Monday, May 27, 2013

The hormone of love just to do with sex

It's been more than a decade since oxytocin was first heralded asthe "hormone of love" -- a distinction that came with optimistic predictions for future drug therapies. It was just a matter of time before an oxytocin nasal spray would be available on pharmacy shelves, with the potential to cure shyness and dampen anxiety and, perhaps, even treat the social deficits of autism.
The excitement was not confined to the popular press. The early animal studies, which showed a link between oxytocin and sociability, generated considerable interest in scientific circles as well, and indeed led to a decade of intense study of the hormone. That search has in some ways been disappointing, producing inconsistent and weak effects, but it has not been fruitless. Instead, it has led scientists to take a still hopeful but much more nuanced view of the hormone of love. The question now is not whether oxytocin has beneficial effects, but under what circumstances and for whom does it have these effects?
That's the view of Jennifer Bartz of McGill University, one of the leading researchers in an ongoing reevaluation of the evidence about oxytocin. Her position now, which she discussed this week at the meeting of the Association for Psychological Science in Washington, D.C., is that the benefits of the hormone -- including an oxytocin drug, in the form of a nasal spray -- depend on both the person and the situation. Therapies of the future, she predicts, will be much more individualized than originally predicted.
Consider the effects on emotional intelligence, or what scientists call "social cognition." This includes our ability to detect others' emotions, to take another's point of view, to empathize. Several studies have shown beneficial effects on these crucial social skills -- including benefits for those with disorders like autism. But other studies have found no benefits. Instead of being discouraged in this line of inquiry, Bartz has examined the results more closely and arrived at a more complex conclusion: Oxytocin appears to improve empathic accuracy for those who are socially less proficient to begin with, but not for those who are more proficient. In other words, the drug appears to improve emotional intelligence, but only for some and only to a certain level. These mixed results could still be promising for those with social deficits, such as those with autistic spectrum disorders. But an empathy drug for the general population is probably not in the cards.
Bartz has also been examining the evidence regarding oxytocin and trust. Trust is one of a suite of behaviors essential for human bonding, and the results here have also been decidedly mixed. In fact, some studies have found that oxytocin leads to the opposite of trust -- envy and suspicion and insecure attachment to others. Again, however, when Bartz scrutinized the mixed findings more closely, she found an intriguing pattern: Oxytocin often boosts trust (and cooperation), but trust evaporates when other people are seen as untrustworthy -- or when they are simply unfamiliar. In other words, oxytocin can enhance trust or mistrust, depending on the social situation.
These are just two examples of how the hormone oxytocin -- administered as a drug -- can produce paradoxical effects, effects that depend on the drug's interaction with the individual and the individual's life situation. These patterns of findings are also helping Bartz illuminate the basic mechanisms at play in the hormone's effects. It might be that the hormone reduces anxiety, for example, and that dampened anxiety in turn affects emotional intelligence and trust and other skills. Or perhaps the drug works by boosting motivation to affiliate with others. Or -- and this is the explanation Bartz prefers based on the evidence so far -- it could be that oxytocin enhances the perception of social cues in the world.
Enhancing meaningful cues -- others' facial expressions, for example -- could explain both the positive and negative downstream consequences of the drug. That is, heightened social attention would be expected to magnify empathy and trust toward reliable others, but undermine them in the face of uncertainty or competition. It's likely, Bartz believes, that all of these psychological mechanisms come into play simultaneously.
All this evidence suggests that future therapies will have to be more strategic. One possibility, Bartz believes, is that drug therapy might someday be combined with psychological interventions to produce very specific effects. For example, drug therapy might be combined with training in face processing or emotion recognition to target the deficits of autism--one of the promises first heralded more than a decade ago.
Extra-marital affairs work for those who want that extra spice, says Rupali Dean.
Infidelity is perhaps as old as marriage. And, along with the growing tribe of cheating spouses, there are some partners who remain blissfully unaware of any damage to their marriage.
Interestingly, the Infidelity Facts website states that up to 41 per cent of spouses who cheat actually admit to their affair. "It's nothing new, but more in the open now," says Sarika Pilot Chaudhry.
Many, who are prone to experimenting, do it guilt-free as long as they're meeting "responsibilities" in the domestic space. Mrs and Mr Shah were the most perfect couple; they made the most brilliant hosts at parties and seemed inseparable. Later, the husband was seen romancing Nirali in another city. He reasoned, "I love my wife, but since we have been married for so long, I am a bit bored and need that excitement. Nirali is also married, so it's 'safe'! I love it when she accompanies me on an official trip as we can spend time exclusively. I am enjoying it while it lasts."
