Oxytocin – The Cuddle Drug
[ 8 minutes ]
I believe this is accurate but if you are interested I’d encourage you to read some of the numerous articles and research papers that have been produced over the past 7-10 years.
Oxytocin (OXT) is a hormone and neurotransmitter. It is in some ways a close companion of Dopamine. It is present in both males and females though functions differently in each.
For her it’s active in four arenas; Friend Bonding, Mate Pair-Bonding, Mother+Child Bonding and as an enabler of Reproduction/Sex/Birth. In Reproduction/Sex/Birth it exists outside of the central nervous system and helps in preparing her for intercourse and childbirth.
For him it functions outside of the central nervous system for the production and transport of testosterone and sperm. If or how it functions within the male CNS is rather unknown but appears very limited at best.
She produces about 4-7 times as much Oxytocin as he does and her estrogen strengthens its effect while his testosterone appears to negate it which is likely why it does not seem to affect him within his Central Nervous System as it does her. She also has significantly more OXTR receptors.
It’s most well known role is with the establishment of pair-bonds between her and her mate which is the primary topic here.
Pair Bonding – The Cuddle Drug
Often called the cuddle drug, Oxytocin is one of the four ‘feel-good’ hormones. A release of Oxytocin results in temporarily warm good feelings for her in general along with a temporary lessening of symptoms of depression and anxiety. Oxytocin also triggers the creation of pair-bonds that help to cement affection, empathy and trust with the person who triggered the release.
A release of Oxytocin is triggered by any number of actions which can perhaps be divided in to three groups:
Friend Bonding Triggers – for example:
- Talking to someone
- Looking someone in their eyes
- Holding hands
- Brief kiss
Friend Pair-Bonding Triggers:
- Longer or passionate kiss
Mate Pair-Bonding Triggers:
- Oral Sex
- Shower together
- Sending an erotic or nude photo (selfie)
- Mutual Masturbation
Hugging someone, a friend thing, will result in a minor release of Oxytocin, a warm feeling and temporarily increased affection towards that person.
A long passionate kiss on the other hand can result in her developing a kind of pseudo pair-bond, a deeper warm feeling and stronger and longer lasting affection, trust and respect.
Mutual Masturbation, a mate pair-bond thing, is in a different world. Perhaps 1000x a friend thing.
Oxytocin does not appear to know what the relationship is but only a binary positive or negative. If the relationship is negative, such as rape, then Oxytocin creates strong negative feelings. Otherwise, if it’s not specifically negative, then it creates a stronger positive bond or pair-bond. Intercourse with someone she just met, with a good friend or with her husband appear to all create the same pair-bond and increased feelings of affection, trust and empathy – even though the three relationships are very different.
This is all happening in her autonomic nervous system so is not under her control.
Multiple Mate Pair-Bonds
There does not appear to be a mechanism for effectively dealing with multiple serial or simultaneous mate pair-bonds. Multiple mate pair-bonds seem to often result in increased anxiety, confusion and depression. So while doing something sexual with a guy will usually result in a temporary lessening of these when she gets a shot of oxytocin and dopamine, if she has multiple pair-bonds then when the temporary high wears off she’ll often find herself with greater anxiety, depression and loneliness than before and this is possibly or likely due to conflicting multiple mate pair-bonds.
Besides pair-bonding with her life mate, Oxytocin also helps to create a bond with her child. Little is known at this point how her pair-bonds affect her child bonds and to what extent the conflicts of multiple mate pair-bonds affect her bond with her child. There is some statistical evidence that the children of women who’ve had multiple sex partners do not fare as well as those of monogamous women but this likely has as much to do with other factors such as her being a single mom as anything.
Pair-Bond Half Life
There’s a saying that she carries her past loves with her for years and he forgets by morning. This is literally true in this case as any pair-bond she forms does indeed stick with her for years.
Pair bonds appear to remain nearly full strength for about three months. What happens next appears to depend on the presence of new releases of Oxytocin.
With no additional Oxytocin releases a pair bond is rather stagnant for about 3 months and then appears to decline about 50% every 14 months (appears is a key word here – we’re still learning). For example, if she and some guy enjoy some mutual masturbation and then she does nothing else with anyone for 7 years then that bond will decline something like this.
