You swear it won’t happen to you. You won’t become “her.” The one who waits by the phone for his call, checks your text messages furiously, or creeps his Facebook page to see who he’s communicating with and if god forbid there’s another woman in the picture. Yet time and again it happens, you find yourself becoming what you dread. Wouldn’t it be a relief to know that this wasn’t just your own obsessive nature but was in fact the effects of a hormone designed to proliferate the species by forging a bond between partners? That hormone is oxytocin.
Nicknamed “the cuddle hormone” or the “bonding hormone,” oxytocin is one of the body’s messengers to the brain that responds to many forms of touch including that which happens during intercourse. Oxytocin is released when a woman breastfeeds to encourage the bond between infant and mother and to ensure that the mother will care for her infant thereby securing the species. Anthropologist Helen Fisher writes in her book Anatomy of Love that Oxytocin is an opiate that encourages couples to maintain partnerships long after the initial ‘butterfly’ phase of love has dissipated. Its one of the reasons we all hope our hook up has a healthy twitter feed so we can see when he next has a coffee break.
The fact is, oxytocin is a drug and like any drug, when we get some of it, we want more. Its why you find yourself obsessing over that hook up that you initially blew off thinking he wasn’t your type and suddenly once you have sex you’re planning the wedding and thinking of having his babies. It’s why people literally become addicted to sex. It’s also why you should think twice before you hook up with the guy at the bar, because even though you swear to yourself it won’t happen again, it will. Most lovers are one tweet away from a restraining order and oxytocin is time and again the culprit.
Just like Elaine on Seinfeld hoarding her birth control and asking whether each partner was ‘sponge worthy,’ we need to ask ourselves whether each mate is in fact worthy of the burst of hormones that accompany each potential lay. Oxytocin is the reason the great hook up experiment known as the seventies probably failed. We are humans, we have hormones, and we have the need to bond. There is no ‘zipless’ encounter as Erica Jong called it in Fear of Flying. We need to not only take responsibility for safe sex; we need to take responsibility for the fact that we have emotions and a biological imperative that produces quantifiable consequences. So go out, have fun, but be aware and prepare.