The human body is an extremely complex machine. Along with our organs, muscles, and bones, approximately 50 different hormones contribute to our health and mood. Among these influential hormones is oxytocin, sometimes referred to as the "love hormone" or "cuddle hormone." it is important to know that the function of oxytocin extends much further than facilitating feelings of love or intimacy.
What Is Oxytocin?
Love may be oxytocin's claim to fame, but the hormone has a much greater role in the body and health. In addition to its hormonal functions, oxytocin also acts as a neurotransmitter. Both hormones and neurotransmitters serve as the body's chemical messengers and are responsible for facilitating communication between different neurons and muscles. The main difference between hormones and neurotransmitters is the bodily system in which they operate.
Neurotransmitters are used by the nervous system (which includes the brain and spinal cord), while hormones influence the endocrine system. However, there is some overlap between the two, and some molecules can act as both hormones and neurotransmitters. Oxytocin is one of these dual-functioning molecules, as is norepinephrine.
Oxytocin is produced in the hypothalamus, an area of the brain responsible for keeping the body in a state of homeostasis. Oxytocin is secreted by the hypothalamus when the neurons in that region of the brain emit electrical activity. When the hypothalamus produces oxytocin, it sends the oxytocin down to the posterior lobe of the pituitary gland (sometimes referred to as the "master gland"). From there, the pituitary gland releases oxytocin directly into the bloodstream.
A positive feedback mechanism controls the amount of oxytocin that gets released by the hypothalamus, meaning that an initial release of the hormone sparks an action that stimulates even more of the hormone to be released.
The Oxytocin Function Explained
Oxytocin has multiple functions in the human body, both physical and psychological.
Oxytocin And Reproduction
While all humans use oxytocin, it is particularly important for females due to its role in reproduction. In general, women tend to have higher levels of oxytocin in the body than men. This is especially true when a woman is pregnant or has recently given birth. is a strong stimulant of uterine contractions and is responsible for initiating labor contractions.
After childbirth, oxytocin levels remain high. The hormone is released, along with prolactin, during breastfeeding. Oxytocin is responsible for facilitating the flow of lactation.
Oxytocin remains a prominent component of a woman's health and emotions following childbirth. The hormone helps shrink the uterus back to its normal size in the days following labor, playing a crucial role in the physical mechanism of childbirth and post-labor health. Childbirth can have a lasting effect on women’s oxytocin production, causing them to experience a spike in the hormone from hearing a baby cry or even just thinking about their baby.
Oxytocin And Bonding
Another way in which oxytocin plays a role in reproduction is that it can intensify mother-child bonding. It is worth noting that the relationship between oxytocin and mother-child bonding starts long before actual childbirth. According to research, a mother's oxytocin levels during the first trimester of pregnancy can later influence bonding behaviors with her newborn baby.
Oxytocin also helps facilitate bonding between fathers and their children. While men do not receive the same natural boost of oxytocin as women when their partners give birth, they can receive supplemental oxytocin. In studies, men who supplemented oxytocin showed increased levels of bonding with their child compared to men who did not receive supplemental oxytocin.
Beyond parent-child bonding, oxytocin has been shown to strengthen romantic relationships. One study examined how men responded to photos of their partner or photos of other women whom they had never met. Some of the men were given nasal oxytocin spray, while others were given a placebo nasal spray that did not contain any oxytocin.
Researchers found that when men were given a boost of oxytocin via the spray, the areas of their brain associated with reward and pleasure lit up upon seeing photos of their partner. At the same time, seeing photos of the other women suppressed feelings of pleasure. Psychiatrists believe that this suggests oxytocin can increase the likelihood of a successful monogamous relationship, as it is indicative of pleasure and rewards for having one long-term partner.
Oxytocin And Intimacy
The study mentioned above also demonstrates the relationship between intimacy and oxytocin. Sexual intimacy is one of the triggers for the body to release oxytocin, and people tend to have higher levels of oxytocin in their bodies when they are in a relationship versus when they are single.
This is especially true during the early stages of a romantic relationship. The rush of oxytocin that people experience at the beginning of a relationship may form linkages between the oxytocin response and simple actions like a partner speaking or facial cues. Then, as time goes on and the relationship becomes less intimate, simple things like looking into the partner's eyes may spark a rush of oxytocin thanks to the linkages formed early in the relationship.
There is a strong association between oxytocin and intimacy outside of monogamous relationships, too. This is the reason oxytocin has gained the moniker of the "love hormone." When you engage in sex, oxytocin, along with dopamine, are released in the brain. This can make you feel closer to your partner. In animal studies, oxytocin has also shown to increase sexual arousal. This is an example of the positive feedback mechanism of oxytocin production. Oxytocin can cause sexual arousal, and then sexual intercourse produces more oxytocin, restarting the positive feedback loop.
But, sex is not the only way to experience a boost of oxytocin. Even a short hug can produce feelings of closeness and cause a release of the hormone. This means oxytocin can help you feel closer to people in a non-romantic way and can strengthen friendships and romantic partnerships alike.
Oxytocin And Your Emotions
Along with physical and sexual health, oxytocin can play a role in your emotional health. Some research has found that oxytocin influences "pro-social behaviors" and can contribute to relaxation and trust, as well as psychological stability. Oxytocin is regarded as very important for helping the body adapt to highly emotional situations and can reduce stress responses such as anxiety.
