Last Sunday, Mike and I tried our our own oxytocin dosing experiment.
My baseline mood: For the past week, I had been feeling cranky in general. I also had been dissatisfied with my relationship with Mike. Some of those issues were situational: For several months, he has had band practice or a meeting scheduled every week night, and he's been staying in the TV room late at night. He hasn’t joined me on hikes or bike rides lately. There are also the typical living-together annoyances: not putting dirty dishes in the dish washer, leaving newspapers all over the dining room table, not helping take care of the dog.
I realize that how I react to these annoyances depends on my general mood. Sometimes I can just shrug, other times I feel intensely annoyed, even though the situation hasn't changed. As I said, I've felt cranky lately.
We did our experiment in Sunday afternoon.
I chose an anti-snore inhaler because it was cheap and had a screw top. I poured out the contents and rinsed the bottle with distilled water. I was very casual about mixing: I simply filled the little plastic oxytocin vial with water, shook it and emptied it into the inhaler, then refilled the vial with water and repeated to make sure I got every possible molecule out. (The dose for the two of us cost me $87!)
We alternated taking an inhale in each nostril, passing the inhaler back and forth about six times.
After the first two inhalations, I felt a fairly intense flush that started in my sinuses and extended out to the sides of my face. My lips felt thick and, at first, I felt slowed down, moving through syrup. I felt, in other words, stoned -- but stoned in a way that grass seldom makes me feel. (I don't smoke weed, because it usually makes me feel anxious; my mind races and I lose my belief that I know and understand the people around me.)
After the first druggy feeling passed, in about five minutes, I felt very calmed down. I looked at Mike and thought of the things I was mad about, but I couldn’t get in touch with that angry feeling.
Neither did I feel any intense, oceanic bonding with him. But I was very aware of and attracted to the smell and touch of his skin. I always love the way he smells, but it was now delicious to kiss and sniff and lick his ears and neck and shoulders and chest. He even let me suck on his nipples, something that's usually too intense for him. Mike is a good cuddler in general, but not especially interested in my breasts or full-body licking and sucking; none of this changed with the oxytocin.
We looked at each other with smarmy smiles, a little giggly. We didn’t sink into intense talking or gazing.
In ten minutes, the stony effects began to dissipate for me. I still felt very calmed down and interested in Mike's skin. Our lovemaking seemed within then bounds of the usual for us. It was nice but not ecstatic or spiritual.
For the rest of the afternoon and evening, I experienced Mike as being nicer and more responsive to me. He said it was because I was being more open, which certainly could be true. It's difficult to know where the physical effect of oxytocin ends and the effects of our intention to focus on each other and have a good experience begins. Of course, behaving sweetly and focusing on the other person can create endogenous oxytocin.
Our experience mirrors the general understanding of how women differ from men. We're more emotional, more vulnerable, feel more bonded after sex. Estrogen increases the effects of oxytocin, while testosterone mutes them and causes them to dissipate sooner, so women feel all oxytocin's effects more strongly.
I felt the initial effects of oxytocin quite intensely, both physically and emotionally. I did not feel vulnerable, because I trust Mike, but I did feel open. These effects are not something that I would want to experience while at a party or while making some anxious social transaction like calling an editor or making a date.
Mike didn’t feel either the physical or emotional effects as much, he said. Again, some of this difference could be the result of his level of self-analysis and disclosure, or the fact that he has chronic sinusitis and one nostril has been cauterized, so he might absorb less. There were some moments when he acted shy, the way he did when we first met.
By Monday, I was all the way back into my cranky mood.
I hope more women experiment, and people do different kinds of experiments. For example, I wonder how I would have felt if I dosed alone. Would I have run out of the house madly looking for a puppy?
If you've tried it, please let me know what happened.