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Acupuncture and Oxytocin: Not So Strong

So often, people ask me how they can get more oxytocin. Is there something they can buy? I often tell them to try acupuncture, asking for the "points forbidden in pregnancy."

The idea is, they don't want acupuncturists to go there for pregnant women because those points may stimulate the release of oxytocin, thereby causing contractions of the uterus that would expel the fetus before its time. On the other hand, if the woman is feeling that it's time enough already, needling those same points could jumpstart labor.

A new study found that acupuncture doesn't do a great job of inducing labor, reports Reuters

"Researchers found that among 125 pregnant women who were past their due dates, those who were randomly assigned to undergo two acupuncture sessions were no more likely to go into labor over the next 24 hours."

I would like to note that according to the article about the study, post-term pregnancy is defined as one that lasts longer than 41 weeks. My understanding is that the due date is a guesstimate -- although 41 weeks allows for a full month beyond when a couple thought they got pregnant.

Still, there is something to be said for letting the baby and the mother's body determine what's the right time. Still to be determined: Whether stimulating these points may cause a release of oxytocin that's enough to tune up the parasympathetic nervous system, whether or not it's enough to push a baby out before it's ready.

More Info on Ecstasy and PTSD

A small, phase 2 pilot study found that MDMA, also known as Ecstasy, might help treating people with post-traumatic stress disorder.

Michael Mithoefer, MD, a psychiatrist in private practice in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina, was the lead author on the study, 20 people received MDMA or placebo along with two days  of "experimental" therapy. The idea was to use the drug to reduce subjects' fear and reactivity to traumatic events.

Mithoefer told Medscape

"We didn't want to just test the drug," explained Dr. Mithoefer. "We wanted to test the drug's ability to catalyze psychotherapy. It's important that people realize that MDMA should be used in the right way, and that it's not a stand-alone solution for PTSD."

He found that subjects didn't need to take the drug every time they had therapy, nor for a long period of time. It was able to get them over the therapeutic hump enough to make progress; they could then continue to progress on their own.

Keith Young, MD, vice chair of research in the Department of Psychiatry at Texas A&M Health Science Center College of Medicine, who was interviewed for the article, noted that the effects shown might be due to the release of oxytocin that MDMA causes, and that it might be better to simply dose PTSD patients with oxytocin.

The study was paid for by Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS).

See two earlier posts on the use of Ecstasy to treat PTSD:

Ecstasy Helps PTSD Treatment

Ecstasy Could Be PTSD Breakthrough

Family Connection Boosts School Performance

We're beginning to understand more and more about how important early nurturing is for brain development. A secure home environment does more than build a baby's attachment system. It also can set the tone for how a child manages in the school environment.

According to Science Daily, University of Notre Dame professor of psychology Mark Cummings found that a family's relational style affected school behavior. The three styles he describes map to the attachment styles identified by John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth. They called them secure, anxious and dismissive; Cummings describes families as either cohesive, enmeshed or detached.

According to the article:

"Coming from a cohesive family, in which members tend to be warm and responsive to one another, where problems are resolved, and members cope well, increases the likelihood of children doing well in school," according to Cummings.

Are You a Man or a Monkey?

My (monogamous) mate brought home a copy of Sex at Dawn, by Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jetha. The book has generated a lot of excitement, probably (I haven't read it yet) because it argues that humans, like other monkeys, are not monogamous. 

This is an ongoing argument, with many people pointing out that bonobos, the monkeys that are genetically closest to us, are enthusiastically polysexual. 

So I'll take this time to point out, once again, two things:

First: monkeys, schmonkeys. Throughout the animal kingdom, there are species that are similar in many ways but different in their reproductive strategies, cf. the (monogamous) prairie vole and it cousin, the (nonmonogamous) montane vole. This crucial difference seems to lie in the distribution of oxytocin and dopamine receptors in the part of the brain that handles social relationships. When both these receptors are present, it seems to reinforce the preference for sex with a particular individual.

Second: Even monogamous species are not completely sexually monogamous. Even the adorable little prairie vole is not averse to a bit of copulation outside the pair-bond. So, probably humans are designed to have one primary mate, whether or not that includes lifelong sexual exclusivity.

Why I bring this up (again) today: A study by Charles Snowdon of the University of Wisconsin found that mated cotton-topped tamarins with mutual high levels of oxytocin were more romantic.

Okay, that's gratuitous anthromorphosizing. What he found, according to the university's press office, was that males in a high-oxytocin pair got more sex, while the females got more cuddling, making them both happier:

In the current study, the partners seem to know what the other partner needed. "Males in a high-oxytocin relationship were more likely to initiate cuddling, and females were more likely to initiate sex," Snowdon says. "These males were initiating the behavior that the female needed for high oxytocin, and the females with high oxytocin were initiating the behavior that male partner needed for high oxytocin."

Snowdon says. "Here we have a nonhuman primate model that has to solve the same problems that we do: to stay together and maintain a monogamous relationship, to rear children, and oxytocin may be a mechanism they use to maintain the relationship. Therapeutically, I'd suggest this would have relevance to human couples."

Theoretically, at least ...

Introduction to Slow Sex

As I've mentioned, I'm in training to become a Slow Sex Coach and Orgasmic Meditation Instructor, two programs run by OneTaste. The work is intriguing, exciting and -- often -- difficult. I love experiencing it, and I love writing about it.

At the same time, I find myself less enthusiastic about writing so much about oxytocin. When I first began this blog, most people had not heard of oxytocin, or thought it was just to do with labor and prairie voles. Back then, it was exciting to track mentions of the Wonder Hormone in newspapers and to watch the first glimmerings of scientific understanding of how important oxytocin is for physical and emotional health.

Now, scarcely a day goes by without an article or blog post touting oxytocin, and it's a lot of people's favorite drug. I'm really happy about this, because our society still struggles for connection and meaning. At the same time, I don't feel driven to note all of these mentions on my blog.

I want to extend Hug the Monkey to speak more about my own journey to greater intimacy and connection through the orgasmic meditation practice. I've renamed the Sex category to Slow Sex, and you'll be seeing more posts in this category -- and more regular ones.

I recognize that this blog is an archive of information on oxytocin's role in human attachments of all kinds, and I'll continue to further that role by reporting on research that furthers this understanding. I hope you'll continue with me on this journey.

Skin Contact Reduces Risk of Postpartum Depression

We all need skin-to-skin contact with other humans. Period.

This contact is vital for newborns. Placing the newborn on her mother's chest as soon as possible after birth seems to trigger the reflex of crawling up to the breast and nursing.

A new study shows that ongoing skin-to-skin contact between mother and baby can increase attachment and reduce the risk of postpartum depression. According to the National Post:

The study also looked at how skin-to-skin contact affects babies’ cognitive functions and their relationships with their mothers.

And infant is also more aware when awake and sleeps more deeply while lying skin-to-skin on the mother’s chest, Dr. Bigelow says.