Previous month:
February 2008
Next month:
April 2008

The Human Nesting Instinct

What do you get when you combine HGTV with pregnancy? Oxytocin-fueled extreme home makeovers, according to this article from the New York Times: Nesting with a Vengeance (and a Deadline).

This is a lifestyles trend piece, not a science story, but the writer dragged in a couple of doctors as well as interior designers to describe the lengths to which some women go to get the house ready for baby:

Typically, projects resulting from the nesting instinct have been small-scale affairs — a cleaning jag, a den converted to a nursery with a little paint and drywall, a changing station built into a laundry room. But lately, even as the housing and renovation markets have slumped, some pregnant nesters have been getting more ambitious, spurred on by the widespread home-improvement mania of the last decade and by the plethora of design-themed magazines and television shows.

I'm sure women who have to work as long as they can before their due dates -- as well as ones who don't have an extra hundred grand sitting in the bank -- still make do with a coat of paint.

What Are the Human Pheromones?

  Butt Sniffing Ying Yang 
  Originally uploaded by Tim Dorr.

This is slightly off-topic, but it fits in with the recent guest post, Sex, Love and Oxytocin: A Real Love Story.

Liquid Trust is now "enhanced with male and female pheromones." Now, the idea of human pheromones -- chemicals emitted by one animal that change the physiology or behavior of others of that species -- is not accepted science at this point. There have been a few studies that I find really convincing, and I'd bet that this is another case where we're not so different from the rest of the animal kingdom.

At any rate, I saw a mention of human pheromones in this article, which led me to a pretty good, science-based discussion of human pheromones: Y2K Man and Pheromonal Communication. According to the author, F. Ligabue Stricker, the human pheromones are (or are thought to be) androstenol-androstenone for men and copulin for women.

... in women were found compounds similar to “copulin” detected in Primates (Michael et al. 1971, 1974). Copulin is a blend of aliphatic acids (acetic, propionic, butyric,, isovaleric, isocaproic.) usually present in vaginal fluids of healthy women. They are under hormonal control and their fluctuations during the menstrual cycle communicate the ovulatory period (Mc Clintock, 1971). As in Primates,in fact, near the middle of the menstrual cycle their concentration is higher. The use of hormonal contraceptives reduces the production of copulin and its fluctuations.

In Man the “ musky “ odour ” (Kloek 1961), is due to metabolites of androstenone and androstenol, typically pheromonal substances produced by the testes and present with high concentration in urine, saliva and axillary sweat. The effect on social interactions is more constant and stronger than copulin one (Kirk-Smith 1978).. The higher intensity of the male odour compared to female odour is due to greater amounts of skin secretions and concomitantly more odorogenic microflora.

So, these are likely what's in Liquid Trust. I still wonder if there's enough of anything in this product to make a difference and if there is, how long it lasts after you open the bottle. 

But, if you want to buy it anyway, buy by clicking the link below and the company will pay me for the ad:

The Vasopressin Takeover

Evan of Two Puppies Enter, One Puppy Leaves posted a link to a BBC science podcast in which scientists explain that three years after the birth of a child, oxytocin receptors in the parents' brains wane, while vasopressin becomes more prevalent.

I don't have time to listen to the podcast or follow up on the journal articles right now, but according to his blog post, Lucy Vincent (neurobiologist at the French Scientific Research Center) and Dave Perrett (Professor of Psychology at the University of St. Andrews) said that

after 12-18 months the infant becomes significantly less vulnerable (able to stand and perhaps throw off a bird or small animal attacking it), at which point only one parent would be necessary. And at that point, the oxytocin effect more or less ceases, yielding to increased vasopressin receptor activity- essentially a biochemical foundation for why people tend to “fall out of love” after a few years

I think maybe they were talking about the male brain, not the female's.

Motherhood and fatherhood both change a person's brain; changes in the mother's brain have been shown to be permanent in rats. However, oxytocin receptors, which become profuse during pregnancy, may disappear and/or become less sensitive.

Vasopressin, which is very closely related to oxytocin, may be more involved in male attachment, and lead to the expression of this attachment in protective behaviors. If you have the time, his post and the podcast are probably worth checking out.

