New relationships come with all the feels, from excitement and butterflies to arousal and attachment. But where do these feelings come from? Is it the result of a spiritual connection? Or is it simple biology? It’s actually the result of the ‘love hormone’ and its impact on attachment between humans.
When a new person comes into your life, your body triggers physiological effects that come from the release of various hormones. One, in particular, is oxytocin — the so-called ‘love hormone’ — which has a wide range of effects on both women and men.
The Hormone of Labor and Love
When attraction occurs, the brain releases a cocktail of three hormones: oxytocin, dopamine and serotonin. These happy hormones are what cause the surge of warm, fuzzy feelings you experience when you start falling for someone new.
When triggered by external stimuli, oxytocin is produced in the brain’s hypothalamus region, which is also responsible for many of the body’s automated processes, and released into the body via the bloodstream.
It plays essential roles in sexual arousal and orgasm. In women, it induces contractions during labor and causes lactation. In men, it encourages sperm movement and the production of testosterone. Men and women also exhibit different social responses to oxytocin, perhaps because the chemical works on different areas of the amygdala.
The Love Hormone and Its Impact on Attachment
Besides its reproductive implications, oxytocin also plays a part in human attachment, trust, recognition and anxiety. During the process of falling in love, psychologists recognize three phases:
- Lust: Triggered by the release of sex hormones — testosterone in men, estrogen in women — the lust stage is all about sexual gratification.
- Attraction: Closely related to lust, attraction is characterized by a release in dopamine and seeking rewarding behavior.
- Attachment: The predominant indicator of a lasting relationship, oxytocin is released to facilitate bonding and keep couples and families together.
Attachment is the most critical phase of creating lasting love. Here are three ways that the love hormone impacts attachment:
1. The Love Hormone Facilitates Romantic Attachment
Research has shown that oxytocin levels are at their highest in the early stages of romantic relationships. The higher the levels of oxytocin early on, the more likely that couples will stay together over the long haul.
Couples who were given oxytocin and asked to discuss an issue that would typically trigger stress or an argument actually showed improved communication skills, which led to better conflict-resolution. Men were particularly susceptible to the emotional arousal elicited by the oxytocin, which implies that oxytocin is an essential component in healthy interactions between couples. As we well know, strong communication is an important part of maintaining any healthy relationship.
Touching also stimulates the release of oxytocin, and women who report lots of physical affection in their relationships are less likely to report having had past marital crises.
Oxytocin also triggers fidelity in partners. One recent study found that, when given oxytocin, men in committed relationships maintained a greater distance between themselves an attractive female researcher and reported feeling uncomfortable if she got too close.
2. The Love Hormone Facilitates Parental Attachment
Oxytocin plays major roles in reproduction, childbirth and child-rearing. It is released by pregnant women in labor to help dilate the cervix and facilitate contractions. Manufactured oxytocin, called Pitocin, is prescribed to help induce labor in expectant mothers. Oxytocin also causes the release of milk during lactation.
On a social level, oxytocin is associated with the bonding of mothers to their newborn infants. A study of oxytocin levels in pregnant women showed that expectant mothers who had high levels of oxytocin during their first trimester of pregnancy were more likely to have strong bonds with their infants after delivery.
Bonding behaviors exhibited by the mothers included:
- Focusing intently on their babies.
- Demonstrating a positive mood and outlook when around their newborns.
- Maintaining a constant physical connection and encouraging touch.
- Using mothering speech patterns.
- Exhibiting unique relationship patterns (such as singing a certain song or bathing the child in a particular way).
- Having a preoccupation of thoughts about the child when separated.
3. The Love Hormone Increases Arousal During Sex
Oxytocin is released in large quantities in the brain during ejaculation and orgasm, and some studies have speculated that there is a correlation between oxytocin and the intensity of orgasm in women. This is why communication and foreplay can help close the orgasm gap that often exists between men and women in a relationship.
When you consider the love hormone and its impact on attachment, it’s no wonder why maintaining a strong physical connection is often cited as an important factor in keeping a long-term romantic relationship healthy.
The Dark Side of Oxytocin
When looking at the love hormone and its impact on attachment, it’s also important to note that it also has its darker side. It can induce feelings of favoritism and prejudice. Oxytocin is also linked to feelings of jealousy and dishonest behavior. Further research is required to determine why oxytocin has such varied influences, but underlying disorders like autism spectrum disorder could influence how the brains of certain individuals receive oxytocin.
Other Exciting Ways Your Body Uses Oxytocin
In addition to the love hormone’s impact on attachment, oxytocin affects our health in a multitude of other ways as well. For people who have autoimmune disorders, oxytocin has been shown to counteract the effects of cortisol, which worsen autoimmune conditions and their related symptoms.
Here are some other ways oxytocin affects your body and health:
- It eases stress.
- It reinforces emotional memories.
- It reduces drug cravings.
- It triggers protective instincts.
- It induces sleep.
If you wish to generate some oxytocin, there are many ways to instruct your body to release this feel-good hormone:
- Pet a dog.
- Hug a friend.
- Ride a roller coaster.
- Soak in a hot tub.
- Tell someone you love them.
Flutters and Good Feelings
From producing that flutter in your stomach when you see someone you like and facilitating attachment between mothers and newborns to helping romantic partnerships endure and boosting your mood, the love hormone does a lot. So, the next time you need a pick-me-up, trigger a little oxytocin and let the good feelings roll.