Online Dating and the Oxytocin Gap

3676763773_f91c2089de_mA thought-provoking and disturbing article by Dan Slater on posits that online dating sites make it so easy to meet new people that committed relationships fade away.

Slater, author of Love in the Age of Algorithms, uses anecdotes and interviews with the heads of online dating services to make the case that people won't bother to go through the hard work of forging a deep relationship when they know that they can just log on and date someone new.

In my book, The Chemistry of Connection, I discuss the differences between romance and love. Romance, fueled by dopamine and adrenaline, is an exciting but inevitably fading state that keeps us working to win a mate. Once we win him or her and begin having sex, oxytocin kicks in, leading us into the calmer state of committed love.

This progression was crucial in prehistoric times, when sex led to babies and a man and woman had to cooperate to keep their offspring alive. Nowadays, sex has been decoupled from procreation. And, unfortunately, our culture focuses on romance and teaches us that it's more important than simple mated love.

Slater quotes Greg Blatt,  CEO of’s parent company: "Relationships have been billed as ‘hard’ because, historically, commitment has been the goal. You could say online dating is simply changing people’s ideas about whether commitment itself is a life value."

Here's Niccolò Formai, the head of social-media marketing at Badoo, a meeting-and-dating app: "It’s exhilarating to connect with new people ... Over time you’ll expect that constant flow. People always said that the need for stability would keep commitment alive. But that thinking was based on a world in which you didn’t meet that many people."

Unfortunately, people still have a wired-in need for stability, in the form of trusting relationships. That doesn't need to come from a monogamous sexual relationship. But for most people, marriage of some kind is the primary oxytocin bond, along with children.

Our oxytocin bonds are what keep us healthy and reasonably sane. I worry about generations of singles bouncing from one unfulfilling relationship to another. How will they raise children who are capable of trust and love?

A Million First Dates

Photo by he(art)geek


Is Oxytocin Really Evil?

3339829858_72c2a17610_mNo, but not all of its effects turn you into an angel of bliss.

Science bloggers had a blast a few weeks ago, caviling at Paul Zak's Moral Molecule thesis, digging up an old study showing that soldiers defending their own troops had elevated levels of oxytocin.

Now, a new study, cleverly named The Herding Hormone, finds that oxytocin makes it more likely we'll conform to our group's standards.

First, men in the study were divided into two groups. Half the study participants inhaled oxytocin and half placebo. Then, they were shown photographs and asked to rate the people's attractiveness. While they were doing the ratings, they were also shown the ratings given by both their group and the other group (in-group and out-group).

Adjusting for various things, those who had inhaled oxytocin were more likely to conform to the ratings of their own group.  

This is not surprising; we humans are social animals. In primitive times, physical survival depended on cooperation and mutual support of the tribe or extended family. Today, while we can maintain a single household and make a living without deep ties, we become physically stressed without affection.

Oxytocin helps us remember who we know and trust. It creates a bond deep enough for two parents to stay together despite toothpaste in the sink, angry words and the sheer drudgery of raising kids. And that deep bond lets mothers and fathers hold their children through the tears, dirty diapers and teen-age years.

So, evidently, it also helps us get along by going along sometimes.

Interestingly, the study was led by Mirre Stallen, who is with the Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University Rotterdam. (Zak also comes from the business world.) Business, commerce, industry, etc. are all based on cooperation and collaboration. Sometimes in the workplace, you can't be the squeaky wheel. So, a little oxytocin helps with that.

Lindsay Abrams of The Atlantic has an excellent write-up of the experiment with more detail.

Read more:

Dose Soldiers with Oxytocin

Oxytocin Not Always So Goody-Goody

Oxytocin, Chemical of Connection and Envy

PHOTO: twid

Love My Vagus Nerve

6212291122_666fa9df53_mIf you're a fan of neurochemistry and oxytocin, you probably know about the sympathetic nervous system, responsible for fight-or-flight type responses, and the parasympathetic nervous system, responsible for calm-and-connection responses.

Marsha Lucas, PhD, wrote an excellent article explaining the polyvagal theory put forth by Stephen Porges, PhD (husband and colleague of Sue Carter, one of the primary oxytocin researchers).

