Oxytocin has long been called the "love hormone" — responsible for attachment, bonding and plenty of those feel-good moments we have with others. The naturally-occuring chemical is thought of as an anti-anxiety drug and used in couples' counseling. But, new research shows the hormone isn't all hearts and roses — there may be a dark side.
Like love, this powerful hormone is a complicated thing and it affects men and women differently. Here's how the oxytocin is affecting your relationships, from sex to breakup recovery.
1. It Makes Breakups Worse:
Have a painful memory of your ex that never seems to go away? A new study found that oxytocin has the ability to enhance anxiety and fear for stressful events in the future. So, when something is negative, like your failed relationship, oxytocin activates a part of the brain that intensifies, even prolongs your bad thought, which increases the chance it'll become a long-term, painful memory. Ouch. As if breakups weren't bad to begin with.
2. It Puts You In The Mood
A drug that gives you a better sex life? Nope, not talking about Viagra. Oxytocin, along with it's ability to facilitate hugs and touches, has also been proven to boost sexual arousal. In a study from the University of California, men who sniffed a nasal spray containing oxytocin became more affectionate, had a stronger libido and they even were more satisfying lovers. Naturally, the wives weighed in for that one.
3. It Makes You Fall Head Over Heels ... Sometimes Too Quickly
Released during sex, oxytocin is what connects us to our partner. The chemical accelerates an emotional connection right after a physical one. Studies suggest the bonding hormone is more powerful in women, making them attached to the men they sleep with — whether they're a friend with benefits or a husband. Sound familiar? YourTango expert Moushumi Ghose writes that there may be a such thing as an oxytocin overdose. And, studies show that too much oxytocin can cause men to be even less interested. "In this all too common scenario, one person may feel attached and therfore chase, while the other will run away."
4. It Strengthens Your Relationship
The bonding hormone has been known to increase trust, make us generous and keep us supportive, but it's also keeping you there for the long haul. The chemical is also responsible for the longevity of a relationship. A study published in Psychoneuroendocrinology discovered that couples with high-oxytocin levels laughed more often, touched more frequently and even finished each other's sentences than those with low levels of the hormone.
5. It Makes You A Better Mother:
The powerful hormone isn't just affecting your romantic love — it's responsible for maternal love, too. It plays an essential role in helping moms give birth and bond with their babies. Not only does it help induce labor, post-birth, it's makes moms affectionate with their little ones. Researchers at Bar-Ilan University in Israel found a strong connection between the levels of oxytocin and the amount of attention new moms paid to her baby. In fact, it was the first trimester of the pregnancy that was most significant in predicting the mother-infant bonding behavior. Higher levels of the hormone during that time period correlated to more bonding and embracing after the birth.
6. It Helps Resolve Your Arguments
Several studies have found that increased oxytocin levels can improve facial reading, empathy and how we determine others' emotional states. But it might go beyond understanding our partner's feelings better. Researchers from the University of Oxford argue that giving oxytocin nasal spray to couples may end marital conflicts, decrease stress hormones and boost the relationship.
7. It Makes Men Monogamous
Oxytocin is an essential hormone for monogamy in the animal kingdom and it's been proven to foster trust in humans, but a recent study reveals it may also be what's keeping your man faithful. Researchers in Germany found that oxytocin may be strengthening your bond even when you're apart. The study found that attached men who were given a oxytocin-filled nasal spray kept a significantly greater distance between themselves and attractive women than the single participants did. Good work, oxytocin.
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