Although we may not be aware that these quick-firing messengers are at play, hormones play a large role in sex and relationships for men and women.
Neurohormones are hormones secreted by the nervous system and controlled by neurons in the brain. Examples of these hormones include oxytocin, testosterone, vasopressin, and cortisol, as well as estrogen and progesterone.
Not only do men’s and women’s brains have differing levels of hormones, but our brains are also impacted differently by these chemicals. For example, when men and women reach orgasm, their brains are flooded with feel-good endorphins and the brain chemical oxytocin. Oxytocin (otherwise known as the “cuddle hormone”) creates feelings of intimacy and bonding.) Men might be less impacted by oxytocin because of higher levels of testosterone in the brain, which explains why they might be more likely to enjoy sex without feeling a sense of commitment and why one-night stands and casual sex might come easier to them. Women, on the other hand, are more susceptible to the effects of oxytocin, which could be why many women crave intimacy and cuddling after sex.
Vasopressin, another hormone found in both men and women, also seems to affect each gender differently. Vasopressin plays a role in bonding behavior, and it can also help a person size up a social situation and respond appropriately. A recent study from Bowdoin College revealed the dissimilar reactions among the genders. Study participants were given vasopressin and then asked to view pictures of smiling or frowning individuals. Men took a more aggressive stance when viewing the pictures and judged them more harshly, while women tended to respond positively to the photos.
The same disparate reactions are true in the case of the stress hormone cortisol, which can cause the fight-or-flight response in both men and women, though it seems that women also go into the tend-and-befriend mode. In other words, while men are socialized to be aggressive in stressful situations, women tend to make strong social connections and reach out to others to weather life’s storm.
Gender differences with regard to hormones can have a huge impact on sex and relationships because it means that the day-to-day stresses of life can affect a couple differently. While he wants to retreat into himself (flight) and relax with a beer, she might want to sit down and hear all about his day (befriend) to help soothe him. Additionally, while his increased levels of cortisol might rev up his energy and put him in the mood for sex (a way to release pent-up energy and enjoy physical release), cortisol might make her want to seek out the softer side of the relationship (such as cuddling, talking, relaxing, etc.). No wonder it can sometimes feel like men and women are from different planets!
As you can see, hormones play a huge role in our sexual lives and communication styles, and yet we might not even be aware that these chemicals are directing our moods and desires. By getting to know your hormones better and learningmore about your brain makeup, you can better understand your desires and needs and keep your relationship functioning at its highest level.
Source: Dr. Laura Berman