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Understanding Oxytocin, the ‘Love Hormone,’ & Its Effects on Pain

Understanding Oxytocin, the 'Love Hormone,' & Its Effects on PainWhat occurs when we defy the body’s natural ability to begin the process of labor and to secrete peak levels of oxytocin, the hormone of love?

Studies have shown oxytocin’s role in reducing pain. For instance, Beverly Whipple, professor emeritus at Rutgers University and a famed author/ sexologist found that when women masturbate to orgasm, “the pain tolerance threshold and pain detection threshold increased significantly by 74.6 percent and 106.7 percent respectively.”

Furthermore in an interview with Wired magazine another colleague from Rutgers University psychology Professor Barry Komisaruk, said, “We’ve seen that there is a strong inhibition of the response to pain during orgasm.”

“What that leads us to think is there is some kind of very important interaction between the orgasmic experience and the pain experience.”

So we know when women are induced with synthetic oxytocin they and their baby feel more pain which results in labor contractions being harder to manage oftentimes it can require an epidural to manage the pain. But what about the other short and long term affects that comes with not allowing our bodies to produce this essential hormone at peak levels? Synthetic oxytocin cannot cross the blood brain barrier. Not only do we lose its pain relieving, we miss the ecstatic, nurturing, bonding effects it offers to Mother/Baby too.

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All of these relatively new studies are vital to the discussion in our documentary Orgasmic Birth also significant are my talks and workshops about finding pleasure in birth and life. Sarah Buckley so exquisitely writes in her book, Gentle Birth Gentle Mothering,

“Passion and love are as powerful a combination at birth as they are in sexual activity. And in birth, as in sex, we release oxytocin, the hormone of love, in huge quantities from deep inside our brain. Here again, our hormones are directing us toward optimal and ecstatic experiences, yet this system is also extremely vulnerable to interference.”

The question must be asked: what happens when we replace our natural hormones with synthetic hormones to begin or augment labor?  The truth of the matter is we don’t know all the answers in either the short or long term effects for our babies and society.

Dr. Buckley is the author of a new Physiology Report due out soon that will provide more data and insights on how valuable our natural hormones are to keep childbirth safe, healthy and, of course pleasurable!

A great depth of information and research on why allowing labor to being on its own is so vital is Lamaze Healthy Birth Practices! Lamaze International recommends that you neither choose induction nor agree to be induced unless there is a true medical reason.  A “large” or even “very large” baby is not a medical reason for induction.

Letting your body go into labor on its own, almost always, is the best way for you to know that your baby is healthy enough to be born.  Spontaneous labor also increases the likelihood that you can experience the other healthy birth practices identified by Lamaze International that leads to a safe and healthy birth — especially freedom of movement and no routine interventions.

Amy Hannaford of Bellies & Birth notes:

“Always, ask “why” when your care provider is recommending something or especially if you are being told you “have” to have an intervention, such as an induction. We normally would never let anyone do something to our bodies without our consent, so pregnancy and birth should be no different.”

The importance of experiencing natural contractions is evident it aides in producing your own body’s oxytocin, increases your freedom to respond to your contractions by moving around, changing positions, and trying the tub or shower. Interfering with/or replacing the natural hormones that orchestrate labor, birth, breastfeeding, and maternal attachment may have consequences that we don’t yet understand. So take the time to ask questions- it’s your right! Wishing you lots of love and oxytocin!


This guest article from YourTango was written by Debra Pascali-Bonaro and appeared as: The Love Hormone: Oxytocin

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Understanding Oxytocin, the ‘Love Hormone,’ & Its Effects on Pain

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APA Reference
Experts, Y. (2018). Understanding Oxytocin, the ‘Love Hormone,’ & Its Effects on Pain. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 24, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 24 Jan 2014)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.