All You Need is Love (Chocolate and Sex)

The bliss of new romance will soon saturate our college campus. In the world of love, there lies a common thread among those long-lasting relationships that has not previously been touched upon. And it actually has to do with not the heart, but the brain. This common thread would be the hormone, oxytocin, commonly referred to as “nature’s love glue”. Recent research has shown that oxytocin, may increase empathy and communication between partners in a romantic relationship.

In one study at the University of Israel, an experiment comparing oxytocin levels in new lovers compared to single people yielded that oxytocin levels during the “falling in love” stage were at extremely high levels compared to the “singles” stage. Furthermore, there seemed to be a strong correlation between oxytocin levels and longevity of a relationship. Couples who stayed together “showed higher oxytocin levels at the initial period of romantic attachment.” Those couples with initially high oxytocin levels still were together 6 months later. Yet it remains unclear whether the romantic process increased levels of oxytocin or those with high initial levels were more likely to fall in love.

This couple clearly has high levels of oxytocin. | Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
This couple clearly has high levels of oxytocin. | Photo courtesy of Moni Sertel via Wikimedia Commons

In order to answer this question, researchers at University of Zurich conducted an experiment in which some couples inhaled a liquid spray that contained oxytocin. Those that had received the oxytocin had improved communication and decreased levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, in their system. Overall, the oxytocin couples had improved conflict resolution.

This brings to light the interesting possibility of oxytocin-enhanced couples therapy. Adam Guastella, a researcher at University of Sydney investigated the effects of oxytocin in couple’s therapy sessions. Couples would be given a topic to discuss that would elicit conflict and asked to resolve it. They would then be given oxytocin in order to observe any differences. Although the study is in the process of completion, Guastella hypothesized that once the couples received oxytocin, they would be less hostile and more empathetic to the problem solving process.

Guastella describes that oxytocin’s effectiveness works through a positive feedback loop. The presence of oxytocin can lead to loving behaviors, and at the same time, loving behaviors can promote the release of oxytocin. Guastella’s work may prove that hormone therapy can be successfully integrated into couple’s therapy, which would encourage effective communication by promoting empathy.

The “love hormone,” oxytocin, may serve as an index of relationship duration. Good communication predicts a successful relationship, but oxytocin won’t necessarily force a love connection if its not there to begin with. Whether you’ve got a date this Valentine’s Day or you are waiting for your spring fling, everybody could use some oxytocin, the secret solution to a fulfilling relationship.

Camilo Pardo

Camilo Pardo (CAS ’13) hails from the land of crabcakes and Old Bay (Baltimore). Here at BU, he studies Environmental Policy and Public Health. When he is not in class, he’s playing his guitar, Paloma. If you want to discuss anything music or science, he is your go-to guy.

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