Known affectionately as "the cuddle hormone," oxytocin comes up in conversations about love, sex, relationships and one-night stands — but it isn't quite as benignly predictable as pop science might have us believe. As the myth goes (and as many of us have read or been told by female friends/relatives), women are flooded with so much oxytocin during sex that we're way more likely to bond with our partner — even if it's just supposed to be a casual fling.
Although this idea is not entirely false, it's a bit problematic the way oxytocin has been twisted to confirm gender stereotypes about slutty dudes and prudish women. Guys also get pumped full of oxytocin mid-sex, even though it's to a lesser degree. That said, oxytocin is in no way deterministic. Because women are socially conditioned to fear slut-shaming, unintended pregnancy, and other social stigma that can arise from NSA hookups, it's just as likely that that conditioning is what has us wondering if there's a future between us and the rando we took home from the bar, not just the "cuddle hormone."
Here are five facts about oxytocin straight from science, because it's not just for sex and cuddling.
1. Oxytocin Helps Men Be Monogamous
One study had men take a dose of oxytocin in a nasal spray before looking at photos of their significant others. When they saw images of their lady loves, the reward/pleasure centers of their brains were activated. Then, when they looked at random women, those feelings were nullified, suggesting that oxytocin goes a long way in keeping men monogamous.
2. Oxytocin And Alcohol Have Similar Effects
Another study published in Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews looked into the ways alcohol and oxytocin similarly cause the lowering of inhibitions. According to their research: "Just like downing a shot or two to loosen you up, oxytocin makes you feel more generous, more trusting, more empathetic, and more relaxed."
3. Oxytocin Can Curb Your Appetite
While eating when you're hungry is vital for, you know, staying alive, mindless snacking isn't always the best, particularly if it means, say, consuming teeth-rotting quantities of gummy bears. So if you're one of those people who wants to fight their 5 lb-a-week gummy bear addiction (:raises hand:), having sex or hugging it out might just help you keep your appetite on track.
4. Oxytocin Increases Optimism
Sex or physical contact with someone you love can obviously turn a rough day into a decent one right quick, and guess what's responsible? Yep, oxytocin, again, which has been proven to put a rosy spin on your outlook, stat.
5. Oxytocin Can Help Treat Autism
On top of all the feelings oxytocin can encourage (and deter), it can also improve sociability and communication in children and teens with autism who often find connecting emotionally to be a challenge.
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