Expert speak
Psychiatrist Dr Himanshu Saxena believes males by nature are polygamous. He agrees that Indians are more open about expressing their sexuality now. "Often, it's marital disharmony that leads to extra-marital affairs. In arranged marriages, the spouses may not click, and look for options elsewhere. A liberal media and generally more openness with the opposite sex, such as colleagues, bring people closer emotionally and sexually." He adds, "The seven-year itch persists and if marital relations stale, a fresh person appears more interesting."
No guilt!
For some, an affair provides something lacking in their own marriage, which could be sex or mental stimulation. Rajesh Goyal, married for 12 years and recently blessed with a son says, "I don't feel guilty. My wife has no reason to complain; I give her all that a loving husband would, but my girlfriend is my ideal companion and lover. And, one can't marry everyone they love, right?"
For Maya, it's just about sex, "I love my husband deeply and can't dream of any other man in my life. Unfortunately, he has a low libido and I don't want to lead the life of a nun; I am young and have my desires, so if it's a man that excites me, I simply have to go ahead."
Then there are the serial cheaters or the sex addicts! 'Sex is wilder and more exciting with a stranger," shares Krishna.
Is it worth it?
Says socialite Sonu Wassan, "To bring back the spark in the marriage, an affair can act as a catalyst." Adds Arjun Sawhney, who runs a PR firm, "Humans are not monogamous, so if you feel it's fine and your partner is okay with it, go for it. Variety is the spice of life."
Comedian Gurpreet Ghuggi warns, "I think one gets into this purely for sex and it's not worth risking your marriage."
In 'open marriages', individuals have to learn the art of backing off before things become too hot to handle. Ultimately, whether it's an affair of the mind or for sexual pleasure, it's the families they want to go home to!
Fifty Shades of Grey is a strange book. There is so much sex in it, and yet you don't feel sufficiently motivated to finish it in one read. Though it takes no more than fifty pages to unravel the plot, you continue reading, mostly out of curiosity over why the world is nuts about it. Like most books Fifty Shades has its moments, but unlike the others boasts of a peculiarly cheesy plot surrounding a stinking rich, obsessive young man of 27, Christian Grey, who has a herculean appetite for BDSM, can't help his stalking tendencies, and goes around with a bizarre dominant-submissive contract.
Barring Christian's heart-stopping looks, a fine business acumen that makes him the owner of the million dollar Grey Enterprise, prowess on the piano, knack for foreign languages, exotic wine, global cuisine, branded clothes, fancy cars, flying choppers and a curious fetish for sex, he is an everyday lover. Only he does not believe in love. While his 'sex' interest Anastasia Steele, a literature student, is an incurable romantic who believes her hero should be straight out of a classic novel. Yet she finds herself reeling under Christian's leery gaze right from the first time she walked into his office to interview him for the college journal in place of her best friend and room mate Katherine Kavanagh (Kate). Sparks fly, hearts pound, cheeks flush, butterflies swarm, and a weird creature called 'inner goddess' (coined by our author EL James, more like a rhetoric for Anastasia's conscience) leaps out of the shadow and pirouettes at the thought of having sex, which is quite all the time.
Ana and Christian share a searing chemistry since their first meeting. He showers her with expensive presents from laptop, lingerie to a luxury car, which Ana reluctantly accepts, for she would have liked a more traditional lover who talks to her, lets her touch him, and most importantly, makes love to her. But Ana just can't get him to talk, far less understand his obsession for bondage and why he wants her in pain when they have sex. Ana's quandary on many an occasion touches the readers, particularly when she weeps into her pillow for falling for a man who was incapable of love. She tries in vain to ferret out details of his past life, the women he came in touch with, but comes out disillusioned. A prickly 'inner goddess' (read conscience) notwithstanding, Ana embarks on a robotic sex marathon with Christian in every imaginable place on earth, and discovers her own erotic desires in the process. She loves everything Christian makes her do, considering she was a prudish little virgin when he initiated her into hardcore bondage sex. And Christian on his part only expresses fascination for Ana, no warmth whatsoever. A cold lover Mr. Grey, and that's where the book despite being make believe scores. At your wits end by now you wish to find out straight, without any more waffle on screaming orgasms and moaning, what holds him back, and why he won't "do love". Christian so much as hesitates to kiss Ana for the first time because they haven't signed the contract involving a dominant and a submissive, where he as a dominant would present her with terms and conditions on things to do in order to be a successful and pleasurable sub. Full of absurd clauses, the contract can have you squirming with discomfort. Not sure if that too is a high-point of the novel.
You might like Katherine Kavanagh's character, who like a true friend shows concern for Ana, chastises her, and tries her best to shield her from the obsessive, good-looking billionaire. The plot pitches post the initial lingerie exchange and air plane rides, but falls flat soon after, making you put it away to do some other reading in the meantime. But yes, you do get back to it eventually, like the rest of the world.

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