However, any release of Oxytocin appears to slow the decline of all pair bonds. So her activities with guy #2 not only creates a new pair bond but also slows the decline of the pair-bond she created with guy #1.
Some Typical Scenarios
1 – She remains chaste until ‘the one’ – likely cohabitation or marriage. Nothing more than hugging & kissing with other guys prior. This guy is her only pair-bond. No conflicts. No Oxytocin induced anxiety, depression or trust issues. She’s 100% his. Her Oxytocin bond w/ him results in very strong affection, empathy, trust and commitment.
2 – She remains a technical virgin until marriage/cohab/engagement. She sends a nude photo to guy #1 which creates a pair bond with him and then mutual masturbation and other stuff over an 18 month period w/ guy #2 (Blue). A bit later she takes these guys pair-bonds with her in to her marriage resulting in a less strong pair-bond with her husband and so weaker affection, empathy, and trust. He’s sharing her bond space with these two other guys essence for the next few years. She may also experience increased anxiety and depression from the conflicting pair-bonds.
3 – Same as above but an extra year between any activities w/ prior guys and her new husband which gives more time for old bonds to decline at the faster uninterrupted pace. Her prior pair-bonds are still hanging around and are still a problem but not as much as above. He’s got an 80% strong bond which is short of the 100% bond in the chaste situation but much stronger than the 60% above.
Breaking Up Is Hard To Do
When she engages in any pair-bond activities and develops a pair-bond with someone then she also develops some level of deeper commitment to them, even with a one-night stand. That’s what Oxytocin is designed to do and it does it well.
The more she does with him the more the synaptic pathways strengthen for his pair-bond, the more of his essence is in her pair-bond pot, the deeper her commitment to him.
One affect is that she finds it much more difficult to evaluate this relationship rationally vs if she had no pair-bonds. Oxytocin seems purposed to create a strong relationship that endures through thick and thin – the enhanced trust and empathy though may cause her to overlook warning signs that would otherwise tell her to bug-off. Good for him (so long as he continues to want sex from her), not so good for her.
As well, brain scans indicate that when a relationship with a pair-bond is abandoned or broken she experiences considerable more pain than if she’d formed no pair-bond. In some cases the scans indicate pain similar to that of divorce. Given what we’re learning about mate pair-bonds this is not surprising.
Earlier we talked about Oxytocin not knowing what the relationship was but only a binary positive or negative.
There may actually be a third mode that’s not positive or negative, nor is it no relationship. It’s a very specific relationship, a transactional relationship. This is one case where Oxytocin seems to say “Hey, I’ll take a break and not do anything”.
This is likely any instance where she is willingly engaging in something with someone for other than; her own enjoyment, hopes of creating a relationship or for some attention.
Traditional prostitution is the most obvious such instance. A gal giving a blow job to a fellow student to do her homework for her, a teacher for a better grade, an employer for a job or promotion, a cop to avoid arrest, some guy for a line of coke or any other type of barter prostitution may all fit as well. If this mode does exist then it functions within a very narrow set of parameters. We know for instance that friends-with-benefits results in mate pair-bonds as does a one night stand so these would not be considered transactional.
There’s a related element with nudity. Sending a nude photo, showering together, or any number of similar things appear to trigger a release of Oxytocin with a resulting mate pair-bond. On the other hand casual non-erotic or non-romantic nudity may not.
We know that there are critical links between our spiritual, mental, and physical health. Each affects the others. Likewise we know that healthy relationships with friends and lovers improves our mental and physical health.
There is increasing evidence that an Oxytocin pair-bond directly strengthens her already strong immune system but that abandoned pair-bonds weaken it below normal. In this case it may not have been better to have loved and lost.
Levels of Oxytocin and its affects may decline with age. It is quite present and quite strong from puberty to about mid 30’s and then declines, sometimes rapidly.
As we age, new bonds are likely less strong and old bonds may either decline faster or at the least their decline is not hindered as much by the presence of Oxytocin.
Is a 40-year-old likely to experience less stress and anxiety from multiple bonds as a 30-year-old? Likely.
For him its very different. Oxytocin in him serves two likely functions; outside of the central nervous system it aids in the production and movement of testosterone and sperm and may assist in the repair of muscle tissue. As a neurotransmitter within his CNS it may help with conflict resolution, typically with other males but sometimes females as well.