She writes,

His polyvagal theory suggests that there are three circuits (not just two branches), which drive one of three possible responses, depending on how we sense the relative safety, danger, or threat to life in our bodies. ... if the [amygdala's] assessment is that the incoming information indicates that things are safe, a third part of the circuit (the ventral vagus) essentially “turns off” the fight-flight response, and social engagement can happen – a calm state that supports being connected with others. Being in this state allows for better health, growth, and communication.

I've been a fan of the vagus nerve since writing Chemistry of Connection. It's a primary conduit of oxytocin from the brain to the gut and genitals, and it's likely responsible for the connection we feel between food and love. And it may be responsible for that feeling of oneness and connectedness that psychologist Jonathan Haidt calls "elevation."

Read Marsha's article for an excellent explanation of how the amygdala works and what we can experience when we feel safe. Marsha does not mention oxytocin, but, when she writes, "When the ventral vagus is “on”, we have a greater capacity to really listen, in a tuned-in way, to others," that's the effect of oxytocin traveling along this nerve.

To read more:

The Amazing Vagus Nerve

Let Us Elevate Together

The full article by Marcia Lucas is posted on Lisa Kift's blog.

Photo by eljay

Tonight: Two Faces of Oxytocin

If you think oxytocin is only about the warm and fuzzy, recent studies have shown that's not the case. Tonight, I'll be speaking with Dr. Veronica on BlogTalk Radio about "Two Faces of Oxytocin."

Paul Zak and Bryan Post will also be on the program; it should be informative and fun. The show is live at 5 pm Eastern, and you'll also be able to listen to it in the archives.


Listen to internet radio with DrVeronica on Blog Talk Radio

You can join us. Here is the call-in number: (714) 364-4731.

Can Hate Help You Get Over Love?

I answered this question on Quora, and thought it was worthwhile posting the answer here, as well.

Q: Is it easier to get over someone you cared for once by enthusiastically hating them?

Actually, while hating is not ultimately a rewarding or useful emotion, in the short term it could be a practical way to reframe the physiological state of broken-heartedness and longing for a lost love.  Hate is related to love as a state in the body and brain.

 Unfortunately, advice to just forget about him or her doesn't work well. It's difficult to force emotions to change, and it's not emotionally healthy. When you tamp down any emotion, even a negative one, you are reducing your ability to fully feel all emotions.

FMRI studies have shown that the state of romantic love is similar to reward-seeking and competitive activities, which usually are characterized by high levels of dopamine. (Dopamine is the brain chemical of pleasure, but levels begin to drop as soon as you get the reward.) It's likely that the brain chemistry of the person dumped is also high in testosterone (lusting for the beloved) and oxytocin (being bonded to the beloved).

Now, here's the speculative connection between love and hate:

A couple of recent studies have shown that oxytocin also plays a part in aggression toward outsiders; testosterone is also a chemical of aggression; and dopamine creates high focus on its object.

Biologists define emotion as a physiological state that we then name using the prefrontal cortex. So, if our broken-hearted person already has lots of oxytocin, testosterone and dopamine circulating in his or her brain, creating these responses, it should not be too difficult to reframe the emotion as hate. "He's awful. I wouldn't want her."

If you remove the reward-seeking element, dopamine levels should drop, allowing the focus on the other person to fade away.

Oxytocin for Couples Therapy? Why Not?

A chiropractor in Phoenix is giving patients oxytocin lozenges to help them connect better.

I've written before about studies examining whether oxytocin could make couples therapy go better by increasing empathy.

Sorry to redirect you, folks, but this other -- paying -- blog gig I have is all about the page views.

Please read my story, The Couple's Love Drug. It has links to my previous posts, as well as to a good article on and the story about the chiropractor.

What Is Orgasmic Meditation?

As I wrote last week, I'm training to be an Orgasmic Meditation instructor at OneTaste. This practice is deep and mysterious, and I have not gotten to the bottom of its relation to oxytocin and connection. But I have not found the practice to be at odds with sex's power to connect.

I spoke with Alisa Price, who is on the core faculty at OneTaste, about the practice and what it's meant to her. Go to the One Taste website for more info about their programs.

First of all, what is OneTaste?
OneTaste is an organization that offers classes and coaching for people who are interested in expanding their ability to be intimate and conscious, in weaving their sexuality more consciously and wholly into their lives, and in incorporating mindfulness practices into the arena of sexuality specifically.

