The Searchers had the right idea, but the wrong recipe. The popular British rock group sang about “Love Potion #9,” which would keep a guy from being a “flop with the chicks.” What the Searchers didn’t know is that there really is a love potion a miracle, God-designed chemical that is induced when a couple shares touch, closeness and/or intimacy. Called “oxytocin,” the neuropeptide isolated by neuroscientists and dubbed the “cuddle hormone” has crucial influence on a couple’s bonding.
Researchers know that oxytocin is produced naturally in the brain in the hypothalamus and that it is released when a couple becomes physically intimate, most especially during sexual orgasm, producing strong bonding in both men and women. For women, it increases trust and immediately produces feelings of attachment, just as dozens of pre-feminist Hollywood movies dramatized. What researchers have discovered, however, is something a movie couldn’t show: Amazingly, oxytocin also increases a man’s sperm count, facilitates sperm transport and strengthens male ejaculation. In short, it causes greater male potency.
The researchers’ experiments have shown that this natural chemical dramatically affects many species and that blocking the hormone can short-circuit a mother’s maternal nurturing instincts and cause her to reject her offspring. On the positive side, oxytocin is also released in the mother when an infant nurses, and it stimulates contractions during the birth process it is used in the delivery room to trigger labor. Its long-run contribution to the infant’s well-being, though, is that oxytocin (and the closely related male hormone vasopressin) is a key ingredient in the process of pair bonding creating a family that can become a safe, nurturing environment for the child. When a couple cuddles, the chemical is released and the woman, especially, becomes attached to the man. A couple’s repeated intimate encounters strengthen their bonding.
We’re used to musicians singing and poets waxing eloquent about love, but it’s quite a jolt to have scientific researchers bluntly call love a “chemical addiction” between a man and a woman. In fact, they claim that the brains of people who say that they are deeply in love use the same neural mechanisms that are activated during the process of addiction; the affected brain areas are relatively small, but have powerful influence on deep emotional responses, one’s “gut” feelings. A Rutgers University study indicates that the feelings of romantic love are among the strongest drives on Earth even more powerful than hunger. Other researchers indicate that oxytocin has other long-range implications that individuals develop a “template” for a partner based on their previous pair-bonding.
Interestingly, there is a prairie vole that is one of the few animal species (only 3 percent) that form monogamous relationships. These voles have an intense, extended mating ritual and then mate for life. Another type of vole, the montane vole, has vastly different behavior monogamy plays no role in its reproductive activities even though genetically the two vole species are 99 percent alike. Scientists say that the montane vole brain lacks a receptor for oxytocin and vasopressin. If the oxytocin receptor called OTR, in research lingo is missing, mating does not produce bonding. The monogamous relationships that are part of God’s plan for us as humans are not an accidental feature, but purposive, a matter of intentional design. And like the prairie vole as opposed to the montane vole, He put all of the elements into our nature to accommodate that purpose and propel us in that direction.
A study from the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), found that the production of oxytocin varied among women according to the level of distress and anxiety or the degree of security in their relationships. The women who had fewer negative emotional relationships in their lifetime experienced greater oxytocin production. Likewise, they were better able to set appropriate boundaries for their subsequent relationships. Numerous studies indicate that stress and fright inhibit oxytocin release. In other words, if relationships are not grounded in the kind of explicit commitment evidenced by loving, trustworthy, considerate, selfless behavior, the amount of oxytocin produced by intimacy decreases, and it becomes increasingly difficult for bonding to take place. On the other hand, the researchers at UCSF said bluntly: “[A] close, regular relationship may influence the responsiveness of the hormone.”
Why did we need scientists to reintroduce us to these basics? Generations have known about these responses from Biblical precepts and intuitively from experience . . . even if they didn’t know the exact chemical mechanism. Why did mothers ever stop teaching the common sense lessons of love? How did we come to reject all that Scripture and experience traditionally taught and to depend upon so-called experts, “professionals” who have taught us so many false notions in the last 50 years, to tell us how to ruin our lives?
The truth is simple: to love deeply and with greater enthusiasm, we must be highly discriminating about our relationships with the opposite sex. Oxytocin is instrumental in regulating the sex drive in both males and females it creates a natural feedback loop so that the more sex a couple has, the more they want. Sex with the right person (read husband/wife) produces a psychochemical cocktail that can yield absolute, unconditional and uninhibited love for each other orgasm causes levels of oxytocin to increase three to five times above normal.
The warning is equally simple: to casually “hook up” is to risk short-circuiting all future relationships. The chemical reaction that takes place during orgasm prepares the body and heart for a relationship. When the relationship does not develop, the person’s bonding ability and ability to trust is undermined. Further, the stress of an uncommitted mating produces the same effect. In short, promiscuity can destroy the long-range potential for sex.
The bottom line is: Sex has consequences. The cocktail of chemicals that is unleashed when a couple touches is powerful and has long-lasting, as well as wide-ranging, effect on that specific relationship as well as all subsequent ones.
If you want the sex potion that really works, you need to make a commitment for life.
But in your heart, you knew that, right?
Dr. Janice Shaw Crouse, a columnist, author and commentator, is Senior Fellow at Concerned Women for America’s Beverly LaHaye Institute.