Significant new studies are showing the complexity of the world of neurochemicals that make up our bodies, minds and souls. Fascinating studies on the neuropeptide oxytocin are showing its importance in pair-bonding between lovers, families and friends. It is also being singled out for its role in the more feminine trait of ‘tending and relating’ in the face of adversity. Fight or flight, in the face of stress, seems to be a more male trait and may have something to do with the interplay of testosterone levels and oxytocin levels. Estrogen, on the other hand, enhances the affects of oxytocin and helps to promote the brain’s use of oxytocin to create win-win scenarios.
Reactions to stress factors are smaller and pass faster in people under the influence of higher levels of oxytocin. Estrogen enhances oxytocin release and androgens like testosterone mitigate it. It may be that as women age (the degree of free testosterone in their bodies and brains increases as estrogen compounds decrease) they become less attached to their long-term love relationships, especially if they are strained. They seek friends, family and, sometimes, new mates so as to increase their levels of oxytocin. All of this is unconscious, of course, but helps us understand the movement of humans in the relationship love dance.
Oxytocin may be why men seek more sex partners than women tend to. Women produce more oxytocin, in more ways than men, and it helps them create bonding relationships of all kinds. It induces trust, intimacy, reaching to help others and reduces stress so it only seems natural that men would seek, unconsciously, of course, their own ways of increasing the supply of it to their brains. Because men have access to oxytocin during orgasmic pleasure and, in smaller amounts, through intimate relating like kissing and cuddling, they would seek these behaviors naturally. Women, on the other hand, have more opportunity to experience the oxytocin high through not only orgasm and cuddling but through nursing, childbirth and general friendship tending. They just are more ‘wired’ for the production of oxytocin because it is biologically necessary for bonding them to friends and family.
There are several companies experimenting with low-level oxytocin sprays that may be out on the market in a few years. What will that do to the world of love and bonding and connection? In a society that prides itself on innovation, where is this taking us and how will it benefit, detour or cause problems in the human striving to love and be loved? In the face of free-will corporate profits, I’m sure we’ll be finding out soon enough.