Problems With Intimacy? Retrain Your Brain

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oxytocin chemistry of connection
Oxytocin, the hormone for bonding, trust, breastfeeding and orgasm also helps us learn to love.

Oxytocin is quite a busy hormone. When released in the brain, it facilitates sex, orgasm, birth and breastfeeding, as well as feelings of bonding, connection and trust.

No wonder, then, that scientists want to recreate the chemical's effects. Drugs that simulate the hormone, like Pitocin, are given to pregnant women to help induce labor. A synthetic oxytocin nasal spray has been produced to help mothers create milk for newborns, and researchers are experimenting with how doses of it might combat memory loss and autism, and improve sexual functioning.

In her forthcoming book The Chemistry of Connecton: How the Oxytocin Response Can Help You Find Trust, Intimacy and Love, author and journalist Susan Kuchinskas describes the important role oxytocin plays in our love lives and how we can train our brain to better respond to love. In other words, we weren't born knowing how to love—we learn it.

She spoke to Tobi Elkin.

YourTango: What is the "oxytocin response"?

SK: The brain pumps out a spurt of oxytocin directly into your brain during times of physical and emotional intimacy, safety or trust. It's a learned response—people begin to secrete oxytocin when their mothers are loving them. The oxytocin response can happen during orgasm, or when you're shaking hands with someone. It doesn't even have to be when you're touching someone. You can get an oxytocin release when you're interacting with someone via IM, on the computer or phone.

Unfotunately, what can happen is that we also can learn to secrete oxytocin when our mother is harsh and yells at us. We associate our mom with yelling and anger, but also love. When we grow up, we have the oxytocin response not only during loving times, but also angry ones, which can make it hard to maintain a good relationship.

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