Mommy Your Man or Have a Grown-Up Relationship
A Paradoxical Reaction to Oxytocin?

Science vs. Religion (When It Comes to Love)

Some very heated discussion on the Ave Maria Gratia Plena blog following author Michelle's comments about oxytocin, bonding and premarital sex. It shows how attempts to understand how our biology affects our emotions gets mired in emotion.

In Why I disagree with promiscuity and fear for the FLDS kids that will be taught modern sex ed, she writes that she's worried that the children removed from the Fundamentalist Latter Day Saints camp will be taught modern society's ways, including acceptance of premarital sex. She goes on to make some statements about how the bonding effects of oxytocin following sex and orgasm can cloud a woman's judgment about a man.

I think she makes some very valid points; I do agree with this:

Ever wonder why so many women are "in love" with total losers and won't end the relationship? O-x-y-t-o-c-i-n...
~ This is why so many marriages fail when the couples have slept together before being wed: a woman that is chemically bonded to a man is in danger of settling for a husband that is totally not compatible with herself. She can't see this because she is trapped in a bond she probably knows nothing about. (When do they teach girls about oxytocin in sex ed classes??)

However, framing these ideas with this really tragic situation makes it a lot harder to examine what she says. As commenters rightly point out, surely the situation these women, and especially the very young girls who were married to older men who had multiple wives, were in a worse situation than someone who finds herself "bonded to a total loser."

Still, many comments accuse her of ranting and twisting science. One wrote,

You made the claim that a woman is bonded to her sexual partner against her will by oxytocin. That a woman falls in love with a "loser" because of oxytocin. You cannot ask me to offer counterproof until you offer some credible evidence - other than a reference to Wikipedia - to support your statements. Then you'll get your "argument".

I really wish it weren't so, but there is plenty of credible evidence that both men and women become bonded to their sex partners -- and women more so than men. I wish we humans were able to create new forms of relationships and new societies based on our ideals, not our biology. But we remain deeply influenced by our animal natures.

It's completely proven that men and women release oxytocin during  orgasm. Following are some studies that, taken together, make a very strong case that oxytocin creates the bond of human love, and that estrogen increases oxytocin's effects:

Bale, Tracy L.; Davis, Aline M.; Auger, Anthony P.; Dorsa, Daniel M.; and McCarthy, Margaret M. 2001. CNS Region-Specific Oxytocin Receptor Expression: Importance in Regulation of Anxiety and Sex Behavior. The Journal of Neuroscience 21(7):2546-2552.

Bales, Karen; Lewis-Reese, Antoniah; Pfeifer, Lisa; and Kramer, Kristin; and Carter, C. Sue. 2007. Early Experience Affects the Traits of Monogamy in a Sexually Dimorphic Manner. Developmental Psychobiology 49:335-342

Carter, C. Sue; DeVries, A.C.; and Getz, L.L. 1995. Physiological substrates of mammalian monogamy: the prairie vole model. Neuroscience and Biobehavioural Reviews 19(2): 303-14.

Carter, C. Sue. 2007. Sex differences in oxytocin and vasopressin: Implications for autism spectrum disorders? Behavioural Brain Research 176(1):170-86.

Chung, Wilson C. J.; De Vries, Geert J.; and Swaab, Dick F. 2002. Sexual Differentiation of the Bed Nucleus of the Stria Terminalis in Humans May Extend into Adulthood, The Journal of Neuroscience 22(3):1027–1033.

Cushing, B.S. and Carter, C.S. 1999. Prior Exposure To Oxytocin Mimics the Effects Of Social Contact and Facilitates Sexual Behaviour In Females. Journal of Neuroendocrinology 11(10):765–769.

Georgiadis, Janniko R.; Reinders, Simone A.A.T.; Van der Graaf, Ferdinand H.C.E.; Paans, Anne M.J.; Kortekaas, Rudie. 2007. Brain activation during human male ejaculation revisited. Neuroreport 18(6):553-557.

 

Young, Larry J. and Wang, Zuoxin, The neurobiology of pair bonding (Nature Neuroscience Vo. 7. No. 10, October 2004)

Zak, Paul J.; Kurzband, Robert; and Matzner, William T., Oxytocin is associated with human trustworthiness (Hormones and Behavior 48 (2005) 522 – 527)

 

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