Our points of focus reach from gender dynamics to working more consciously with our desires, to our sexuality directly to how we communicate and show up in every part of our lives.

The OneTaste practice of mindful sexuality is orgasmic mediation. We seek to bring practice and mindfulness into the sexual arena directly, to create a discipline that people can use and connect with and be held in that will allow them to increase their conscious connection to sexuality in a slow, sustainable way.

What exactly does that mean, to bring mindfulness into sexuality?

It means experiencing my desire for sex, my desire for connection, my desire for intimacy, not only with another human being, but within the bigger, broader sense of living an intimate life, living a life that feels connected, that feels impassioned, that feels alive and electric.

When I speak about orgasmic meditation, I typically start by saying people hear the word “orgasm,” and they don’t hear the second word that comes after that, which is meditation. Because people are like, “Wow, orgasm!” And they either light up about it, or they’re like, “Ooh, I might want some of that.” Or there’s a fear, or a “What?!"

And so, the meditation part is not always caught in the first communication. And it truly is a meditation. It is meant to be an intentional, mindful meditation where I, as a human being, can drop into a more connected, conscious state while in connection to my orgasm

Can you describe the practice for us?

It is a physical practice. Two people get together. The woman lies down and butterflies her legs open, and the man strokes her genitals in a very intentional and conscious way. It’s done in a very particular manner, from how it’s timed, how the position goes, the intention and the technique around the stroking of the genitals and also the focus, because it is a meditation.

So, for both people, whether they’re the person being stroked or the person doing the stroking, there is a very conscious, intentional focus that you’re focusing on the orgasm and on your body at the level of sensation. So this is a bridge that many people can understand if they’ve had any experience with any kind of sitting meditation, where you sit and you notice thoughts that arise. You notice feelings that arise. You notice emotions and associations. You notice them, and you simply let them go. And you come back over and over again to focusing on the sensations of the body and the awareness of the body, either in a particular spot or the body as a whole.

The mindfulness practice, the orgasmic meditation practice specifically, experiencing orgasm together, that is a true meditation. In other styles of meditation, there is an intentional focus on experiencing the body at the level of sensation. We are applying that to the orgasm specifically. Investigating, what are the sensations in my body right now? Noticing and acknowledging emotions that arise, noticing the tendency to cling to them or force them out. Letting it go and coming back to the sensations.

My blog is about oxytocin, the chemical that causes us to feel connected to each other, producing those feelings of trust and love. And a ton of oxytocin is released during orgasm. Is this something you think about and work with?

We do. We've looked into the scientific, biochemical side of orgasm, absolutely. On that same page, one of the things we're saying is that orgasm, pleasure and sexual connection are part of the full spectrum of healthy human experience. The science behind this, in my opinion, the release of oxytocin is a signifier that points to the fact that our sex is important, and that we do well to be properly nourished in that area of our lives, as well.

On an essential level, people do want physical and sensual connection. They want to be in resonance with other human beings. When you start incorporating aspects of practice and mindfulness into relationships, sex and gender, you start to have a better structure to explore those things sustainably.

Can I find emotional connection at OneTaste?

Yes. It's part of the philosophy of people who come to OneTaste to connect. It's very full-spectrum, full-bodied that way. As a faculty member, I have a rich emotional connection with many people.

Any other thoughts about how orgasmic meditation relates to connection?

I can see from my personal experience, having done the practice for five years, I've experienced an expansion in my ability to feel other human beings. The orgasmic meditation practice is interesting specifically because it is a partner practice. You cannot do it in isolation. Every time I lay down to have my genitals stroked in an orgasmic mediation session, I am asked to be open  Enough to not only feel my own body but be able to feel the body of another human being on some level and to allow my orgasm to arise. From being in physical contact with someone else all the way out to my ability to connect in life, I've experienced a tremendous amount of expansion. I'm more available and more open. I just feel more.

Humans: Bonobos or Prairie Voles?

My new Facebook friend, Tinamarie Bernard Eshel, writes about sex, spirituality, and earth stewardship.

On the blog Green Prophet, she recently wrote Monkey Love: When females rule fornication, Mother Earth delights. It's a terrific and thought-provoking post, and you should read it.

Her thesis:

The bonobos have found the solution to world peace. It’s called love. Whenever there is a dispute, they resolve it with a good bout of nooky. A bit of masturbation here, a little tickle where it feels really good there, and soon enough the tension is relieved. Have a problem? Not after you’ve had sex, bonobo style.

