Oxytocin: The Reason We Fall in Love

Osmosis Team
Published on Feb 16, 2020. Updated on Feb 13, 2021.

Happy Valentine's Day weekend! This week, couples around the world have been starting with the heart and getting in the mood for love, whether that's by venturing out on romantic dates, dining in with a bottle of wine and a rom-com, or sending out sweet nothings by Osmosis e-card. 

At Osmosis, we're celebrating Valentine's Day with a Valentine's Weekend Sale and a video that gets to the root of one of life's big questions: What is love?

Not to kill the mood, but it all boils down to biochemistry. Let's talk about love, baby: more specifically, oxytocin, the love hormone.

What is oxytocin?

Oxytocin is a powerful hormone produced in the hypothalamus and released by the pituitary gland. Medically speaking, it's a neuropeptide, a short chain polypeptide that's used as a neurotransmitter, relaying a signal from one neuron to another. Oxytocin binds to oxytocin receptors which can be found on cells in the brain as well as the rest of the body.

Often referred to as the “love hormone” or “cuddle chemical,” oxytocin plays a crucial role in our lives. Socially, it helps us forge connections with other people, helps us feel happy, reduces stress, and even triggers our protective instincts. When you saw Baby Yoda for the first time and thought, "Protect this creature at all costs!", that was oxytocin at work.    

Why is oxytocin important?

If you're a cynic who thinks love is dead, you might be asking, "Do we really need oxytocin to survive?" Well, we have an answer for you: Yes, you still need oxytocin! Here's why.

A love letter to the love hormone

When you hug or kiss a loved one, your pituitary gland releases oxytocin. This is especially important for pair bonding, like in romantic relationships, as it elevates your mood and makes you feel more "attached" to your romantic partner. Oxytocin is also thought to help you "get in the mood", contributing to sexual arousal and orgasms.

As you might imagine for a hormone that triggers your protective instincts, oxytocin also plays a big role in maternal attachment. During childbirth, it helps with cervical dilations and contractions. It's also crucial for breastfeeding: when a baby is suckling at the parent's breast, or even crying, oxytocin is released in the brain, triggering the reflex to release breastmilk from the nipples.

Not planning on having kids? Want to stay single forever? Well, oxytocin can still benefit you. This hormone promotes generosity and trust, decreases fear, and even helps you recover from negative social interactions (like that one bad date that made you so cynical in the first place).

Finally, oxytocin even plays a role in platonic relationships! Studies have shown that oxytocin levels can rise in humans and dogs after petting or playing with each other. Now you have a scientific reason to go get that puppy you've always wanted.

Love comes with a price 

No relationship is perfect—there's always a catch. While oxytocin promotes connection and bonding, it can also create barriers between people. 

Oxytocin is associated with bonds between people who share similar characteristics. This can result in bias against people who aren't like you, which in turn leads to social prejudices and an "in-group/out-group" mentality. 

All right, as a quick recap...

Oxytocin, the love hormone, promotes bonding in both romantic and platonic relationships. It's essential for bringing new people into the world, and also for forging essential parent-child bonds. While oxytocin is involved in your desire to form connections with others, it can also lead to a disconnect between you and people who are dissimilar to you. 

Overall, oxytocin plays a nuanced role in the body, and this complexity plays out in our society through the ways different groups interact with one another. 

So, how do you feel about oxytocin now that you've read this? Like many relationships... it's complicated! 


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