A rather breathtaking entry in The Atlantic's online health blog reports that just the right amount of a hormone called oxytocin could keep your man from straying. Before we sprinkle it on our husband's oatmeal, however, we might want to investigate oxytocin a little further.
One of my favorite hormones, oxytocin is released by the pituitary gland in conjunction with the warm and wonderful experiences of pregnancy, childbirth, breastfeeding, touching and orgasm. That very same oxytocin has now been linked to faithfulness in men.
The trick would be to hit him with a dose of the hormone -- in the form of a nasal spray, no less -- moments before he has an encounter with another woman. Men in the cited study who were already in a monogamous relationship were more likely to keep their physical distance from an attractive woman when under the influence of a nasal spray containing oxytocin. Accounting for other variables, the researchers clearly found that oxytocin produced "potential fidelity-enhancing effects" in men who were already taken.
So is this hormone the answer to our relationship insecurities? The more scientific among us might argue that hormones play the only role in male fidelity, and in all behavior. The more poetic among us might counter that the heart responds to a higher calling than the chemical. As with all important life issues, however, the answer lies in the art of balance. Hormones undeniably affect our behavior: ask any HCG-flooded pregnant woman who has succumbed to torrential tears because of an innocuous comment, or any testosterone-fueled man who has literally "seen red" in a bout of rage. The hormones at work in our system compel us to act in the best interest of our own survival. But we are also creatures of reason, capable of learning to control our impulses, to consider consequences before we act, and even to behave selflessly. Our hormones matter, but their levels needn't rule our lives.
One danger of pursuing oxytocin as a cure for an unfaithful husband is that it bolsters the belief that there really is a magic pill that will fix what ails us, and that requires no work on our part. As long as we can medicate, our troubles will vaporize. It's not a healthy or helpful mentality: We support research into compounds that will help us lose weight or lower our cholesterol or cure cancer, but that will require no commitment on our part to live our daily lives in a healthier way. So now, with oxytocin's potential, if he's just not that into you, there's a pill (or a spray) for that.
The other danger is the belief that if we adhere to a formula, if we marry the ideal mate, one that comes equipped with a good job, a loving heart, a sense of humor, a nice family, a disease-free body, and a healthy level of oxytocin, the marriage itself will be foolproof. Because here's the thing I've learned about marriage, or one of the things: there are no guarantees, even for people with textbook hormone levels. There is no assurance that your mate will still be attracted to you once you've added 20 years of wrinkles or pounds or visible scalp or stretch marks. There is no way to know how the person to whom you are pledging your love and your future is going to change and grow and perhaps turn into someone quite different, as may you. When the hormones dry up or illness strikes or a job is lost or a child struggles or the future just looms like a scary pile of nothing going nowhere, there are no guarantees that things will get better, although they usually do. Much as I love the feelings produced by the release of oxytocin, I suspect that the durability of a brave and bruised marriage relies more on mutual respect, and the grace of a loving God, than on a spouse's hormonal patterns.
But, you know, I've been wrong before. Maybe a little oxytocin is just the ticket for an increase in fidelity, and a decrease in heartache. I wonder what the trademark name of a mass-marketed oxytocin-laced nasal spray would be. Some researchers have already nicknamed oxytocin "the cuddle drug." It could be the next pharmaceutical miracle.
These are the opinions of Valerie Schultz, not necessarily those of The Californian. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org