Other studies have found that oxytocin improves self-perception in social situations. This means that it can help people feel more confident and outgoing around others. These findings, coupled with oxytocin's ability to reduce stress responses, indicate that oxytocin may be useful for helping people overcome social anxieties or other anxiety disorders. Of course, treating anxiety or other emotional disorders is not a one-size-fits-all solution.
For most people, treating these conditions involves a variety of methods, which may include medication, and usually therapy. Therapy and counseling, either online or in-person, are great choices for anyone struggling with emotional or anxiety disorders that they would like to learn how to manage better.
In addition to social anxiety, autism and postpartum depression may also be effectively treated with oxytocin. Because it is associated with feelings of trust, it can be useful for people who avoid socializing with others and help make them feel more comfortable in social situations. Scientists also believe that oxytocin could help improve both interpersonal and individual well-being.
Some people may feel that they would like to start supplementing their body's natural production of oxytocin to increase intimacy with their partner, boost their mood, reduce anxiety or stress, or a multitude of other reasons. While oxytocin can help many people with these problems, you should always discuss any supplements with a doctor and mental health professional before you start taking them. Not only is it important to seek their advice about whether oxytocin supplementation can help you, but you should also inquire about dosage and what form of the supplement they recommend.
In the scientific studies previously mentioned, participants were administered oxytocin via nasal spray. This is a common way to supplement oxytocin because intranasal administration allows the oxytocin to hit the bloodstream faster than some other methods. You can also use an oxytocin body spray that you spritz around your neck and collar area, or even onto pillows or blankets.
Alternatively, your doctor may recommend taking oxytocin in pill form. Pitocin is a brand of oxytocin pills that is often prescribed to pregnant women. The pill is used to help stimulate labor, as oxytocin is a strong stimulant of uterine contractions.
Oxytocin has many benefits for emotional and physical health, but that does not mean one should overload their body with supplemented oxytocin. Most people produce enough oxytocin on their own, without any additional oxytocin from a spray or pill. For some of the conditions oxytocin treats, like stress and anxiety, a better option may be to talk to a therapist or counselor.
The Benefits Of Online Therapy
Whether you are experiencing depressive symptoms or having challenges with sexual intimacy, a compassionate and qualified online therapist can help you identify the root of your difficulties and practice effective coping strategies. Many people may feel more comfortable discussing sensitive topics with an online therapist, and with online platforms like BetterHelp, you can schedule an appointment at a preferred time that is most compatible with your schedule.
In one study comparing online versus face-to-face sexual enhancement training using a cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) approach, researchers discovered that that the online treatment group experienced more sexual intimacy and satisfaction than the face-to-face group participants. Regardless of the mental health condition for which you are seeking treatment, simply talking with an empathetic professional can raise oxytocin levels.
What does oxytocin do to the body?
Oxytocin plays a few important roles in the body. First, oxytocin helps trigger and sustain uterine contractions during birth—so much so that synthetic oxytocin may be used to help induce labor—and it aids in milk ejection for nursing. It can play a role in relaxation, trust, and bonding between humans as well, since its own release can be triggered by affectionate touch. It may also help decrease stress and anxiety levels.
Does oxytocin make you happy?
When oxytocin is released and then crosses the blood-brain barrier, it can trigger positive feelings and a decrease in stress. That’s why it’s commonly associated with romantic attachment and other social behaviors related to emotional bonding.
What are the effects of oxytocin in females?
In people with reproductive systems that enable them to give birth, increased oxytocin production during labor helps stimulate uterine contractions. Oxytocin release also plays a role in milk production for lactation.
Outside of the context of giving birth, oxytocin can enhance a person’s connection to others, from family and friends to romantic or sexual partners. It can be released as a result of affectionate touch or social behaviors like singing or making music together.
Why is oxytocin called the love drug?
The hormone oxytocin is sometimes referred to as “the love drug” because it can have a positive impact on a person’s feelings of warmth, affection, and bonding with another person. It’s commonly associated with romantic feelings, but its release can accompany affectionate connections of many types.
How do you trigger oxytocin?
Oxytocin acts as a facilitator of the birthing process, so the body will naturally produce it to aid a birthing parent in delivery as well as in lactation afterward. Otherwise, more research suggests that oxytocin release can also be triggered by affectionate touch, sexual touch, food intake, and even pleasant thoughts.
How does oxytocin make you fall in love?
Oxytocin doesn’t make a person fall in love, but it can help people bond and form social attachments of multiple kinds. That’s because oxytocin acts as a positive and pleasant signal in the brain in response to affectionate touch and other types of positive interactions between humans. Spending time with someone you’re romantically interested in and receiving affectionate touch from them is one example of a situation that’s likely to trigger an oxytocin release.
What hormone is released during orgasm?
Oxytocin and dopamine are two key hormones that are typically released before and during orgasm.
What is dopamine vs. oxytocin?
Dopamine and oxytocin are both neurochemicals associated with generally positive feelings, but they are distinct from each other. Dopamine is primarily related to motivation and rewards, which is why we feel good when we complete a task or enjoy a treat. Oxytocin is related more to relationships, as it’s commonly released as a result of affectionate touch and helps promote bonding between individuals.
What does oxytocin high feel like?
The effects of the release of oxytocin tend to include the emotional sensations of pleasant warmth and care. You may also notice a decrease in anxiety levels.
- Previous Article
- Next Article