Maylin Rodriguez-Paez, RNMany over time have argued that monogamy is “unnatural,” but modern science is actually painting a very different story.
In fact, it seems that we may be hardwired for monogamous relationships after all, and oxytocin, otherwise known as the “love hormone,” may have something to do with it.
So, in honor of Valentine’s Day, we decided to write about monogamy and oxytocin’s potential role in it.
But rather than focus on the "mush", in typical Life Extension fashion, we’re going to look at the science behind it. Surprised?
Sorry, hopeless romantics!
What is Oxytocin?Oxytocin is a hormone produced by the brain. It has various functions in the human body, playing a role in labor, breastfeeding, pair bonding, and sexual arousal. It even plays a role in relationships, potentially helping to form monogamous ones.
Prairie voles, for example, secrete oxytocin when they meet and mate, and this hormone is necessary for pair bonding.1 That’s why scientists believe they mate for life — although, we must point out, they sometimes do cheat! 2
It’s not much different for humans either. Oxytocin may just be the key element that keeps couples together.
Oxytocin Keeps Men from Straying and Cools ArgumentsIn a neat experiment, scientists gave a group of men a placebo or a nasal oxytocin spray. Then, each of them was encountered by an attractive woman. The scientists then measured the space between the man and the woman.
They found that the men who were given oxytocin and were in “stable,” monogamous relationships stood farther away from the attractive woman.3 In contrast, men in the placebo group stood closer, indicating interest.
In a different study, scientists found that oxytocin took the “heat out of an argument.” One group of couples was given intranasal oxytocin, while the other group received a placebo. They were told to choose a heated topic and discuss it, and levels of a stress hormone called cortisol were measured.
They found that, after the argument, both the men and the women in the couples given oxytocin had lower levels of salivary cortisol.
During the discussions, oxytocin was shown to increase the positive communication in the couples, as compared to the negative behavior during the arguments.4
Fidelity + friendlier arguments = staying together. Perhaps this might be the equation for monogamy?
How to Get More OxytocinYou can induce the release of oxytocin naturally by giving hugs, kisses, gifts, and holding hands. Basically, physical touch is the key element at play.
You can also get oxytocin via prescription as a nasal spray, believe it or not. However, it’s really too soon to know if taking it would actually be beneficial.
The Bottom LineWe’re not quite sure if an oxytocin spray will keep your partner from straying or arguing with you, but perhaps it might be used for couple’s therapy one day. Of course, more research is needed.
Regardless, in this day and age, romance seems to have taken a back seat to our fast paced life, so many of us could probably use a little more oxytocin. Don’t you think?
- Adv Exp Med Biol. 1995;395:227-34.
- Nature. 2008 Feb 7;451(7179):617.
- J Neurosci. 2012 Nov 14;32(46):16074-9.
- Biol Psychiatry. 2009 May 1;65(9):728-31.