Saw this linked to elsewhere today, so seems it might be time for a reblog!
The oxytocin-and-sex bus seems to have really gotten its gas with Dr. Erik Keroack, a popular lecturer for the National Right to Life Committee and the National Abstinence Clearinghouse. Ex-President Bush appointed him to head Title X, our national family planning program, for the Department of Health and Human Services. There are about a hundred reasons why that appointment made a lot of people feel stabby, but the biggest one is that Keroack was strongly against family planning. (It was a lot like putting an anti-gun activist in charge of the NRA.) Keroack was also particularly fond of talking about oxytocin, and making claims about it (claims unsupported by science) to support his own agenda, such as that, “People who have misused their sexual faculty and become bonded to multiple persons will diminish the power of oxytocin to maintain a permanent bond with an individual.”
Many claims about oxytocin regarding love, sex and bonding cite some science, but often very selectively and dubiously, so much so that some scientists whose studies have been used to make agenda-driven claims have strongly objected to the use of their studies to do so. As well, when people are talking about studies done on oxytocin and sex or pair-bonding, the vast majority of those studies have been done with and about prairie voles, not people.
A prototypical conservative claim about oxytocin, sounds a lot like this:
Oxytocin is a hormone that is released in a woman during childbirth, nursing a child, and during sexual activity. Commonly referred to as “glue,” oxytocin creates a strong bond between the woman and the other involved. In the case of childbirth and nursing this bond is important because it creates a nurturing environment for the child. In a marriage relationship where sex is safe and beneficial, oxytocin helps keep the bond between a husband and wife strong. Outside of marriage however, the oxytocin bond can increase the emotional pain when the relationship has ended. Oxytocin is impartial. Whether during sexual activity between husband and wife or in a teenage hook-up, the hormone is still released and the bond is still created. Oxytocin promises an involuntary chemical commitment.
Every parent, educator, and school administrator can undertake the mission of teaching abstinence with heightened significance as the intensity of the oxytocin bond explains why teens suffer emotionally after breakups, and often even during a relationship. Sex was created to unite two people, bringing a bond unlike any other relationship. This powerful bond is what sustains husband and wife until “death do us part” contributing to trust and security. Outside of marriage the release of oxytocin can lead to distrust, hostility, and insecurity. Sexual relationships without commitment still have a lasting bond. Oxytocin even has the power to sustain attachment within abusive relationships.
That’s from The Oxytocin Factor (Kerstin Uvnas-Moberg, 2003, Aspire, Scott Phelps, 2008, The Medical Institute of Sexual Health, 2006). The Medical Institute of Sexual Health is an abstinence-only organization. Its advisory board reads like a Who’s Who of purity pushers, including W. David Hager, another former Bush appointee, to the FDA’s advisory board on reproductive health, who suggested prayer as a cure for PMS and whose ex-wife stated in The Nation that he had repeatedly raped her. The AMA it’s not.
I have not found any study done on oxytocin that shows oxytocin alone creates emotional bonds (rather than potentially playing a part in them or creating a feeling in someone they they may be bonded, even if they are not), no studies done exclusively within marriage to show it is different for married or unmarried people, and none done to determine what role, if any, oxytocin may play in the pain of a breakup. I also have not found any oxytocin studies done within or about intimate partner violence to support conclusions that the reason people stay attached to abusive partners is chemical. If only it were that simple.
Read it all here!