Everything You Need To Know About Oxytocin
By: Sarah Fader
Updated April 03, 2020
Medically Reviewed By: Whitney White, MS. CMHC, NCC., LPC
Content Warning: Please be advised, the below article might mention topics that include prescription medication, abuse of medication, and addiction. The information found in the article is not a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health providers with any questions you may have.
Oxytocin is defined by Psychology Today as "a powerful hormone that acts as a neurotransmitter in the brain." This hormone impacts sexual 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, and more. Due to this hormone's impact on sexual and social behaviors, it is often dubbed as the "love hormone." However, there are many layers and intricacies to oxytocin, its impacts, and other related factors.
A Thorough Overview of Oxytocin
According to the American Psychological Association, the production of oxytocin begins in the human forebrain; it is then released into the blood, brain, or even the spinal cord. After release, the hormone then begins to influence various functions and behaviors. While oxytocin has a plethora of impacts on the body, its connection and influence on what humans deem as love is quite interesting and complex.
Oxytocin and Love
While oxytocin's impact on love is not new, the understanding and discovery of said impact are fairly recent. Decades ago, oxytocin was thought to only impacts very particular body functions such as various stages of pregnancy and breastfeeding. For instance, when a woman is going through some of the latter stages of pregnancy, oxytocin kicks in and is released during the birth of the child. This hormone is furthermore stimulated to help nourish newborns after birth when physical contact during breastfeeding stimulates oxytocin.
The impacts of oxytocin are not merely limited to pregnancy and breastfeeding. This hormone also influences the bond between mother and child by increasing during childbirth. It is important to note that lower levels of oxytocin, manner of birthing, or adoption, are not related to poorer bonds.
Oxytocin and Bonding
Unfortunately, there are some existing misconceptions which still exist regarding oxytocin. While the "love hormone" does have an impact on how people socialize and interact with others, it does not force people to forge relationships or connections against their will. In layman's terms, an individual may have oxytocin hormones, but if he or she is truly against bonding with someone, they won't.
Oxytocin and Autism
For quite some time, many people have speculated about whether or not certain levels of oxytocin can impact, counteract, or even treat autism. According to Autism Speaks, oxytocin hormone treatments have not yet been approved. Some studies have hinted at the potential merits of employing oxytocin treatments to improve the social interactions of children and adults who have autism.
There have been certain instances where doses of oxytocin have been administered to autistic individuals, in a controlled manner. During a clinical trial, spritzing small amounts of oxytocin into the nostrils did, in fact, increase sociability for people with autism. While this method has had desirable impacts in isolated situations, it still comes with certain dangers.
For instance, there is a lack of awareness of how administered doses of oxytocin could impact brains which have not fully developed. Autism is not inherently caused by low levels of oxytocin, despite some temporary benefits of administered doses. Certain studies have proven that oxytocin levels of children with autism did not vary from those without autism.
Oxytocin and Stress
The plethora of negative impacts associated with stress are well documented. Not only is stress connected with several leading causes of death, but it also adversely affects relationships, work, and other important areas of a person's daily life, if left unchecked. Oxytocin can help alleviate some of these symptoms.
According to Life Science, prairie voles who experienced feelings of anxiety, stress, and even 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 experienced negative feelings of distress, unrest, or stress.
Understanding the Dark Side Of Oxytocin
The positive effects and upsides of oxytocin are undeniable. While the "love hormone" can promote love and bonding, ease stress, and sometimes temporarily counteract certain impacts of autism, oxytocin is not without its flaws. As shocking as some people may find the forthcoming reports, the "love hormone" does, in fact, have certain ties to domestic violence, according to additional information from Psychology Today.
Links To Domestic Violence And Abuse
In a nutshell, high amounts of oxytocin are linked to abuse and violence in relationships. Unfortunately, this is especially applicable to individuals who are already prone to violence and mistreatment of others. In essence, oxytocin encourages or magnifies what already exists within various human beings. For example, most mothers feel the innate instinct to bond with their offspring, particularly after giving birth. As previously stated, the "love hormone" promotes bonding, love, romantic/sexual feelings, and other human interactions. On the flip side, if someone already tends to act aggressively or violently towards others, oxytocin can increase their propensity for this bad behavior.
Anyone, regardless of age, race, gender, sexuality, etc., who is in an abusive relationship or suffering from domestic violence are strongly urged to get out of the situation as quickly as possible. Abusers do not stop their behavior unless they are forced to. However, many domestic abusers often employ various excuses to explain away and justify their ill conduct. Oxytocin levels are not an excuse for domestic violence or abuse.
A Final Word
Oxytocin is one of many hormones which directly impacts the human body and psyche. Love and bonding are very complex and intricate facets of the lives of virtually every human being. As more and more studies are conducted into the hormone and its various impacts, there may be new developments and revelations.
Regardless of oxytocin level and hormonal impacts, the reality is that each person will inevitably experience the unique ups and downs which are simply a part of living. There will be good times and bad times. While oxytocin can sometimes combat stress and boost the propensity for positive human interactions such as friendships, romantic relationships, and overall socialization with others, it is critical for each person to understand that oxytocin only goes so far.
Life can be rough and sometimes, talking to a licensed professional can make all the difference. However, there are still many people who struggle with feeling comfortable enough to seek outside assistance. This fear and discomfort can stem from a variety of sources for differing reasons. Some people may believe that asking for help is indicative of weakness or some other personal shortcoming; some of the strongest people in the world are the ones who can ask for guidance when they need it.