He does not appear to experience any of the pair-bonding aspects that she does. While sexual activities leave her with deeper affection and trust in him, they do not with him.
In Friends With Benefits relationships it is quite usual that she will develop strong affection for him and want a deeper relationship while he will usually feel no more affection for her than he did before the sexual part of their relationship began.
There is some belief that Vasopressin is the pseudo male counterpart to Oxytocin but thus far there is no evidence to support that.
She has significantly more oxytocin receptors than he does and these play a key role in how it functions in her and perhaps particularly with monogamy. Between monogamous prairie voles and polygynous montane voles the key difference is not the oxytocin but the density of receptors – greater OXTR density results in greater desire to act as a monogamous partner.
One way to see the differences is with homosexual relationships. Two women having a sexual relationship will find themselves in an oxy-storm. Two men do not. Female homosexual relationships tend to be naturally monogamous while male do not.
A final thought. If she has these Oxytocin produced pair-bonds that stick her to him so strongly and he does not, then what does stick him to her?
A Note On Modeling
At some point in the discovery phases of science we begin to build models based on the information that we have available. That’s what we’ve done above based on what we know.
We know (or are somewhat sure we know) that:
– Oxytocin is released based on a variety of experiences such as cuddling or having intercourse.
– Oxytocin releases vary based on the triggering event with minor events resulting in minor temporary bonds and major events resulting in stronger and longer lasting pair-bonds.
– A major release of Oxytocin often results in a temporary decrease in anxiety and depression along with warm good feelings of affection, empathy and trust towards the individual who caused the release.
– A pair-bond significantly increases affection, empathy and trust towards this person.
– Multiple pair-bonds appear to create conflict and often result in increased anxiety, stress and depression.
– A pair-bond appears to remain about full strength for 90 days from the release of Oxytocin that created or strengthened it.
– A pair-bond begins to decline after 90 days.
– A new release of Oxytocin appears to slow the decline of all pair-bonds.
– Oxytocin appears to decline with age.
– Sexual encounters result in a pair-bond for her towards her partner but not for him.
We do not know for certain:
– What the actual lifespan or half-life of a pair-bond is.
– How much affect a new release of Oxytocin has on the rate of decline of old bonds.
– How multiple pair-bonds interact.
– Exactly what actions result in how much of a release of Oxytocin when and what the exact outcome is.
The word ‘appears’ that I’ve used here and elsewhere is critical. We’ve all seen the optical illusions where something appears to be one thing when it really is another. Science can be like this as well. There are some things that appear to be something or do something but until we understand more of the underlying bits we don’t want to go from saying that it ‘appears’ to be doing something to a more definitive ‘is’ doing something.
Based on what we know I believe the model presented here is fairly accurate.
If you want to dive deeper and fully understand what’s happening then there are two good reads. First is: https://europepmc.org/backend/ptpmcrender.fcgi?accid=PMC6283620&blobtype=pdf. Make sure to read beyond the Acknowledgments and References as there is some good information nearer the end.
Second is the book ‘Hooked’ by Dr’s Joe S. McIlhaney and Freda McKissic Bush.
The paper will provide you a somewhat liberal leaning view and the book a more conservative leaning view. Between the two you should gain a fairly balanced and accurate picture of what we know so far.
For example, several hours on how antibiotics, via our gut biome, can inhibit m-opiod, oxytocin and vasopressin pathways in our brains. (start here: https://bmcneurosci.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12868-020-00583-3)
Oxytocin also exists outside of the central nervous system for roles in sexual reproduction and possibly muscle repair.
Sending a photo is interesting because it is not in person. Olfactory information is believed to play a key role in pair-bond creation and identification and in this case there is no direct olfactory information for this purpose. Some women have reported that they can ‘smell’ him when they send him the photo so perhaps there is some latent element at work. Of similar interest is her sending a nude photo to a guy she’s never met in person and so has no olfactory memory of to base ID on. Does her brain create an ID somehow?
The half-life of Oxytocin itself is in reality just a few minutes or even seconds, not the years of the resulting pair-bond. The Oxytocin dies but the pair-bond remains.