocin is the hormone released in large quantities during labor and contributes to that initial bonding between mother and child. In intimate relationships, an increased level of the hormone is released during and immediately after orgasm in both men and women. Smaller amounts are thought to be released even when we do something as simple as kiss, hug or touch our partner.

When released in the brain, oxytocin (along with a variety of other “happy” neurochemicals) positively impacts relaxation, trust and psychological stability, says psychotherapist and author of Always Turned On: Sex Addiction in the Digital Age,  Robert Weiss. “Put simply, research shows that oxytocin positively correlates with care, socialization, trust and bonding between couples.

Oxytocin affects men and women a bit differently. Some say the chemical lingers longer in women after sex than in men.  Could this be why a woman might have a harder time moving on from a man, than a man would from a woman? Right now there is not enough research to determine that, but many have theorized.

While the hormone does not play a direct role in sexual attraction of physical sexual arousal, Weiss says it does affect a person’s ability to trust and connect with another, which can indirectly factor into a woman’s desire to have sex. “Men are primarily interested in another person’s sexual body parts. Women, on the other hand, are more interested in the intimate connection to the other person. When women are turned on, they may or may not want sex. It depends on how they feel about the other person,” says Weiss.

But this doesn’t mean that the “love hormone” doesn’t affect men.

During the first 9 to 18 months of a new romantic relationship, BOTH genders experience elevated oxytocin levels when they’re around the other partner, says Weiss. It’s not all fireworks, roses and rainbows when the tidal wave of oxytocin washes over us when in love. The hormone has its less positive social effects. For instance, research shows that oxytocin can cause or increase feelings of jealousy.

That may not be a bad thing, though. Besides bonding and possible feelings of jealousy, one study also presents the theory that the chemical may even make us less likely to stray.

In one experiment detailed in psychologist, Dr. Robert Martin’s article in Psychology Today, men who were administered a dose of oxytocin to simulate being in monogamous relationship, were more inclined to keep their distance from an attractive women than the “uncommitted men”, or men who weren’t given the drug.  This suggests that oxytocin helps to promote fidelity within monogamous relationships.

Now that we know a bit more about this “love hormone” and the positive things it can do for our relationships, it may just inspire you to get a little more frisky with your partner.

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