Sometimes called the “love hormone,” oxytocin is associated with human bonding. It is released during times of intimacy, including cuddling and sexual activity. In pregnant women, it starts uterine contractions for labor, triggers the release of milk when a baby is breastfeeding, and promotes bonding between a new mother and her baby.
Because of these properties, researchers have wondered whether taking oxytocin might help women with sexual dysfunction.
In September 2015, Fertility and Sterility published a study involving thirty women with sexual problems, such as painful sex or trouble with arousal or orgasm. Half the women were given oxytocin in the form of a nasal spray to be used within 50 minutes of having sex. The rest of the women received a placebo nasal spray.
Sexual function did improve for the women taking oxytocin. But it also improved for the women who used the placebo spray.
Why did both groups fare so well? It’s possible that involvement in the study prompted more communication between the women and their partners, the authors suggested. Couples might have discussed their sexual issues more constructively and openly, decreasing levels of stress and leading to a better sexual experience.
Another study, published by the Journal of Sexual Medicine in March 2016, examined the roles of hormones, including oxytocin, in female sexual dysfunction. After analyzing previous research on the subject, the authors concluded that there was not enough medical evidence to recommend treating sexual issues with oxytocin.
A wide range of factors can contribute to women’s sexual problems, including medical conditions like diabetes or endometriosis, hormonal changes at menopause, and disagreements with a partner. Women are encouraged to discuss any sexual problem with their doctor.
If a relationship issue is suspected, counseling and sex therapy – either with a partner or alone – can have great benefits. Couples can learn to talk about sex more effectively and take steps to move their relationship forward.