Sex at Work?

Oh, those crazy Italians. "Sexologist" Serenella Salomoni supposedly did a study showing that having an affair at the office made them happier and more productive. According to the article from The Sun (the UK version of the National Enquirer)

She said: “We discovered that people who had an office romance said they were happier, more energetic and more productive.”

Taking a break from his coverage of the Internet industry, Jason Lee Miller of WebPro News debunks this insubstantial little article, and then asks,

Is this going to affect our team-building activities? Because the three-legged race is already more intimate than I want to get with some people. 

Heh heh.

But seriously, I can see sex really livening up the workplace, and getting your energy up -- as long as your oxytocin response is weak. If bonding kicks in, an office romance can be a nightmare. Oh, yeah, and it also can be a big mess even if you don't bond with each other.

Using sex to relieve boredom at work seems like a really bad idea. Get another job or play Tetris.

Here's Salomoni's contact info; she's a psychologist and psychotherapist. But this study doesn't come up on Google Scholar or PubMed; in fact, neither of them turns up any studies.

Oxytocin Therapy for Indifferent Moms?

Oxytocin is being tested as a treatment for autism and social phobia, and it's under consideration for treating a variety of other disorders.

What about a mother who doesn't love her baby enough?

Despite the myth of the absoluteness of mother love, many new mothers don't feel attached to or excited about their newborns. There are myriad reasons for this, from the mother's inability to attach to anyone -- because of her own abuse or neglect as a child -- to a problematic or stressed pregnancy to that poorly understood neurochemical state known as post-partum depression.

Craig Kinsley, Professor of Neuroscience at the University of Richmond's Department of Psychology, has shown, in research with Kelly Lambert, how motherhood remodels the brains of rats. It increases the number of oxytocin receptors, increases the sensitivity of the receptors and also improves their memory.

Kinsley has begun to apply this research to human mothers. At the International Congress on Women's Mental Health, he suggested that this  research could lead to  interventions  aimed at helping new moms form a  secure bond.

According to the article in News in Science,

It may be possible, he says, with this template to then identify potential 'bad' mothers by examining how their brains behave when the mother is first interacting with the baby.

Kinsley says if females with a deficit of a critical neurochemical, such as oxytocin, can be identified, then "when they are first interacting with the baby you can give them a boost of oxytocin at a critical time".

The Women's Bioethics Blog predicted  this back in August 2007. See my post, Will Bad Mothering Become the Latest Disorder?

Kinsley's collaborator, Kelly Lambert, has found that fatherhood creates changes in the brains of male deer mice, as well. Maybe they could also give oxytocin to deadbeat dads.

Sex, Love and Oxytocin: A Real Love Story

I've been corresponding with a man who totally understands the oxytocin bond, and has very powerful ideas about the male/female, sex/love dichotomy. He has kindly allowed me to publish his story. Warning: You may, like me, be jealous of his marriage. -- Susan

Intrigued by research results of oxytocin, and the need to help repair a damaged relationship with my wife, I decided to try using oxytocin. I was especially interested in oxytocin when I saw it described as a “bonding” hormone – that really resonated with me. And, it resonated with me because my wife and I have been working on re-bonding for about a year now . . . .

My wife and I had gone through a very rocky period where our relationship (after 27 years) hit a very low point; we were both upset at each other, felt resentful toward each other, and were seriously considering divorce. The rocky period lasted 3 years. We decided to enter into marriage counseling, and that has been very helpful; much improvement has been made and we both feel very confident about our future together, once again.

About 3 months ago, a friend who provides alternative healing therapies pointed me to research going on with oxytocin. As I read many articles and books, I found one aspect of oxytocin fascinating: the bonding aspect. When I read this, I realized that the oxytocin effect was what I had been trying to tell my wife about for years, related to our sex life. She and I always viewed sex somewhat differently: My appetite was stronger than hers, and I placed a much higher value on it than she did. 

During many counseling sessions and private talks while we worked on our marriage, I told my wife that something special happened to me when we had sex. It went past the physical pleasure, way past it. During and after sex, I felt a recharge, a recharge of energy, of confidence, and a major recharge of my feelings of love and care toward her. I also felt that she loved me at those times. I was more productive, more creative at work. The world seemed brighter and more welcoming.

