In truth, science is still discovering what oxytocin can do. Research is ongoing and it keeps on throwing up surprising and intriguing results. What we do know is that this, the ‘love’, ‘cuddle’ or ‘trust’ hormone is produced in the brain by the hypothalamus, and then transfers to the pituitary gland, which releases it into the bloodstream. It’s also a neurotransmitter – oxytocin receptors are found on cells throughout the body. Levels of the hormone tend to be higher during both stressful and socially bonding experiences. It is released in large amounts during labour, and after stimulation of the nipples, and so is a facilitator for childbirth and breastfeeding[i].
The simple act of bodily contact via touch will make the brain release low levels of oxytocin – both in yourself and in the person you're making contact with. Some foods (specifically ones that contain phytoestrogens such as apples, ginger, plums, wheat, tomatoes, chick peas, garlic and oregano, eggs, bananas and peppers) can also trigger production, as can receiving psychological support, empathy and compassion. Crucially, it is an important brain compound in building trust, which is so necessary in developing deep emotional relationships[ii].
And a cocktail of brain chemicals that includes oxytocin is released in men during ejaculation. These chemicals can intensify bonding between partners, which helps couples establish a greater sense of intimacy and attachment. Oxytocin, along with dopamine and norepinephrine, are believed to be highly critical in long-term relationships. Basically, it’s what makes you feel much closer to each another after sex. To that end, the time you spend together after sex might be as important to your relationship as what happens before it[v].
It’s believed that women who climax have higher levels of oxytocin in their systems, which can make you feel more trusting and connected[vi]. So when you feel the urge to share your intimate feelings after love making, it may well be the hormones talking. It’s worth remembering that oxytocin lasts in the body for about three minutes but the effects can last up to three hours, so having sex in the morning should set you up for a very good day.
But that’s not all. Not only does it play a role in producing contractions at childbirth and in helping in lactation, studies have also investigated its role in psychological conditions such as overcoming fear[vii], depression, addiction[viii], autism[ix] and anorexia.