Women have a bitter inside joke: it’s not the synthetic hormones that prevent pregnancy, it’s the unpleasant side effects that make intimacy undesirable, thus preventing pregnancy!
It’s true some side effects: vaginal dryness, lack of libido and in some cases, absurdly heavy cycles have birth control to blame, but a new study from Oxford has some disturbing results. Hormonal contraceptives also instigate a mental block preventing deep intimacy.
There is an “[oxytocin]-dependent mechanism underlying partner attraction in both sexes,” explains Dirk Scheele, Ph.D., and his colleagues. Their research reveals hormonal contraceptives may void the oxytocin-fueled brain reward that comes along with partner intimacy.
It’s almost the chemical equivalent of cupid’s love arrow. Oxytocin release in the brain is responsible for trust, intimacy and affinity. Oxytocin’s even been validated to boost male fidelity; and rush the brain during orgasm for both sexes. Women get an additional surge with childbirth and breastfeeding, and Scheele’s study showed oxytocin “increased the perceived attractiveness of the partner relative to other men.”
Scheele and fellows analyzed 40 women in heterosexual relationships. Of them, 21 were using hormonal contraceptives. They randomly selected participants to receive an oxytocin nasal spray, half an hour before fMRI scanning. While their brains were being scanned, women were shown headshots: strangers, familiar friends or acquaintances, the individual’s partner and a mutual female friend. The results were striking. In the naturally cycling women, who did not use hormonal contraceptives, the oxytocin supplement:
- Reduced jealousy ratings
- Increased attraction to their partners
- Decreased their brain stimulation response to other men the individuals themselves rated as attractive
Yet in the women on hormonal birth control who received the oxytocin supplement, there was no enhancement in attraction or arousal to their partners; no more than any other man. This supports earlier oxytocin studies that found reduced sexual functioning, weaker orgasms, increased ambivalence and more infidelity arousal in individuals with low levels of oxytocin.
The noteworthy conclusion, however, is that, in women who take hormonal birth control, supplemental oxytocin has no benefit; the contraceptive compounds suppress any positive effects.
What can women do?
Before throwing stones at all hormonal birth control, it should be noted not all women on them experience disruptive effects, and some women are strongly advised to stay on prescription to counter depression or gynecological issues.
They may be few, but there do exist some nonhormonal contraceptive tools. Even if one must continue hormonal contraceptive methods, a deficiency in oxytocin production is by no means a death sentence; a shortage of the hormone can’t override good old-fashioned love and commitment.
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About the author
Sovereign Health Group staff writer Kristin Currin-Sheehan is a mindful spirit swimming in metaphysical pools with faith as her compass. Her cover: a 30s-something Cinderella breadwinner of an all-sport blended family. Her repertoire includes writing poetry, lifestyle articles and TV news; editing, radio production and on-camera reporting. For more information and other inquiries about this media, contact the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.