The Power And Science Of Sexual Touch

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close up of couple smiling about to kiss
What happens in our bodies when we touch each other sexually? Why is touch so powerful?

Touch lets people know they are connected. Touch lets someone know, "I want to be with you." It says, "I want more of this."

"Healthy touching," Dr. Lynn adds, "is touching that brings two people together and makes them then want to touch more, and that's a combination of physiology and psychology."

So what happens in our bodies when we touch each other sexually? Why is touch so powerful? The unromantic answer is that our brains are affronted with a deluge of chemicals that change both us and how we relate to our partner. When A Kiss Is More Than Just A Kiss

Pheromones attract. Testosterone drives the two of you into bed. Dopamine provides the rush at climax. Phenylethylamine (PEA) gives you the euphoria of new love. Oxytocin, however, is what brings you back for more, and to that person specifically. It's what bonds you to one another, and it is what's behind the stimulation, confirmation and validation touching brings to the relationship. Or, as Yu Kun Zhang says in The Chemistry of Love and Monogamy, "Chemicals such as ... PEA 'create' love, whereas hormones such as oxytocin increase our passion for love and the likelihood that we stay it."

Also known as "the cuddle hormone," oxytocin is secreted from the pituitary glad during touch—sex, birth, breast feeding, even hand-holding—and bathes the brain and reproductive tracts of both men and women (although to a higher degree in women). Once stimulated, it helps you feel a connection and bond with your partner. As Theresa Chrenshaw, M.D., explains in her book, The Alchemy of Love and Lust:

Oxytocin is a marvelous molecule, influencing our life through touch. It is a crucial bonding agent for relationships—think of is as hormonal superglue... [It] bonds and attaches up to those we love, or perhaps causes us to love those it bonds us to—mates, family, friends, babies. It is deeply involved in parenting behaviors, causes contractions of the uterus during childbirth and orgasm, reduces stress, and, most importantly, keeps us "in touch" with each other. Curiously enough, it also make us forgetful and diminishes our capacity to think and reason.

During foreplay, touch-induced oxytocin increases trust and reduces fear. It modulates blood pressure and reduces levels of cortisol, the stress hormone. In rats, it causes spontaneous erections in males and increased sexual receptivity in females. Research has even shown that oxytocin helps produce more intense orgasms, which makes sense since anxiety and stress are often to blame for male impotence and female sexual dysfunction.