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Oxytocin May Be as Strong in Polyamory as in Monogamy

54718701_9ab871dcc5 This research is a couple of years old, but it really struck me.

You may have heard of the naked mole rat, a weird little beast that can eat a lot of worms really fast. Naked mole rats (Heterocephalus glaber) live in colonies with a single breeding queen, much like bees do. Many of the non-breeding individuals care cooperatively for the young.

According to Lisa Conti in Miller-McCune, Nancy Forger of the University of Massachusetts found that there were lots of oxytocin receptors in the rats' nucleus accumbens, which is considered the pleasure center in mammals -- including humans.

Researchers think that this distribution contributes to social monogamy (as opposed to strict sexual monogamy), for example, in the famously monogamous prairie voles. The idea is, the pleasure of sex is tied to the individual mate, creating a bond and a state in the brain that looks very similar to addiction.

So, if the mole rats are equally bonded to the group, it seems like this could illuminate the basis of a similar bond in a polyamorous family.

photo: Riude (Juhan Ristolainen)

Oxytocin Won't Make You Stupid

People often claim -- or worry -- that too much oxytocin would make them too trusting. Sometimes, they're talking about oxytocin therapies: would getting treated for social anxiety disorder with oxytocin, for example, make you vulnerable to scammers or mean people?

Sometimes, they posit releasing mass amounts into the air to quell mobs and turn citizens into sheep.

They may even be scared of the effects of too much of the good stuff leaking into their brains, causing them to trust bad boyfriends or manipulative girlfriends. (Of course, if sex is part of that relationship, it certainly can cause some heavy addiction.)

Well, it probably won't. See the latest in New Scientist.

Daddies Get Oxytocin Surges, Too

New research by Ruth Feldman of Yale found that new fathers have higher levels of oxytocin and prolactin. At one time, oxytocin was thought to only play a role in childbirth, while prolactin is still commonly thought to be involved in breastfeeding. (However, prolactin also is responsible for reducing sexual desire in men following intercourse, providing the so-called refractory period when a man's system gets at least a little rest before going at it again.)

According to The Australian,

In one set of experiments, Professor Feldman and her colleagues studied levels of the two hormones in 43 fathers in the six months after the arrival of their first child.

The men were also videotaped while cuddling or playing with their children to see how good they were at communicating with them and understanding their needs.

The researchers found a strong correlation between the levels of the two hormones in the fathers and how good they were at playing and communicating with their babies.

Actually, I wrote about this more than a year ago for Miller-McCune. See Benefits of the Daddy Brain. At that time, no one had actually tested levels of these hormones in fathers, however.

Dr. Fedman used to work at Bar-Ilan University in Israel, where she and colleagues showed that fluctuations in oxytocin levels in pregnant women predicted how attached they would be to their babies. 

Her work is important for helping us understand how fathers bond -- and emphasizing how important oxytocin is for men, as well as women.

Connection, Loss, Science and Mothering (Poem)

My friend Alan Phillips has written a poem that intertwines many of the things this blog is about -- love and attachment, labor and birth, mothering, oxytocin, connection.

It's a wonderful poem, and extra wonderful to me because it lets me see all these ideas and scientific studies in a different light.

Please check it out: Legend of My Birth.