Take the Passion Poll

Passion coach Eryn-Faye has posted three polls on her blog.

How often do you go on a date with your spouse?

How often do you and your SO talk about sex?

Who initiates sex more often?

All good questions anyone in a relationship should be thinking about. Go to Eryn-Faye's blog and take the passion poll, then see how other people answered.

I think my basic answer is "not often enough."

Dating 3 to Avoid the Oxytocin Trap

Interesting story on MSNBC from relationship expert and psychologist Diana Kirschner on how to find love by not getting hung up on the wrong man. Always be dating three men at a time.

On this dating program, you avoid that pressured decision and its aftermath: a Flame-Out that usually kills the relationship. Instead you date three men at the same time without having sex with any of them. By not seeing any one man too often, you find the men who are really into you and who will stay the course. Plus, you break out of your prison of Deadly Dating Patterns and maneuver more skillfully in the dating world.

This great advice can keep a woman from getting caught in the oxytocin trap. Sex, kissing, even close physical proximity can cause a woman's brain to release oxytocin, making her feel bonded to someone she doesn't even know well enough.

Oxytocin Helps a Guy Ejaculate

One guy, okay? But this study points to still another potential therapeutic use for oxytocin, which sure seems like some kinda wonder drug.

A test published in April 2008)  at Cedars Sinai examined whether inhaling oxytocin would help a male patient who couldn't orgasm. The docs had ruled out medical conditions, drugs and  "psychological issues" as the cause of his inability to  ejaculate.  Yes, it did. He was able to ejaculate.

Why this worked is unclear from the abstract. My speculations:

Oxytocin relieves anxiety, and maybe this man had become so anxious about orgasm that he couldn't do it. (Although the researchers ruled out psychological issues, and I assume anxiety would classify.)

Oxytocin is responsible for erection and ejaculation (along with other chemicals). And a review of animal studies opined that the reason that SSRIs lower sexual desire and function could be because they decrease the sensitivity of oxytocin receptors. If this patient's oxytocin receptors had reduced sensitivity for some reason, the extra jolt of oxytocin could have been what was needed.

Coverage in Men's Health UK

I was quoted in a fun story in the September 2008 UK edition of Men's Health.

The lead to the article, Test Tube Babe, says, "Getting the girl is all about managing body chemistry. Here's how to engineer all the right reactions."

My quote is on the second page. Unfortunately, I was still using the old book title. But I'm honored to be in the magazine!

Does Cybersex Produce Oxytocin?

Web Pro News pointed to an article in the Sydney Morning Herald reporting on a study which found that high levels of anxiety and depression among men who frequented sexy sites online. Study author Marcus Squirrell, a doctoral student at Swinburne University of Technology in Melbourne.

According to the newspaper article,

"We found that 27 per cent of them were moderate to severely depressed on the standard depression scales," Mr. Squirrell said.

"Thirty per cent had high levels of anxiety and 35 per cent were moderately to severely stressed, which is of course extremely high."

The more heavily they engaged in online sexual activity the higher their level of depression and anxiety was, he said.

Jason Lee Miller of Web Pro News raises two interesting questions: First, does cybersex cause depression or are heavy indulgers already depressed and trying to relieve their anxiety or depression? Second,

Something else simulated or cybersex lacks, which deserves more study as to the effect on depression and anxiety, is the release of oxytocin, a hormone released during labor, but also is generated by physical touch as a bonding chemical between mothers and infants during breastfeeding, and also between lovers. 

Actually, it looks like masturbation causes the same oxytocin release as does partner sex, according to a 1999 study.

See my comment on Jason's post for more.

Oxytocin Becomes Part of Sex Ed

A pamphlet designed to give young women information about sex includes a discussion of how oxytocin's bonding effects can have unforeseen consequences, according to LifeSiteNews.

Miriam Grossman, a psychiatrist at UCLA, got attention, not all of it positive, for her recent bookUnprotected: A Campus Psychiatrist Reveals How Political Correctness Endangers Every Student. While she was criticized for being anti-sex or promoting double standards, I think it's crucial that men and women both understand the neurochemical differences between the sexes when they have sex.

The LifeSiteNews article says:

It discusses in familiar words the effects of oxytocin, a hormone released by intimate behavior, on one's ability to make clear choices and on the long term consequences of the choices one makes: "Because of it [oxytocin], you could develop feelings for a guy whose last intention is to bond with you. You might think of him all day, but he can't remember your name."