And if you have any doubt about female satisfaction, rest assured that these apes know how to swing. Wink wink, nod nod, grunt grunt, sigh. In fact, in their natural habitats, Bonobos have rarely demonstrated hostile or violent behaviors towards another.

I began to comment on her blog, and decided instead to post it here.

I completely agree with Tinamarie that you can't have too much sex. Sex is the emotional glue that holds couples together, and it satisfies our physical and emotional cravings for connection while tuning up our bodies for maximum health.

That said, even though we share 97 percent of our dna with the bonobo, this does not mean that we are like them socially. Biologists estimate that approximately 3 percent of mammals are monogamous, and they seem to share a quirk of brain structure that places receptors for both dopamine, the neurochemical of reward-seeking and reward, close to receptors for oxytocin, the neurochemical of attachment, trust, generosity and love, in the parts of the brain that handle social interactions.

This difference makes the prairie vole monogamous, even though it is genetically very close to its polyamorous cousin, the mountain vole. Humans do seem to share this monogamous brain structure.

This does NOT mean that humans or any other monogamous mammal is wired to copulate ONLY with one mate. In fact, they've found that as many as 45 percent of "monogamous" male prairie voles never mate, while in monogamous bird species, some 25 percent of offspring are the result of extra-pair copulation.

We seem to be wired to live in a stable family with a long-term, and possibly life-long, mate, with the possibility of other sexual partners for both sexes. Unfortunately, in our highly civilized culture, we have robust social conventions for romance, friendship and property rights that make it quite difficult to be as free as the bonobos.

I think where the ideals of polyamory may lead us astray is when we focus on the amory part and forget about creating a stable mate relationship. I firmly believe that this mate/family structure may take many forms outside of the traditional nuclear family -- in fact, I think it should.

However, without a home and family to come home to, the polyamorist risks falling into a tangle of unsatisfying relationships that may provide lots of dopamine highs without the next of trust and connection that comes from oxytocin.

I think women can be especially at risk in a polyamorous playground, because our higher estrogen causes us to respond more strongly to oxytocin, making sex feel more bonding to us. 

All that said, sex -- no matter who or how many we enjoy it with -- does make us calmer, less anxious and more open and trusting. That's got to be good for the planet.

Is He a Cheater?

Paul Zak, the guy who showed that oxytocin affects all sorts of positive human emotions, as well inventing the field of neuroeconomics, posted five tests you can use to discover whether a man is likely to stay faithful.

The tests illuminate the relationship between oxytocin, vasopressin and testosterone. If that recipe isn't just right, a man's more likely to be a seed-scatterer than a bacon-bringing-homer.

They're smart, science-based, and most of them you can do yourself without the need for lab tests. I covered his post in the blog I write at, and I'm afraid that, in what is certainly recursive but necessary in this link-crazy world, I am cycling you through that in order to read his post. Is that too, too awful?

Monogamy the Intelligent Choice?

Thanks to Solitaire Miles for sending me this item from the Telegraph. According to Satoshi Kanazawa of the London School of Economics and Political Science, intelligent men are more likely than the general population to remain faithful to their mates.

Kanazawa told Telegraph writer Matthew Moore that he thinks this is because in primitive times, it was adaptive for a man to father children with multiple women; now that this is no longer adaptive, only more intelligent men have the ability to " shed the psychological baggage of their species and adopt new modes of behaviour."

I disagree -- not about his finding about the correlation between intelligence and monogamy. My understanding of the research by Thomas Insel, Larry Young and others is that the human brain is structured like those of the other 3 percent of monogamous mammals. We have more oxytocin receptors in our brain's reward center, causing us to tie the reward of sex to an individual. 

This is social monogamy, not true sexual monogamy. That strong bond with a mate doesn't preclude that monogamous 3 percent from sexual activity with other individuals. In prehistoric times, this let human males have the best of both worlds: investing substantial resources in the survival of his mate's children while spreading a bit of his seed around at random.

In today's structured and complex Western societies, most of us expect sexual monogamy within marriage. Perhaps it takes a bit more brain power for men to resist the lure of extramarital sex.

By the way, Kanazawa found no such correlation between intelligence and sexual monogamy in women. What does that mean?