The Bridge Between Touch and Sex
Paul H. Byerly
Touch is so vital to humans, and most of us don't get nearly enough of it. Babies deprived of touch don't develop normally because certain connections in the brain actually disappear. Orphans who receive very, very little touch often die as a result, and those who survive can experience permanent physical and mental retardation. Kids who don't get enough touch grow up to become aggressive and antisocial adults. Older adults who don't get enough touch also suffer, becoming senile sooner, and dying earlier. We're all affected by touch, and it's not "all in the mind"; rather it's the result of complex hormonal responses which actually change our bodies and brains.
Touch causes our bodies to produce a hormone called oxytocin. Not only does touch stimulate production of oxytocin, but oxytocin promotes a desire to touch and be touched: it's a feedback loop that can have wonderful results. Oxytocin makes us feel good about the person who causes the oxytocin to be released, and it causes a bonding between the two persons. Nursing a baby produces oxytocin in both mother and child, and this is a major part of what initially bonds the mother and her baby. Even thinking of someone we love can stimulate this hormone; when women in good marriages were asked to think about their husbands, the level of oxytocin in their blood rose quickly.
There's more. Oxytocin plays a significant role in our sexuality too. Higher levels of oxytocin result in greater sexual receptivity, and because oxytocin increases testosterone production (which is responsible for sex drive in both men and women) sex drive can also increase. Moreover, this hormone does not just create a sexual desire in women, coupled with estrogen it creates a desire to be penetrated (that is, it makes her want intercourse). Oxytocin increases the sensitivity of the penis and the nipples, improves erections, and makes both orgasm and ejaculation stronger; it may even increase sperm counts. And while oxytocin can move us towards sex, sex increases production of oxytocin: nipple stimulation, genital stimulation, and intercourse all raise the level of oxytocin in men and women. Orgasm causes levels to spike even higher, three to five times normal, creating the "afterglow" closeness that is experienced following lovemaking. The fact that sex increases oxytocin levels can be helpful for women who complain they "never feel like sex." Having sex, even when you don't have a drive to do so, will actually affect you in ways that will result in a greater sex drive. This also explains, at least in part, why many women find that the more sex they have, the more they want, and the less sex they have, the less they want.