This certainly happened to me, over and over. It was intensely painful and damaging. And I don't think this pain and loss should be seen as just a natural part of growing up and dating.

Sex Marathon Improves Love Relationship Too

When Doug and Annie Brown realized they weren't having sex for months at a time, they made a pact to have sex every day for 101 days. Then, they wrote a book about it.

In this article in the Boulder Daily Camera, writer Aimee Heckel discusses how the neurochemistry of sex, including tons of oxytocin released during touching and orgasm, makes every part of the relationship better. She interviewed Doug Brown, who said that while they really really didn't want to have sex some of the times, it changed not only their sexual relationship but also transformed them emotionally.

Brown told Heckel:

"It's a very powerful and unique act," he says. "I think in the context of a relationship, it can really add an almost spiritual shine to the relationship."

When he talks about the "spiritual" dimension of sex, he isn't talking about religion, but rather something primal, something natural.

"There's definitely an electricity. A sort of flesh-to-flesh electricity that happens," he says. "We also found the more we did it, the stronger that electricity was. There's something there beyond just kind of having sex. It is beyond just pure pleasure."

Sex is the thing that keeps couples together. It's what creates and maintains the bond. In my experience, it does get harder and harder to find time to connect in bed, but it's a really necessary part of being with someone.

Hug Your Monkey Even If You Don't Want Sex

I thought this was a good column from the Times Online: Touching Shouldn't Always Mean Sex.

Relationship expert Pam Spurr points out how hard it can be for male/female couples to send and understand signals about touching. Sometimes, you don't want sex, but you need to be touched and held. She points out:

When our skin is touched, our bodies produce various responses including producing oxytocin, the emotional bonding hormone. This makes us feel good around our loved one. That heart-warming feeling means that we want more of their company. And so the cycle goes on bonding us together.

Interesting that most of the comments are very hostile. I agree it's a bit of a stereotype that he wants sex, she wants to cuddle, but certainly mismatches in how much sex people want are not uncommon.

Romance: Best Enjoyed in the Middle Ages


Last night I was listening to an audio book that mentioned the relationship between Dante and Beatrice, celebrated as an example of romantic love at its finest. Dante, of course, wrote The Inferno. Beatrice was his cousin. He fell in love with her the first time he saw her, when he was nine. They didn't speak to each other until a few years later, and they never had what we would today call any kind of relationship at all. Instead, his love for her was in the mode of "courtly love" possibly "invented" during the Middle Ages.

I've written several times about the problem of mistaking romantic love, which may be evolution's way of making sure a couple stayed focused enough on their relationship to have sex and get pregnant, then keep the baby alive for the first couple of years, with committed love. Romance is fired by dopamine and lowered levels of serotonin, while committed love is fueled by oxytocin. (The theory goes.) Oxytocin produces a more "social" love; the oxytocin bond activates the same brain systems as trust and generosity.

This story from The Independent in the UK, Aspects of Love, illustrates the conflicting definitions we have of love. (Some of the interviewees also state as fact some of the neurochemical bases of emotion that haven't been completely proven yet, as I'm often guilty of doing, such as in the previous paragraph.)

I like what Alain de Bottom says:

One of the things that happened in the modern age was that suddenly people decided that romantic love could be put together with marriage, so the sort of feeling people always had around a lover, an intense romantic passion they thought might last a few months, you could stick that together with what people had always followed which was to get married.

And marriage used to be about "handing on the farm" to the next generation and suddenly it was thought you could have the farm and this great intense romantic relationship. You no longer needed what the aristocracy had suggested you always needed, which was a wife and a mistress, or the other way around if you were a woman. This idea that you can have romantic passion and the practical benefits of keeping a household together – modern society has fallen for this idea and it's making us miserable.

De Bottom is author of Essays in Love, which sounds pretty interesting.

In the Middle Ages and into Dante's time, marriages were arranged, and based on social and economic benefits. People might have had lovers and/or asexual romantic relationships like that of Dante and Beatrice. I don't think we can -- or should -- go back to that, but I wish our culture would learn to celebrate committed love the way we do romance.

The adorable embroidered heart is by Minha lojinha, a wonderful artist.

See also, Sex, Orgasm, Bonding and the Marital Blahs; and Get Over Romance; please, please please?