Remember that warm, fuzzy feeling you get when you hug a close friend, cuddle a puppy, or kiss your partner? That’s oxytocin doing what it does best, and it’s the feel-good hormone we crave for love and bonding both for men and women.
But oxytocin has many other benefits as well, ranging from increasing empathy, to reducing anxiety, and even playing a role in more intense orgasms. Fortunately, there are several ways you can increase oxytocin. Read more to find out how.
What Is Oxytocin?
From a biology standpoint, oxytocin is a neurotransmitter and hormone which is secreted by your pituitary gland. It’s frequently referred to as the love hormone due to its role in physical affection in both men and women, even though its functions extend much beyond just romantic relationships.
Oxytocin is involved in a variety of actions in your body, including:
- Social Bonding
- Pregnancy (childbirth, lactation, and maternal behavior)
Oxytocin has a significant effect on your brain, playing a key role in your mood and memory, and even helping to decrease feelings of anxiety when it’s released (1).
Oxytocin is also the hormone responsible for the bond between a mother and her infant, during a time where physical touch is pivotal to healthy growth and development.
Trust, empathy, generosity, and social bonding all depend heavily upon the proper release of oxytocin.
Oxytocin as the Love Hormone
Oxytocin is commonly called the “love hormone” or the “cuddle hormone”, because your body does secrete oxytocin in response to different kinds of physical and emotional affection.
When you engage in physical touch, whether it’s a hug, a touch on the arm, or something more intimate, this stimulates the pleasure centers of your brain to release oxytocin that creates a feeling of trust and empathy. Humans have evolved to crave this feeling on a biological level, and we now know that the sense of touch is the very first one to develop (2).
Oxytocin is key to developing romantic attachment, and one study found higher levels of oxytocin in partners up to 6 months into their relationship than in their single counterparts (3).
Despite its common reputation in romantic relationships, both romantic and non-romantic closeness stimulates oxytocin–and touch is essential for human survival.
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How Does Oxytocin Affect Your Romantic Relationships?
Sexual arousal brings a cascade of feel-good hormones, including oxytocin. And despite playing several other important roles in the body, oxytocin is still most well-known for being the primary driver of romantic love and intimacy.
Not surprisingly, oxytocin is released when you’re intimate with your partner, and participants in one study reported slightly more intense orgasms, as well as feeling more open with their partner after taking oxytocin prior to having sex (4).
Even though oxytocin is released during times of direct physical touch, research also demonstrates that even looking at or thinking about your partner can trigger the same pleasure-centers of your brain.
I Only Have Eyes for You…
In one study, 20 men in committed relationships were given either oxytocin or a placebo, then shown pictures of their partner, a woman they’d never met, or a female friend they knew but weren’t dating.
In this study, the men consistently identified their partner as more attractive, and that feeling was strengthened by increased oxytocin (5).
How Oxytocin Affects Men
This same study found that when men who had taken oxytocin saw their partner’s face, the areas of the brain responsible for pleasure and reward lit up–but when the same men saw a picture of other women, these areas didn’t respond.
In other words, in the presence of oxytocin, a man’s partner lights up the pleasure centers of his brain, but other women don’t get much of a reaction at all.
Is There a Scientific Reason for a Broken Heart?
The way oxytocin and physical touch light up the pleasure centers of a person’s brain might explain why people are prone to depression after losing their partner. A sudden decrease in oxytocin might not only make it difficult to be happy, but that person could struggle to find the same fulfillment and bonding as their main source of oxytocin is now gone.
Oxytocin Is Involved In Every Stage of the Female Reproductive Process
Oxytocin plays an important role in just about every part of the female reproductive process. From arousal, to pregnancy, and then labor, delivery, and breastfeeding–oxytocin does it all.
Women with higher levels of oxytocin during their first trimester were found to have stronger bonds with their infants after delivery. During labor, pitocin, the synthetic form of oxytocin, is used to progress labor, as oxytocin is responsible for causing contractions in the uterus, and for helping the cervix to widen to prepare for delivery (6).
Afterwards, oxytocin is released in significant amounts during lactation, and can affect the health and wellbeing of a newborn.
So now that you know a little more about oxytocin, let’s find out how it benefits you and ways you can harness the power of your own love hormone…
Oxytocin Reduces Anxiety
Oxytocin can reduce anxiety by dampening the effects of the stress hormone, cortisol.
In times of stress, your adrenal glands start pumping out increased amounts of cortisol, but oxytocin effectively buffers your body from the effects of excess cortisol so that it’s harmful side effects, like anxiety, are minimized (7).
Oxytocin Improves Empathy
Oxytocin is one of the more important hormones responsible for social bonding, which is essential for the healthy development of your brain. When you form a relationship with someone, whether for a moment or for a lifetime, oxytocin helps build trust and empathy (8).
How to Harness the Power Of Oxytocin
It’s clear that a boost of oxytocin does wonders for feelings of love, trust, and happiness, so is there a way to increase production of this hormone? In addition to getting cuddly with your partner, here are other ways you can promote the release of oxytocin to reap its benefits both inside and out of the bedroom!
1. Decrease Stress
A stressed out mind can put the brakes on oxytocin release, so make sure you’re taking steps to combat stress as best you can. Stress comes in all shapes and sizes, so employing a diverse array of strategies like meditation, energy-healing, and even a massage are great ways to keep cortisol in check.
You can also try adaptogenic herbs which help your body cope with stress, like ashwagandha or magnolia bark. Rhodiola has also been shown to support a sense of wakeful relaxation (8).
While we can’t promise you you’ll reach the elusive “runners’ high,” exercise still is one of the best ways to support the release of feel-good chemicals, including oxytocin (9). Plus, exercise not only promotes positive mood changes, but it can also help burn up excess cortisol.
3. Get A Massage
Need an easy way to release oxytocin while relaxing tension in sore muscles? Get a massage and you can do both! Massage has been shown to directly increase the release of oxytocin, while decreasing other stress-related chemicals (10).
4. Hugging & Cuddling
Experts say just a 20-second hug can ramp up production of oxytocin (11).
Researchers also noticed lower blood pressure in those with higher levels of oxytocin, and suspect this may play some role in positive physical touch correlating with lower rates of morbidity and mortality.
When you have an orgasm, your body releases several hormones, including oxytocin, endorphins, and vasopressin, all of which promote a sense of calm and relaxation.
Whether it’s a solo orgasm, or one with your partner, the benefits of reaching climax have benefits that extend much outside the bedroom.
What to Remember
You benefit from the physical love and bonding you experience with friends and loved ones on a biological level through the release of oxytocin. You can increase oxytocin by participating in activities like hugging, cuddling, sex, massage, and exercise that promote a stable mood, a healthy response to stress, and overall happiness.
Oxytocin in men and women helps foster feelings of trust and affection in romantic relationships, and may even play a role in the overall quality of your intimate relationship.
Could you use a little extra boost of oxytocin in your life? Your loved ones could, too! Don’t miss your next chance for a long, loving hug to really boost those warm, fuzzy feelings.