The recharge feelings were very strong and would persist for days, then start to slowly dissipate a week or so later. By two or three weeks, those feelings were low - a recharge was needed. Over the years, I have wondered, why these ups and downs ? If I love my wife, why does my interest in her drop low sometimes ? Do I really love her ? Am I oversexed ? Is something wrong with me ?

When I would discuss this with my wife, she would say, “OK, I get it - sex is important to you, but don’t you realize I love you when I do other things, like cook meals, take care of the kids, do your laundry ?” I would respond, “Yes, those all matter too and make me feel you care for me and love me, but the feelings for you that I derive through sex are so much stronger.” She would typically shake her head, not understanding why sex was so important to me. She told me many times that I placed way too much importance on sex, and this was the basic problem between us. (I can only imagine how many times that same conversation has happened in other homes !) Later, after she and I learned more about each other, and about oxytocin, she took on a completely different view.

When I thought back to the beginning of our “bad” times, I saw the cause. Due to an illness and others issues my wife was facing, our sex life began to decline. Our normal pattern of sex once or twice a week declined to once every 3, 4, or 6 months. This really affected me – I didn’t know anything about oxytocin, how it worked, and that it was released during orgasm, but I knew this; my feelings for her declined as our sex life declined. When I tried to talk to her about this and its impact on me (and us), she was preoccupied with other issues, or just not interested, and I ended up feeling alone, abandoned, and eventually decided that she no longer cared for me (this wasn’t true, but at the time I was convinced it was). When I decided she no longer cared, I stopped caring for her, and my behavior reflected it. 3 years of pain followed.

Now, I see a few things more clearly. There was a “withdrawal” going on with me when our sex life almost ceased. I was not just missing the physical part; I was missing the oxytocin effect which made me feel bonded to her, made me feel that I loved her, made me feel that she loved me. I now see why I feel like doing caring, thoughtful, loving things for her when we have an active sex life, and when we don’t, it is a struggle some days to think and feel that way. While I know I also benefit from oxytocin release thru non-sexual activities (and I have definitely felt those lately), not one of those compare to the sex-related oxytocin; it is so much stronger and lasts longer.

Now to my experiment. Since we had been actively engaged in repairing our relationship, when I learned about oxytocin, I wanted to try it to see if it would have an effect on my wife and I. I was looking for ways to help bring us closer, to help us bond, help us rekindle our love feelings for each other. And, oxytocin looked like just what we needed ! 

I bought some Liquid Trust, which, as you know, claims to have Oxytocin in it - not sure how much - manufacturer says potency is a trade secret.  Anyway, it’s a spray to be used on your body or clothing.  Instructions say it is odorless and lasts between 2 and 4 hours.  Instructions say to use it "whenever you want more trust in the people around you, and when you want more passion". 

I first tried it on a Friday morning, applying 2 spays on my shirt before I went to work.  Interestingly, as soon as I sprayed it on, I immediately smelled it, quite strongly, which surprised me as it was supposed to be "odorless".  All morning I felt like “something” was happening, but saw no real evidence of it. I work mostly alone, so its affect on others around me that morning were not observable. I could not tell if I thought something was happening simply because I hoped it would. One thing I was sure of – I could smell this odorless spray. This persisted all morning.

My wife and I had a counseling session at noon that day and before I left for it, I re-applied the spray as it had been over 4 hours since the first application.  I am normally a bit anxious before these sessions as there have been some sessions where issues were raised that caused a lot of tension.  I felt a bit anxious as the session started, but that soon dissipated.  When I saw my wife at the beginning of the session, she appeared extra radiant and beautiful.  She was in good spirits and no big, heavy issues came up in counseling.  By the time the hour was up, I was mesmerized by her - I couldn't stop looking at her and admiring her glow and beauty.  Even though I had an important meeting at 1:00, I blew that off and we went to lunch.

