A pair of studies conducted at Toronto universities and published in the journal Archives of Sexual Behavior examined the relationship between cuddling after sex and relationship satisfaction. The first study looked at data from people in romantic relationships and found that couples who cuddled for an extended period of time after having sex reported both higher sexual satisfaction and higher relationship satisfaction. The second study examined over 100 couples and found that engaging in longer cuddling sessions after sex could improve relationship satisfaction even three months after the fact.
It’s important to note that the duration of sex and foreplay did not predict relationship satisfaction; only the cuddling had this effect. The researchers note that these studies suggest that the after-sex period is a critical time to promote intimacy and bonding.
Cuddling = Oxytocin Release
Physical touch by another person, especially someone you are close to, triggers the release of oxytocin, a hormone secreted by the pituitary gland, a pea-sized organ at the base of the brain. Oxytocin plays a very important role in emotional bonding, as it improves trust and communication between people. Even playing with your dog triggers oxytocin release, causing you to feel more bonded to your furry friend.
Effects of Oxytocin
Oxytocin first starts playing a role in your life long before you are even born. A study published in the Journal of Psychological Science in 2007 discovered that a mother’s oxytocin levels during the first trimester of pregnancy are correlated with her tendency to engage in bonding behaviors with her new baby, for example playing with her child or singing to him or her. A higher level of bonding between mother and child will strengthen the relationship, even later in the child’s life.
Oxytocin levels skyrocket when someone falls in love. A study published in the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology found that new couples had double the amount of oxytocin found in pregnant women. This partially explains why falling in love with someone new brings such a rush.
Oxytocin seems to be highly linked to relationship happiness. Studies have shown that couples with higher oxytocin levels laugh together more, touch each other more, and finish each other’s sentences more. Experiments have even been done involving administering extra doses of oxytocin to people. Couples who had oxytocin sprayed into their nose had better communication and could solve disagreements more easily. They also had lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol.
Oxytocin is also responsible for the longevity of a relationship. Scientists have long known that oxytocin is necessary for rodents to stay loyal to their mates. A more recent study found that men in relationships who were administered extra oxytocin stood farther away from an attractive woman than men who weren’t given the oxytocin. Since single men didn’t see any effect from the higher oxytocin levels, researchers think that oxytocin could play a role in promoting fidelity. Other studies have demonstrated more clearly that couples with the highest oxytocin levels are most likely to still be together six months later.
Use Oxytocin to Your Advantage
If you’re interested in having a very satisfying, long-lasting relationship, keep in mind the relationship between oxytocin, physical touch and romantic love. As the cuddling study found, it does not matter very much how often you have sex, or how long sex lasts. What really matters is the physical affection experienced during cuddling after sex.
You can try cuddling after sex more than you usually do, giving each other sensual massages, showering together, holding hands more often and kissing more often. These and any other forms of affectionate physical touch will trigger the release of oxytocin for both of you. Find a form of physical touch both you and your partner enjoy, and make a habit of it.