Good sex includes (at least) three parts: the buildup, the peak and the afterglow, and oxytocin is one of the few neuropeptides that is part of all, bringing home pleasure before, during and after.
In fact, oxytocin plays a highly prominent part in sex, a role that has been researched since at least the 1980s when a benchmark study showed blood plasma levels rose in both genders during arousal and were markedly higher during climax than prior baseline levels.
“There’s the initial release during the sex play part . . . but it also prepares the body for sexual arousal,” says Jim Pfaus, Ph.D., a psychologist at Concordia University in Montreal. “Then you get a second jolt of it with orgasm.”
And while it’s well-known how oxytocin levels enhance sexual stimulation of women’s nipples and genital tract, there’s even a theory being investigated that it can work in some of the same ways as Viagra – that little blue pill that helps erectile dysfunction in men.
A 2008 case report in the Journal of Sexual Medicine documented an instance where “male anorgasmia” – the inability to orgasm – was treated with oxytocin. After being evaluated by a psychiatrist trained in sexual medicine, the study subject was administered oxytocin through a nasal spray during coitus.
The results were apparently very satisfying for all: the man ejaculated into his partner, and researchers learned oxytocin could be effective in restoring that ability.
“It’s not a substitute for Viagra,” Pfaus notes, “but it helps like Viagra.”
A veritable cocktail of brain chemicals, including oxytocin, is set loose in men during ejaculation, according to Scienceline, a project of New York University’s Science, Health and Environmental Reporting Program.
And women certainly aren’t left out when it comes to oxytocin’s climactic effects. A 1994 study in Archives of Sexual Behavior reported how multi-orgasmic women – who clearly were already having a good time – said their orgasm intensity increased when exposed to increased levels of oxytocin.
Oxytocin, in fact, may be even effective during sex simply by making people feel it’s given them an edge. A 2008 study in the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology noted how studies in both animals and humans have indicated such an effect.
The study investigated the acute effects of intranasal oxytocin during masturbation-induced orgasm, showing oxytocin levels stayed high throughout the hour-long experiment. But while the treatment did not objectively affect measurable orgasmic intensity, the participants’ accounts pointed to an altered – and enhanced – perception of arousal.
Oxytocin isn’t finished when sex is, however. Post-sex afterglow – a physical and mental state Pfaus has likened to the state induced by taking opiates – in many ways dictates our tendency to stay and hold our partners.
The relaxed state includes lower blood pressure and heart rates, showing just how thoroughly oxytocin has exploited its stress-busting abilities in the midst of pleasure, Pfaus says.
“The aftermath is, now you’re going to cuddle with your partner as opposed to getting up and leaving,” he says. “You’ve got several things all happening at once to produce that post-orgasm, delicious, satisfying state.”
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Written by Maureen Salamon. For more information contact Bryan Post, Managing Editor of Oxytocin Central email@example.com or call (405) 476-1983