Discover more about oxytocin, the 'love' hormone, and how love can make you want more sex, and how more sex can make you love more.

What is oxytocin?

In truth, science is still discovering what oxytocin can do. Research is ongoing and it keeps on throwing up surprising and intriguing results. What we do know is that this, the ‘love’, ‘cuddle’ or ‘trust’ hormone is produced in the brain by the hypothalamus, and then transfers to the pituitary gland, which releases it into the bloodstream. It’s also a neurotransmitter – oxytocin receptors are found on cells throughout the body. Levels of the hormone tend to be higher during both stressful and socially bonding experiences. It is released in large amounts during labour, and after stimulation of the nipples, and so is a facilitator for childbirth and breastfeeding[i].

What does it do?

The simple act of bodily contact via touch will make the brain release low levels of oxytocin – both in yourself and in the person you're making contact with. Some foods (specifically ones that contain phytoestrogens such as apples, ginger, plums, wheat, tomatoes, chick peas, garlic and oregano, eggs, bananas and peppers) can also trigger production, as can receiving psychological support, empathy and compassion. Crucially, it is an important brain compound in building trust, which is so necessary in developing deep emotional relationships[ii].

How it can affect your sex-life

Oxytocin helps to create sexual arousal[iii] and can help men keep their erections[iv]

And a cocktail of brain chemicals that includes oxytocin is released in men during ejaculation. These chemicals can intensify bonding between partners, which helps couples establish a greater sense of intimacy and attachment. Oxytocin, along with dopamine and norepinephrine, are believed to be highly critical in long-term relationships. Basically, it’s what makes you feel much closer to each another after sex. To that end, the time you spend together after sex might be as important to your relationship as what happens before it[v].

It’s believed that women who climax have higher levels of oxytocin in their systems, which can make you feel more trusting and connected[vi]. So when you feel the urge to share your intimate feelings after love making, it may well be the hormones talking. It’s worth remembering that oxytocin lasts in the body for about three minutes but the effects can last up to three hours, so having sex in the morning should set you up for a very good day.

But that’s not all. Not only does it play a role in producing contractions at childbirth and in helping in lactation, studies have also investigated its role in psychological conditions such as overcoming fear[vii], depression, addiction[viii], autism[ix] and anorexia.

[i] The orgasmic history of oxytocin: Love, lust, and labor. Navneet Magon and Sanjay Kalra - Indian J Endocrinol Metab. 2011 Sep; 15(Suppl3): S156–S161.
[ii] Oxytocin increases trust in humans. Michael Kosfeld, Markus Heinrichs, Paul J. Zak, Urs Fischbacher & Ernst Fehr. Nature 435, 673-676 (2 June 2005) | doi:10.1038/nature03701; Received 20 April 2005; Accepted 5 May 2005
[iii] The endocrinology of sexual arousal. J Bancroft. The Kinsey Institute, Indiana University, Morrison Hall third floor, Bloomington, Indiana 47405, USA
[iv] Oxytocin Stimulation of Penile Erection. Pharmacology, Site, and Mechanism of Actiona ANTONIO ARGIOLAS* Article first published online: 17 DEC 2006
[v] VARIATION IN REPRODUCTIVE STRATEGIES INFLUENCES POST-COITAL EXPERIENCES WITH PARTNERS. Daniel Kruger and Susan Hughes. Journal of Social, Evolutionary, and Cultural Psychology - 2010, 4(4), 254-264.
[viii] The orgasmic history of oxytocin: Love, lust, and labor. Navneet Magon and Sanjay Kalra. Indian J Endocrinol Metab. 2011 Sep; 15(Suppl3): S156–S161.
[ix] Modahl C, Green L, Fein D et al. (1998). “Plasma oxytocin levels in autistic children”. Biol Psychiatry 43 (4): 270–7. Carmichael MS, Humbert R, Dixen J, Palmisano G, Greenleaf W, Davidson JM (1987). “Plasma oxytocin increases in the human sexual response,” J Clin Endocrinol Metab 64:27-31 PMID 3782434