Oxytocin is a hormone made of amino acids that is regularly produced in mammals. It has been shown to play a part in sexual interactions and in childbirth. Oxytocin is produced in the pituitary gland and, from there, travels to the reproductive organs. It is thought that oxytocin encourages the mother-child bond immediately after birth, as well as forces the uterus to shrink back to normal size and the breasts to begin delivering milk after the baby is born.
Pitocin, a synthetic version of oxytocin, is occasionally administered to mothers who are stuck in labor as a way to force the uterus to contract and deliver the baby.
Other research reveals that the hormone also reduces inflammation and encourages the healing of wounds, especially after the individual interacts socially with others. Some suggest that the ability of a person to socialize actually makes them healthier than people who remain disconnected from others.
It turns out, however, that oxytocin acts not only at the site of reproductive organs, but also in the brain. A recent study by researchers in Germany found that after ingesting oxytocin, men who were in committed relationships physically distanced themselves from other women they found to be attractive. Single men showed no such restraint. This has led scientists to conclude that the body uses oxytocin to encourage fidelity. One explanation for this phenomenon may be that the hormone causes a person to feel content in their current romantic relationship and, thus, they feel no compulsion to evaluate others as potential mates.
Given the leading role that oxytocin seems to play in issues surrounding sex, love and intimacy, scientists suspect that failure to produce enough of the substance may lead to personality disorders and may even play a role in autism spectrum disorders. Studies show that speech and emotions of autistic adults improved after they were given oxytocin, as did the rate of occurrence of habitual behavior.
Although our bodies make oxytocin routinely, those who fail to produce enough of the hormone can benefit from ingestion of a synthetically produced version, such as Pitocin. When sprayed into the nasal cavity, oxytocin is able to breach the blood-brain barrier in a way that IV oxytocin cannot.
Unfortunately, the findings of this study do nothing to explain why some men in committed relationships not only get close to attractive females, but cheat on their mates and have affairs. It would be interesting to compare the oxytocin levels in men who cheat versus men who do not. Could the “I just couldn’t help myself” excuse be more than just a lame line used by men who are caught by their spouses? If so, perhaps the answer to the prayers of millions of people who have been on the receiving end of infidelity comes in the form of a simple nasal spray.