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Why sex is better than hugs
In terms of more traditional science, oxytocin is a hormone that causes
smooth muscle contractions in the female genital tract3. Its name comes from the Greek words oξύϛ (fast) and τόkoϛ (birth), because the main function of oxytocin is to stimulate the contractions of the uterus during labor. Oxytocin is sold in pharmacies, because it is widely used both in human and in veterinary medicine to stimulate labor and to stop uterine bleeding after them. During breastfeeding, oxytocin contributes to the work of the smooth muscles of the mammary glands and, consequently, the release of milk.
It is this function of oxytocin that is traditionally considered the most important, and the effect on behavior is an amusing side effect. But in fact they go side by side from the dark depths of the centuries: even the primitive roundworm C. elegans synthesizes a substance in the nervous system that is very similar to oxytocin, and it is involved in the learning processes and in the regulation of sexual behavior.
In mammals, oxytocin acts on memory in two ways. It is important for maintaining contact with the congeners (and in fact for this it is necessary to memorize their faces or smells), but it can disturb the formation of a long-term memory of external unpleasant events. If the rats are placed on a safe platform, from which you should not leave, because the floor in the rest of the cage is under tension, then the animals quickly remember that they do not need to walk around the cage, and sit on a safe patch. But if, in parallel with training, to administer oxytocin to animals, they, falling again and again into the same cell, fearlessly go to explore the area and burn the legs.
It can be assumed that the huge release of oxytocin during childbirth helps to forget that it was very painful and scary. Indeed, there is evidence that when women are asked to describe the generic pain experienced by them, the assessment of its intensity decreases with time. It is unlikely that this mechanism arose in order for a woman to decide to have a second child - most of human history this process was not so deliberate (although it can be assumed that, other things being equal and on a scale of large numbers, more children are born by women who are not afraid of childbirth ). But it is likely that the ability to forget generic pain helps to better relate to an already born baby.
Oxytocin is directly associated with the manifestation of affection for children. In 2010, Israeli researchers confirmed this by examining 160 married couples who gave birth to their first child. They came to visit their families a month and six months after giving birth, measured the level of oxytocin in both parents and recorded on video, like moms and dads play with their babies. It turned out that both moms and popes, the level of oxytocin during the first months of a child's life increases, and there is a clear correlation between its concentration in the blood and parental behavior. Moms with high levels of oxytocin in the blood kiss many of their children, stroke them and say tender words to them. Oxytocin acts on fathers a little differently - stimulates to engage with the child and provoke him to perform some actions (for example, monitor the toy).
Perhaps the opposite is true: it is not oxytocin that stimulates us to work with children, and fussing with children increases the level of oxytocin.
We all have seen the magic mantra “correlation says nothing about a causal relationship” a hundred times in scientific and near-scientific publications - this is exactly the case. In all likelihood, the positive effects here are locked into a loop. On the one hand, physical contact with a child (both with one’s own and with a stranger) causes an increase in the concentration of oxytocin, on the other hand, administration of oxytocin (and in double-blind tests, when even the experimenters themselves do not know whether they give oxytocin or placebo) improves attitude towards children9 - both facts are established experimentally.
“Love Hormone” is important not only for relationships with cubs, but also for relationships with a partner. In evolution, in general, it often happens that a bunch of extra things are wound over the main function. This is the story that happened with feathers. Dinosaurs grew them for thermal insulation, then they began to use them to attract partners, and no one else knew that it was the feathers that would allow one of the dinosaur groups to learn how to fly, survive and take over the world - these creatures are known as “birds”. In the formation of attachments, the evolutionary principle also works “why invent from scratch when you can file what is”: new brain functions (for example, the ability to have monogamous relationships) can easily develop on the basis of old neural structures (for example, involved in parental behavior) .
The link between oxytocin and attachment to a partner is best studied in females of the steppe vole, one of the few monogamous species of rodents. Normally, a vole-virgin, having spent the night with a partner, becomes attached to him, tends to spend as much time with him as possible and reacts aggressively to other males. Attachment formation is due to the release of dopamine and oxytocin in the nucleus accumbens (the “pleasure center”). If, before the date, to block the receptors for one of these neurotransmitters, the first man will not make any impression on the vole, and she will continue to search for a partner as if nothing had happened. But if, on the contrary, we introduce oxytocin (or substances activating receptors to dopamine) to the vole, then she will love the first oncoming male even without any sex.
We, fortunately, do not inject anything into the brain, and therefore, for attachment to a partner, oxytocin has to be extracted naturally. The most effective way to increase its concentration is vaginal sex. The fact is that all mammals have a Ferguson reflex: an increase in the concentration of oxytocin in response to mechanical stimulation of the vagina and cervix. On the veterinary sites you can find this advice: if a pig gave birth to piglets, but can not start feeding them, then you need to take a bicycle pump, pump air into her vagina and hold labia to prevent air from escaping. The pressure created will lead to an increase in milk flow, which requires oxytocin. Similar advice can be given to men who want to strengthen the attachment of the beloved: she needs to provide mechanical stimulation of the vagina. Usually they do this for a long time having sex, but in principle you can try it with a bicycle pump. Perhaps after this woman really never forgets you.
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Why sex is better than hugs
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