Sexual Wellness & How to Increase Oxytocin

Have you ever wondered how to increase oxytocin in your body? Oxytocin, less formally known as the love hormone, is responsible for multiple functions in a woman’s body, including her ability to recognize and trust fellow human beings. In this article, Dr. Katherine Birchenough, board-certified physician and sexual wellness expert, explains how to increase oxytocin, better your mood, and prevent future medical issues. 

As a physician specializing in functional medicine and wellness services, I spend a lot of time talking to my patients about lifestyle, nutrition, sleep, and exercise. If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the years, it’s that sexual wellness is also a very important part of optimal health and functioning. Did you know that regular sexual activity (at least twice per week) can  improve your mood; reduce stress levels; strengthen your relationship; improve the quality of your sleep; balance your hormones; lower your risk of cancer, strokes, and heart attacks; boost brainpower; relieve pain; and even strengthen the immune system? I believe in treating your sexual health with the same amount of care and attention as your physical or emotional health. If you’re experiencing low libido, lack of lubrication, or painful intercourse that is negatively affecting your relationship or your ability to enjoy a robust sex life, I encourage you to seek evaluation by a qualified professional.

Relationship Building

Hormones released during sexual activity can strengthen your relationships. Oxytocin, the “bonding hormone,” is released during attraction and sexual activity. It can increase feelings of love and attachment, improve emotional intelligence and social interactions, and also act as an antidepressant. Now, that sounds a lot better than Prozac!

Stress Relief & Better Sleep

Orgasm simulates the release of a hormone called prolactin, a natural sleep aid. This is just one of the reasons you may notice that you have an easier time falling asleep after having sex. In addition, levels of the stress hormone cortisol are lowered during and after sexual activity, reducing the stress response. Oxytocin, which contributes to the arousal response, also makes you sleepy as it wears off and can promote the production of melatonin, the sleep hormone. Dopamine and norepinephrine are released in large amounts from the hypothalamus, causing an almost euphoric state of mood elevation in some people

Immune Function

There are a couple of ways that sex can improve your chances of avoiding illness. After orgasm, the numbers of macrophages (defender cells of the innate immune system that can recognize and destroy infected cells) increase by 50 percent. The body also up-regulates the production of immunoglobulin A, which protects mucous membranes in the mouth, nose, lungs, intestinal tract, and genitourinary tract by neutralizing viruses and toxins, effectively creating a barrier to entry. Studies show having sex 1-2 times a week will increase the level of these antibodies in your body by almost 30 percent.

how to increase oxytocin
Photo courtesy of Zack Jarosz / Pexels.com.

Hormone Balancing

Levels of sex hormones tend to drop as we get into our late 30s and 40s even before menopause. Regular sexual activity sends a signal to the body to increase and maintain normal levels of estrogen and testosterone in the premenopausal age group, and also in men. The stress reduction benefits also improve the production and function of other hormones. It’s truly a “use it or lose it” situation.

Cardiovascular & Stroke Risk

By reducing systolic blood pressure, improving blood flow, and strengthening the circulatory system, regular sex can reduce the risk of life-threatening disease by up to 50 percent. The studies that have been done focused on men, but I’m sure women can benefit as well! Of course, anyone with significant risk factors or a history of heart attacks or stroke would need to be cleared for vigorous sexual activity by their doctor.

Pain Relief

Endorphins are “feel-good” chemicals released during and after orgasm that can bind to the same cell receptors as narcotic pain medication. Chronic pain patients have reported a significant reduction in daily pain levels with sexual activity two or more times per week.

Cancer Protection

Some studies have pointed to a reduction in the risk of prostate cancer in men who had more frequent sex.

Brain Boosting

Research shows that sex switches the brain into a more fluid and creative state, enhances memory, and increases blood flow to the brain. Older adults who had sex weekly performed better on cognitive tests for memory and attention, word recall, and visual and verbal recognition. Frequent sex is also good for verbal fluency, language, visual fluency, and visuospatial ability, or the ability to judge the space between objects. So, stuck in a rut on that project for work? Maybe the solution is in the bedroom!

Other Sexual Health Tips

Urinary incontinence affects at least 30 percent of women at some point in their lives. Having regular orgasms works the pelvic floor muscles—the same ones targeted with Kegel exercises. A strong pelvic floor reduces the risk of accidents and urine leaks and other associated complications of weak muscles, like uterine or bladder prolapse. This is especially important for women who have had more than one child.

Recommended testing & treatment

As part of a full evaluation for sexual wellness, blood testing for hormone balance is extremely important. Until adrenal, thyroid, and sex hormones are optimized, you may not be able to achieve the results you are hoping for. I combine hormone and nutritional testing with bio-identical hormone replacement and targeted supplementation of key vitamins and minerals for proper metabolism. I also augment these therapies with regenerative techniques designed to improve physical functioning for the best outcome. For more information: optimalselfmd.com/wellness/sexual-wellness/.

how to increase oxytocin
Katherine Birchenough was the fourth MD in the state of South Carolina to be certified through the Institute for Functional Medicine. A South Carolina native, Dr. Birchenough is a University of South Carolina School of Medicine graduate, board-certified in pediatrics and emergency medicine, and has recently devoted herself full-time to her wellness practice. Dr. Birchenough practiced traditional medicine for more than 12 years, diagnosing and treating diseases but not really getting to the root cause. Over the years, she watched as unhealthy environments and poor lifestyle choices affected the health of her peers and her patients—at one point even herself—and knew that something had to give. She realized the pursuit of health, beyond just the absence of disease, is a specialty in and of itself but wasn’t available to traditional medical students. This realization brought her to a new career path in functional medicine and has fueled her passion to treat the patient, not just the symptom

Recommended reading:

The Elusive Orgasm by Vivienne Cass, PhD.
Come as You Are: The Surprising New Science that Will Transform Your Sex Life by Emily       Nagowski, PhD
Living An Orgasmic Life: Heal Yourself and Awaken Your Pleasure by Xanet Pailet
Mating in Captivity: Unlocking Erotic Intelligence by Esther Pere

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