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Oxytocin released during sex
In all genders, sexual activity stimulates the release of oxytocin, which has a role in erection and orgasm. The reason for this is not fully understood, although in women, it has been proposed that the increased uterine motility may help sperm to reach their destination.3
Some researchers believe oxytocin may play a part in the experience of sexual orgasm, proposing a correlation between the concentration of oxytocin and the intensity of orgasm.10
Behavioral effects of oxytocin
As shown in the recent developments listed here, scientists are still busy testing the behavioral effects of oxytocin and its role in human emotions.
Recent developments on oxytocin's emotional effects
Oxytocin: the monogamy hormone? This study, published in the journal PNAS in November 2013, examined brain scans of men who had received oxytocin or placebo via a nasal spray. The oxytocin was associated with activation of the men's reward centres in their brains, and with greater feelings of attraction to their partners versus other women in photographs. This followed a very similar study in The Journal of Neuroscience in November 2012: A hormone can help keep men faithful.
High oxytocin levels "trigger oversensitivity to emotions of others." Released in January 2014, this study in Emotion found that people receiving oxytocin nasal spray saw facial expression of emotions in others more intensely.
Oxytocin makes you feel more extroverted. This 2011 research paper in Psychopharmacology gave results from intranasal oxytocin improving self-perception in social situations, amplifying personality traits such as warmth, trust, altruism and openness.
The hormone that allows us to love may also encourage us to lie. This 2014 study found participants given oxytocin were more likely to lie for the benefit of the group.
Oxytocin as potential psychiatric therapy
The researcher in the following YouTube video talks about how oxytocin could help people with disorders such as autism to better understand other people's emotions:
The research to uncover oxytocin's "anxiolytic and pro-social influences, beneficial to relief, reproduction, and love" is what has led scientists to describe it as a one of the "most promising neuromodulator/neurotransmitter systems of the brain for psychotherapeutic intervention and treatment of numerous psychiatric illnesses, for example social phobia, autism, and postpartum depression."6
In another research paper, from 2011, the conclusion reads:11
"Oxytocin is of potential use in enhancing interpersonal and individual wellbeing, and might have more applications in neuropsychiatric disorders, especially those characterized by persistent fear, repetitive behavior, reduced trust and avoidance of social interactions."
Recent development on oxytocin in psychotherapy
Oxytocin activates "social" brain regions in children with autism. A research study involving 17 children with autism spectrum disorders, published in December 2013, used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to see differences created by oxytocin in brain responses to social and non-social pictures. Although this was a small study, the researchers found "oxytocin temporarily normalized brain regions responsible for the social deficits seen in children with autism."
Oxytocin may also have a role to play in anger management, with research finding that certain polymorphisms of the oxytocin receptor (OXTR) gene are associated with an increased tendency to react more angrily to situations. Specifically, differences in OXTR gene expression appears to affect the regulation of the relationship between alcohol and aggressive behaviour.13
Other potential benefits of oxytocin
Recent research has shown that oxytocin increases the release of prostaglandin E2 in cells lining the intestines, which helps encourage repair of intestinal injury and to protect against such injury.12 This may make oxytocin a useful therapy for preventing chemo-radiotherapy induced intestine injury, as well as a novel and safe treatment for irritable bowel disease (IBD).