This Hormone's Keeping Monogamy Alive

by Adrienne Vogt

A hug a day can keep the... cheating away? Science has discovered more hidden treats from the hormone oxytocin, dubbed the "love hormone," which sweeps through the brain after holding hands, hugging, kissing and sex. Release of oxytocin increases men's long-term attachment to their ladies, according to new findings published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences — and may play a fundamental role in long-term monogamy.

The first of the study's tests had 20 men, currently in relationships that were an average of two years long, take either an oxytocin nasal spray or a placebo. Researchers then made them look at pictures of their partner, a female stranger, or a house. In the second experiment, the men looked at photos of their partners or female acquaintances. (Apparently there weren't many lovin' feelings towards brick and mortar.)

When the men who sniffed oxytocin saw pictures of their partners, it activated the reward and pleasure-center parts of the brain. Conversely, the photos of other women quashed those feelings of pleasure.

In any relationship, a couple starts out with high levels of oxytocin — ya know, that "spark" everybody talks about — but that tends to peter out as people age and relationships develop. The study's researchers suggest that keeping up with the touchy-feely actions could help couples going through rough spots, and increase the bond between them.

"Sexual monogamy is actually quite costly for males, so there must be some form of mechanism binding males and females together, at least for some time," says study author Dr. Rene Hurlemann, a professor of psychiatry at Germany's University of Bonn. "There must be some benefit, and reward is actually the strongest motivation underlying human behavior."

Sure, because monogramy is a piece of cake for everything female? Well, that part is unclear: The research team told Medical News Today that they hadn't yet run a study on women's perception of their male partners, or on same-sex couples.

Oxytocin, which is also released after childbirth and during nursing for women, is only produced during interactions with those closest to you. "It does not work when it comes to your coworkers — creepy coworkers — or strangers," noted a report from the always-awkward-yet-amazing Fox News Philadelphia. You can watch the cringeworthy video, where you can see anchor Mike Jerrick mimic a childbirth scream, here.

Bottom line: This whole "love hormone" is apparently a real thing, because science. Even just looking into your partner's eyes or giving them a quick squeeze on the, cough, hand is conducive to healthy relationships. Of course, Barack and Michelle Obama (d'aw) already knew that.