When it comes to the physical act of sex, there is a tremendous amount of emotional bonding that is being created that most probably do not even think of. We can think of this bond as the glue that ties two people together. This bond can have a positive effect as well as a negative one. Let’s dive into the physiology and psychology of sex to investigate this phenomenon.
Our Brain and Psychology
When it comes to physiology and psychology, it is important to understand how our brain works. Brain? Does that sound odd to you? The brain is our command center; it sends messages to all the parts of our body so we can function. In fact, the more we learn about the brain, the more intricate we learn the brain is.
One part of the brain, the Limbic System deals with and regulates emotions, memory, and sexual arousal. When it is not working properly, you will have feelings of depression and lethargy. The frontal lobe allows us to think, decision-make, plan, and problem solve. When it is not functioning properly, we are usually focused on one thought because it is difficult to think about anything else. In other words, we cannot shift from one though to another. If we are on a negative thought, then that thought filters down to our entire being. Another part of the brain, the basal ganglia, affects habit formation, reward system, and skill learning. When it is not functioning properly, it can cause one to experience anxiety and or depressive symptoms. There are many different parts and functions of the brain. Every part and function of our brain affects us, and when one part is not functioning how it is supposed to, it has implications in our everyday life. I know this is a very simplistic overview of the brain. (Henslin, 25) but I am attempting to show how our brain is involved with our emotions and later, on sex. Also, a great smart phone app that aided me on this part is called “3d Brain.”
The different parts of the brain sends neurotransmitters which help various messages and hormones go from one part of the brain to another. You can think of neurotransmitters as a taxi delivering and bringing (passengers) messages, hormones, etc. from one part of the brain to another. You can think of hormones (which are chemicals) as text messages as they are the communication to wherever they are going.
The infamous hormone, Oxytocin
One of the hormones that these neurotransmitters send from the Deep Limbic System of the brain is oxytocin. Oxytocin promotes bonding and attachment and if all the hormones had an opportunity to vote for the “most popular” award in the hormone yearbook, its peers would vote for it every time because it makes others feel good and close when it is active.
For the Psychology student, here is the scientific description: “Oxytocin is produced mainly in the hypothalamus [which is in the Deep Limbic System part of the brain], where it is either released into blood via the pituitary gland, or to other parts of the brain and spinal cord, where it binds to oxytocin receptors to influence behavior and physiology.” (DeAngelis)
Oxytocin has been dubbed the “cuddle hormone” or “love hormone” because it does simply that. It creates bonds, trust, and generosity in us. (DeAngelis) In fact whenever you feel comfort or security, oxytocin is involved. It is involved in every form of human bonding. (Horstman, 23)
Let’s look at some non-sexual areas in which this hormone is released and then we will investigate how this hormone affects us and sex. If you just want to skip to the sex part, scroll down to the subtitle, “Sex and Oxytocin.”
One of the forms of human bonding this hormone is involved in is childbirth. When oxytocin is released in a mom during labor it helps her body stimulate contractions, helping the birthing process go smoothly. Women who release more oxytocin have a smoother birthing process. There have been reports that midwives will place ice cubes on the nipples of a mom in labor to release more oxytocin and consequently causing more contractions, ensuring a smoother birth. The word “oxytocin” comes from the Greek word that means “swift birth.” This hormone not only helps the contractions of a laboring mother but it also begins the bond between mother and child. (Malan)
Another example of bonding that occurs when oxytocin is released is when a mother is breast-feeding. Breast-feeding mothers are calmer. Additionally, this hormone causes the release of breast milk for the child. One of the main responsibilities of this hormone is to aid the woman’s body in the release of breast milk for her child. As this hormone is released during the act of beast-feeding, it is aiding the mother and child in bonding in a very special way (Malan).
Oxytocin not only promotes bonding during birth and breast-feeding; it also increases trust and empathy. (Bartz) It is also released during a hug and kiss of a loved one. (DeAngelis) This hormone does it all. I could go on and on about this hormone but it is time to turn to oxytocin and sex.
Oxytocin and Sex
The other crucial time oxytocin is released is during sex. During sex this chemical is being produced in both individuals, creating a bond between them both. Released in the brain, this hormone is creating an emotional bond between the partners.
One of the prominent figures in neuropsychology is Dr. Daniel Amen. Dr. Amen does cutting edge research in neuropsychology and has helped millions of people have healthier brains, which translates to healthier lives. Dr. Daniel Amen writes in his book, Change Your Brain Change Your Life, page 41:
“Whenever a person is sexually involved with another person, neurochemical changes occur in both their brains that encourage limbic, emotional bonding. Yet limbic bonding is the reason casual sex doesn’t really work for most people on a whole mind and body level. Two people may decide to have sex ‘just for the fun of it,’ yet something is occurring on another level they might not have decided on at all: sex is enhancing an emotional bond between them whether they want it or not. One person, often the woman, is bound to form an attachment and will be hurt when a casual affair ends. One reason it is usually the women who is hurt most is that the female limbic system is larger than the male’s.”
Does this resonate with you? Have you ever felt the hurt and pain after a one night stand or breakup? Do you find yourself repeatedly playing the scenario in your mind, maybe even thinking of different outcomes? Chances are you are doing these things because of the attachment that was created between you and your partner when you were sexually involved. The emotional attachment that is created during sex (the glue) brings two people together.
Even though casual sex is extremely common nowadays, the partners involved in the act are creating a significant bond. I would be as bold to say “casual sex” is not possible because of the bond that is created.
[Pre-order the Book Today]