Lunch was extra delightful.  At the restaurant, I found myself noticing others more and striking up conversations with people spontaneously.  I found myself smiling at others and them noticing and smiling back - more than usual.  While we were eating, my wife was talking but I was soaking her in - her smile, her laugh, her hair - all were extraordinarily glowing and wonderful.  I was smitten big time.  Everything she said was interesting.  I could hardly remember to eat my lunch.  She was the most beautiful, engaging, sensual woman I had ever seen. 

After lunch we walked out into the parking lot, I turned to her, held her hands, looked into her eyes and told her that I loved her, would always be with her, and I was coming home early to be with her - and I was 1000 % sincere in my feelings and comments.  Her eyes lit up and she was delighted.  We parted ways - I had to go wrap up things at work and get home !

When we re-joined at home, the afternoon was delightful.  The mood was light and happy.  We discussed what we would do for the rest of the day and she suggested we plan to go to bed early (her code for sex).  The evening was very nice and early bedtime was very good as well. Sex was very nice; it wasn’t astronomical, it wasn’t earth-shaking beyond description, but it was very nice for both of us.

Subsequent uses of the spray have resulted in some similar results, but none as strong as that day. Which makes me wonder how much of the effect was placebo. I decided long ago that whether a perceived benefit is due to the treatment/drug/therapy or is simply a placebo effect, if it delivers the beneficial effect, that’s great – I’ll take it.  

Back to my wife’s view of my placing such importance on sex. She has recently told me and our counselor that she has a new understanding of what sex means to me, and what I derive from it. She said in almost 30 years of marriage, she never realized how strongly I was affected by it (positively) and how I was affected without it (negatively). From that point on, our sex life was elevated in priority in our lives, much to my delight as you can imagine. And, this was entirely her idea.

My experiment and what it means. My view is this: I doubt the spray has enough oxytocin in it to elicit the type responses I felt that day (this is only a guess on my part).  But, maybe there was a boomerang placebo effect: because I wanted it to work, when I got into oxytocin-friendly situations (pleasant lunch with my wife, feeling good progress made in counseling), then maybe that led to oxytocin release. Regardless of the cause and effect mechanics, it was a striking, profound experience that I attribute at least partially to the oxytocin spray.  

Side note. Since learning abut oxytocin, I realized a new meaning (new for me, anyway) to the term, “making love”. Previously, I viewed it as a polite way of referring to sex. But, after understanding a little about how oxytocin works, I now realize that when two people have sex, they are indeed “making love”, creating the feelings of love and bonding that most people would call love. It took 57 years for me to understand this.

I have exposed her to the research materials and she is also fascinated by the subject. She has related to me how and when she knows oxytocin has been released in her - many of her triggers are like mine, and some are quite different. I am so glad I was pointed to people researching oxytocin - like yourself – and that now I understand what was happening to me all these years. Learning about oxytocin has been a big plus for me and my wife. 

Sex, Orgasm, Bonding and the Marital Blahs

Commenting on my post about how getting together with friends can provide a nice oxytocin boost that makes a woman happier in her marriage too, Dave said:

Over the years I have heard the importance of communicating, sharing non-sexual intimacy, supporting each other, etc., etc., but have rarely heard women openly say that sex is what bonds them to men. How about the more experienced couples (I don't want to say "older") - would most women who have been married 10, 20 years or more agree that sex is still the bonding element ? I believe it is, but do they ?

I think "ideally" is the operative word. Unfortunately, when it comes to sex and orgasm, the situation for women is far from ideal.

Orgasm can be problematic for women for several reasons. While this doesn't hold true for everyone, and I think our culture might be changing, many times:

Women are taught that sex is dirty or bad.

Women are not taught to get in touch with our bodies to learn what feels good, and what good sex should feel like.

Women are not taught to ask for what we want, in bed or out of it.

Pornography, as well as our soft-porn entertainment industry, portrays men and women as always sexually ready and available. Men can be really surprised, frustrated and bored  when a woman needs a lot of foreplay. I mean, we may be talking 20 or 30 minutes. How many men are, ahem, up for that?

Men get angry, annoyed, put off or insecure if women ask them to change what they're doing during sex, because  it makes them feel criticized.

Neither men nor women are taught anything about making love. We blunder through it at first, and often pick up bad habits.

