What You Might Not Know About Oxytocin
I want to speak frankly about something, something borne from my own pain and heartbreak.
Often in Christian circles (not all, bear with me; Boundless discusses these hard issues more than some church groups) we are told, “Don’t have sex; discussion over.” If more details are given, we are told the facts such as: When you have sex, you bind yourself to a person who may hurt or leave you (through a chemical called oxytocin, for starters), you may get STDs, you may get pregnant, you’re not treating yourself with the respect you deserve (or the other person for that matter), etc.” And these statements are all true.
Unfortunately, another truth is not always emphasized: You can get bound and heartbroken in more actions than just sex.
I, for one, am saving myself for marriage, yet I still experienced real heartbreak — heartbreak that would have been minimized had I not encountered the bonding that happens when you get physical with someone who isn’t your spouse. The bonding itself is neutral; it’s the context that matters. Breakups can happen no matter what; sexual sin makes it infinitely harder to recover from them. One of these reasons is biological: oxytocin.
Did you know that oxytocin isn’t just released through sex, but it is also released in small doses through long hugs (see sources below)? I believe God intended this for good; it’s why we feel happier, more secure, and closer to a friend or family member when they give us a good hug. But it can be used for evil and heart-wrenching pain as well.
Imagine this: If your brain releases oxytocin on a scale, with hugging on one end and sex on the other end, how much of this powerful chemical are you releasing into your system with all the actions in between? How much pain and spiritual turmoil are you setting yourself up for? This bond is easy to create, but hard to break. And sex is not the only way to travel down heartbreak road.
I was once unaware of this. I thought that since there was no way I was having sex before marriage, I would be safe. I could play around a little and be risk-free: all the fun with none of the attachment. That turned out to be a lie. Pain and bonding comes with actions that lead up to sex, not just sex itself.
Another factor to remember is that oxytocin is meant to bond you to a person no matter who they are; when you’re married, this is great! You know this is the person God wants you to be with, and the more you bond, the better! But outside of marriage, you are still discovering if that person is the right guy or gal for you. Oxytocin can blind you to red flags of character or numb you to warnings from the Holy Spirit or mentors; the chemical-binding drive is that powerful. The power of the bond is not a bad thing; it’s the context that matters.
My challenge, then, is simple (and I am challenging myself as well!). If you’re dating someone, are friends with a member of the opposite gender, or in a serious relationship, minimize that oxytocin. Until you are ready to bond in a safe way — that means ideally no risk of them leaving or betraying you (in other words, marriage) — get to know that person solely through their actions of service, their spirituality, conversations, and fun dates. Wait to bond (minimizing or eliminating kissing, making out, even cuddling) until you are safely committed to them. Otherwise you risk attaching yourself to someone who may not be God’s intended spouse for you, thus risking breaking your heart, or theirs, or ending up in an unwise tumultuous relationship that will not end well. Trust God to help you find chemistry in the right context at the right time, and wait for that timing!
“And walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people” (Ephesians 5:2-4, NIV).
A Few Sources:
Azar, Beth (March 2011). Oxytocin’s other side. American Psychological Association. Vol. 42, No. 3. Print version: page 40. Online Version: http://www.apa.org/monitor/2011/03/oxytocin.aspx
Clemmons, Terrell. (October 29, 2013). Sexually Transmitted Unease: How Casual Sex Works Bad Chemistry from Good. Christian Apologetics Alliance (blog). Retrieved from: http://www.christianapologeticsalliance.com/2013/10/29/sexually-transmitted-unease-how-casual-sex-works-bad-chemistry-from-good/
Eastham, Chad; Farrel, Bill & Farrel, Pam (2009). Guys Are Waffles, Girls Are Spaghetti. Thomas Nelson: USA.
J. (2010-2013). Waiting for Sexual Intimacy. Hot, Holy, & Humorous (blog). Retrieved from: http://hotholyhumorous.com/tag/waiting-for-sex-until-marriage/?subscribe=success#blog_subscription-2
Erin M. Pearson is 23, unmarried, and loves to travel, read, work, and drink too much coffee.