Editor's note: Alexis has the week off. Here's a golden oldie from 2009.
Q: You often hear about some kind of hormone that kicks in when a woman has sex and makes her feel more emotionally attached. How does this cruel trick of nature really work? It seems true that women are generally more emotional about sex than men. This often makes me feel guilty about trying to seduce women, because I worry they'll be more hurt in the end. I often pass on sex, and I don't have nearly as much as I'd like to. I don't want to be promiscuous, and I have feelings, too. But obviously women also like sex, and the man is usually the one expected to make the move. How does a guy get over the guilt and get to more of what everyone wants?
A: You're referencing oxytocin, the "bonding hormone." It's released during childbirth and breastfeeding, as it promotes the bond between mother and offspring. It's also released by both men and women during sex, but for different reasons. Some researchers say that women release oxytocin to facilitate orgasm. In men, oxytocin is released to facilitate copulation in general, but not necessarily with the same partner.
If men are anything like the males of numerous species, you could theoretically mate all day and night, to clinical exhaustion, as long as you were consistently being introduced to new female partners. This phenomenon is called the Coolidge Effect, derived from an old legend in which President Coolidge and his wife visited a poultry farm. Mrs. Coolidge asked how often roosters mated, to which their guide answered "several times per day." She quipped that the guide should "mention that to Mr. Coolidge." So the president asked if the rooster always mated with the same hen. The guide informed him that, no, it was a different hen each time. The president replied, "tell that to Mrs. Coolidge."
Oxytocin also facilitates bonding by touch in women and men, but the bond it creates is more social than sexual. Like animals, human partners may bond for life, but they aren't in any way wired to mate only with each other for life. That "cruel trick" has also been scientifically proven: The effects of oxytocin are intensified by estrogen, but basically neutralized by testosterone. Blame it on the hormones, but it's true: Women want to cuddle after sex while men prefer to enjoy a nice brain-chemical crash and fall asleep.
Seeking to override oxytocin is a worthy cause, but the battle would be fought in vain. We can't change the fact that the majority of us are hard-wired to further the species. Not that I want you to go father 100 kids, just rest assured that your urges are instinctive and normal. Your compassion for female emotion is appreciated and I think you should continue to assuage your male guilt the same way you have been: by not having sex at the first opportunity. Not blowing your load on the first date is one small way to cheat nature, and it protects all parties while you get acquainted before taking the oxytocin plunge together.
Try three or four dates of kissing and cuddling without sexual contact. Also, telling the truth is a gesture of respect; you don't have to feel guilty about wanting sex if you're honest about it. What if you get it and then become instantly disinterested? It happens all the time, to both sexes, and it's just part of dating. Women get over being dumped -- eating chocolate and watching romantic comedies both boost phenylethylamine, a euphoric brain chemical -- so stop worrying about how a relationship might end when you haven't even started it yet.