Once a man and a woman become regular sex partners, it's not as *exciting*. So, the woman may actually need more foreplay or to be approached more slowly, while the man may feel he doesn't have to seduce her any longer.

As a man gets older, his erections may be less strong or less reliable. Our culture unfortunately expects men to be always ready sexually, so they feel shame if they don't get an erection right away. Instead of focusing on his partner and letting it happen or not, the man starts to focus more and more on his penis, making sex less and less pleasing for his partner.

So, a couple may start off with some bad sexual habits: He rushes things, she doesn't demand that he slow down, etc. Then,  after 10 or 15 years, when his testosterone dies down, sex begins to seem kind of pointless to her and she puts him off more and more.

They hopefully still will bond through sleeping together, hugging and other less sexual kinds of touching. We hear about couples who have sex into their 70s and 80s. I suspect they're the lucky minority.

Lithium May Increase Oxytocin while Trying to Kick Pot

A very small study in Australia of cannabis addicts found that giving them lithium helped.

Lithium was commonly prescribed to people with bipolar disorder before the new generation of drugs. The study was of 20 people who had smoked marijuana every day for nine years. They took 500 milligrams of lithium twice daily for seven days. Three months later, most were getting high less and some had quit entirely.

Adam Winstock, chief investigator in the study, and on the staff of the Corella Drug Treatment Services and the University of New South Wales, admits the sample was really, really small.

According to the Sydney Morning Herald,

Studies in rats had shown they experienced an increase in levels of the hormone oxytocin when given lithium during withdrawal from cannabis. Oxytocin is dubbed the "happy hormone" and is released during lactation, orgasm, childbirth, hugging and touching and can produce feelings of wellbeing.

"When the rats were made to go through withdrawal without lithium they appeared to be aggressive and moody, but when they were given lithium they were a little more chilled," Dr Winstock said. "Many people say they smoke a lot of pot because they are depressed, but the truth is that most people in our trial cheered up significantly when they stopped."

Bipolar Medication Helps Addicts Quit Cannabis

Friends Save Marriages

Jenny Wolford of the Daily News in Niles, Michigan, points out that women who make time to chill with friends come back to their marriages recharged with oxytocin.

Will Getting a Girlfriend Save Your Marriage?

Nice, provocative title, Jenny! But she doesn't mean women should have sex wit their friends, just enjoy the relief and pleasure of bonding with them.  She writers,

Guys, let me spell it out for you: Oxytocin makes a woman feel more loving, and the more oxytocin she's got coursing through her system, the more she'll have to share with you.

Any man who has ever observed a group of women out to dinner by themselves or experienced the aftereffect of his wife's girls getaway weekend knows exactly what I'm talking about.

I'd add that men should also make time to hang out with other men, to enjoy their essential guyness. It's likely that men also experience an oxytocin rush during "male bonding," even if they don't get all touchie-feelie about it.

Tips from a Matchmaker

Patti Stanger, CEO of Millionaire Matchmaker, runs a dating service that matches rich men with "the women of their dreams." I won't go there.

But the Newsweek article, TV's Hard-Nosed Matchmaker, is a fun read. And Stanger advises the women who use her service to refrain from sex until they're in a committed, monogamous relationship.

"Because as oxytocin [the "love" hormone] kicks in, you're bonded to him for life. That's why we're at risk and they're not," she says. "Men don't bond through sex."
She's wrong about men not bonding through sex. Men do bond through sex, it's just a bit different than from women.

I'd say that women do tend to feel bonded after sex, no matter what else is going on -- or isn't -- in the relationship. Men can walk away from a sexual encounter without feeling bonded; they need certain other things for their bonding instincts to kick in.

Because vasopressin, a neurochemical of attention and defense, also seems to be more involved in male mating, men are likely to feel more bonded if they're already invested in the relationship in some way, if they need to defend the woman from danger or there's just a lot of other kinds of excitement involved.

The perfect date to get a man to bond during sex: The car gets stuck in the mud on the way to your bungie jumping. He gets it out, both of you bungie, she's a little scared afterward. Just a little....

BTW, Stanger makes it clear that while she sort of advocates an old-fashioned approach to dating, she still thinks women should get equal pay.