Everything You Need To Know About Oxytocin

Medically reviewed by Melissa Guarnaccia, LCSW
Updated October 9, 2023by BetterHelp Editorial Team
Content Warning: Please be advised, the below article might mention trauma-related topics that include abuse which could be triggering to the reader. If you or someone you love is experiencing abuse, contact the Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233). Free, one-on-one support is available 24/7. Please also see our Get Help Now page for more immediate resources.

Oxytocin is a naturally occurring hormone released by the pituitary gland that acts as a neurotransmitter in the brain. This hormone impacts sexual, sensual, and social behaviors. For instance, when an individual is hugged or kissed by someone else, their levels of oxytocin surge. Oxytocin is linked to orgasms, empathy, sex, birth, generosity, breastfeeding, cuddling, and other forms of connection. Due to this hormone's impact on sexual arousal and social behaviors, it is often dubbed the “cuddle chemical,” “cuddle hormone,” or the "love hormone." However, there are many layers and intricacies to oxytocin, its impacts on human behavior, well being, and other related factors that may be worth exploring.

Discover The Link Between Oxytocin, Love, And Bonding

The Production Of Oxytocin

According to the American Psychological Association, the production of oxytocin begins in the forebrain before being released by the posterior pituitary into the blood, brain, or spinal cord. After release, the hormone acts as a chemical messenger and influences various human functions, social interactions, and behaviors. While oxytocin has many impacts on the body, its connection to and influence on what humans deem love, bonding, and belonging can be interesting and complex.

Oxytocin And Love

While oxytocin's impact on love is not new, the understanding and discovery of this phenomenon are recent. Decades ago, oxytocin was thought only to impact particular bodily functions such as pregnancy and breastfeeding. For instance, when someone is going through the latter stages of pregnancy, oxytocin starts to kick in to stimulate uterine contractions and is released during the child's birth. Nerves impulses trigger the brain to release oxytocin during labor to stimulate contractions, and more oxytocin releases to strengthen contractions and help the mother bond with the infant. This hormone is further stimulated for milk ejection to help nourish newborns after birth when physical contact during breastfeeding causes oxytocin to be released.

However, researchers have found that the impacts of oxytocin are not limited to pregnancy, causing contractions, and breastfeeding. This hormone also increases the bond between parent and child during childbirth. Despite this, lower levels of oxytocin, manner of birthing, and adoption are not key aspects related to poorer bonds between child and caregiver.

Oxytocin And Bonding

Not only does oxytocin impact pregnancy, breastfeeding, and motherhood, but the hormone also influences human bonding and relationship building outside of family relationships, such as a sexual partner. While romantic attachment and sexual relationships have ties with oxytocin release, so do other human interactions.

There are some existing misconceptions which still exist regarding the release of oxytocin. For example, while the "love hormone" impacts how people socialize and interact with others, it does not force people to forge relationships or connections against their will. For instance, an individual may have oxytocin when meeting someone, but they won't bond if they don't feel willing.

Recent studies have explored the effectiveness of synthetic oxytocin delivered as a nasal spray to improve social cognition for persons with autism spectrum disorder. Some evidence suggests that intranasal administration enables oxytocin to enter the brain directly, bypassing the blood brain barrier. 

Getty / courtneyk

Oxytocin And Stress

The plethora of adverse impacts associated with stress is well documented. Not only is stress connected with several leading causes of death, but it also adversely affects relationships, work, and other areas of a person's daily life. Oxytocin may alleviate some of these symptoms.

According to one study, prairie voles who experienced feelings of anxiety, stress, and depression felt the preceding emotion subside after being injected with oxytocin. During a 2007 meeting at the Society for Neuroscience, specialists determined that the positive impacts of oxytocin became more apparent when the subjects at hand were experiencing negative feelings of anxiety, unrest, or stress.

Is There A Negative Side To Oxytocin? 

The positive effects and upsides of oxytocin are well-studied. While the "love hormone" can promote love and bonding and ease stress, oxytocin is not necessarily without its flaws.

Elevated levels have been associated with benign prostatic hyperplasia, or enlarged prostate, which affects more than half of individuals assigned male at birth over 60 years of age. Too much oxytocin is also connected to an increase in aggression. As one study showed, high amounts of oxytocin can be linked to abuse and violence in relationships.*

In essence, oxytocin encourages or magnifies tendencies to become violent or connect healthily with others. For example, many parents feel the innate instinct to bond with their offspring, particularly after giving birth. The "love hormone" promotes bonding, love, romantic/sexual feelings, and other human interactions. However, if someone already tends to act aggressively or violently toward others, oxytocin can increase their propensity for this harmful behavior.

People who mistreat others may employ various excuses to explain away and justify their ill conduct. Oxytocin levels are not an excuse for domestic violence or abuse. *If you are facing or witnessing abuse of any kind, the National Domestic Violence Hotline is available 24/7 for support. Call 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or text "START" to 88788. You can also use the online chat.

A Conclusion On Oxytocin 

Oxytocin is one of many hormones which can directly impact the human body and psyche. Love and bonding are complex and intricate facets of the lives of many. As more and more studies are conducted to explore the effects of oxytocin, there may be new developments and revelations.

Regardless of one's oxytocin level and hormonal impacts, each person can inevitably experience life's unique ups and downs. Life can be full of joyous times and challenging obstacles. While oxytocin can sometimes combat stress, depressive symptoms, and boost the propensity for positive human interactions such as friendships, romantic relationships, and overall socialization with others, it can be critical for each person to understand that oxytocin may only go so far.

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Discover The Link Between Oxytocin, Love, And Bonding

Counseling Options 

You're not alone if you're experiencing challenges related to connecting with others, parenting, love, or unhealthy relationships. You may benefit from contacting a therapist for further support. For example, many people sign up for online platforms like BetterHelp, which can allow you to match with a therapist suited to your unique needs. 

Humans are wired for connection, and having someone to turn to in times of distress can be valuable. While there may not be anyone you feel you can open up to in your everyday life, a certified online therapist may be able to provide you with a safe space to be transparent. Receiving care from the comfort of your home may allow you to move past anxiety, depression, or any other mental health concerns you might be facing. 

Online therapy can be a viable treatment option for those struggling with mental health conditions like anxiety, PTSD, depression, and other mental health conditions. One study assessed the effectiveness of an online therapeutic intervention for treating post-partum depression in women who had recently given birth. Researchers found that those participating in the online intervention had reduced scores in symptoms of anxiety. They also scored "significantly lower" on the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale (EPDS) and experienced fewer post-partum depression symptoms as compared to the control group.


Oxytocin is a chemical produced by the brain during different types of human connections. It plays a vital role in the body and can increase closeness, bonding, empathy, and other social connections. If you are displaying symptoms of a mental health condition and think it could be linked to an imbalance of oxytocin, you may be able to gain more clarity with assistance from a licensed counselor.

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