Sex has made me do some dumb things over the years. Including ending up in a relationship I didn't plan, simply because I got attached when we hooked up. Why does sex create attachment like this, even when you know better? As it turns out, logic is no match for brain chemistry, and when you have sex, feelings naturally come along with it — whether you like it or not.
“It can be very common to feel attachment to someone after sex, since the brain releases oxytocin during arousal, stimulation of the genitals and nipples, intercourse, or orgasm,” sexologist Tanya M. Bass tells Elite Daily. “The release of this hormone after being physically intimate may cause a feeling of attachment and closeness.”
Oxytocin is known as the feel-good hormone, as it promotes feelings of love, bonding, and well-being. And if you’re wondering whether men get emotionally attached after sex as often as women, I’ll tell you this much: According to Bass, oxytocin is “found more abundantly in females.” This explains why women are oftentimes more likely to catch feelings after sex — while men are more likely to catch an Uber home. Of course, all genders can get mushy after hooking up.
Here are just a few other fun facts about the relationship between sex and those pesky sex feelings.
Attachment Is Driven By Oxytocin
During sex, the brain is flooded with oxytocin, which is called the “cuddle hormone” for a reason. As Carla Marie Manly, a clinical psychologist and relationship expert, previously told Elite Daily, oxytocin can create a sense of stability and intimacy in relationships — even if that stability and intimacy is only actually in your head. “When you are not with a partner who brings us a sense of loving comfort and connection, feelings of anxiety and stress tend to increase,” she said. “An increase in stress hormones (adrenaline and cortisol) are associated with depression, anxiety, and aggression.” The cure for that stress: having sex again.
Oxytocin Dependency Is Definitely A Thing
Have you ever had that friend (or maybe that friend is you… no judgment) who seem to be almost addicted to love? It's called oxytocin dependency, and the struggle is real. “Many people find pleasure and thrive off the feelings that this hormone produced,” says Bass. “The release of the hormone can increase testosterone production in many individuals which can increase libido, feelings of lust and attachment.” Oxytocin activates the reward center of the brain, creating a sense of euphoria. That cycle of reward can create an addiction to the neurochemical response to love. Yikes.
Phenylethylamine & Dopamine Also Play A Role
Oxytocin isn’t the only neurochemical reeking havoc in your brain during sex. According to Manly, phenylethylamine (the love molecule) and dopamine (the reward hormone) are also released, and once you experience that rush of chemicals, it’s natural to crave a repeat performance. “When you reconnect with your partner after a protracted absence, the brain often moves into the ‘courtship’ state of being flooded with phenylethylamine, oxytocin, and dopamine,” she said. “This leads to a strong desire to connect, have sex, and feel bonded to one’s partner.”
Parts Of Your Brain Shut Down During Sex
If you've ever thought your orgasm drove you "out of your mind," you're not actually that far off. As it turns out, the lateral orbitofrontal cortex actually shuts down during an orgasm. "[It’s] so overwhelmingly exciting, pleasurable, and rewarding that our brains during orgasm look almost identical to a brain on heroin," sexologist and author Dr. Jess O’Reilly previously told Elite Daily. "And since the lateral orbitofrontal cortex, which is the section behind the left eye responsible for sound decision-making, turns off completely during orgasm, we often toss reason to the wind when the prospect of sex presents itself."
Sexual Release Feels Good
This may seem obvious, but sex feels good, and when you experience that rush of feel-good chemicals, it’s easy to associate those positive feelings with your sexual partner. In your mind, it’s possible that person isn’t just someone with whom you had sex, but the someone who brought down your stress levels, heightened your senses, and temporarily sent your brain into overdrive. That’s pretty powerful stuff.
When you break it down and dig into the science, the attachment many people feel after sex can seem a lot less romantic. But it can also be a relief to know a lot of what you're feeling isn't something you can control. It's your brain, and those meddling hormones doing what they've evolved to do. So while you might not be able to stop yourself from getting attached, you might at least be able to recognize what's happening. And knowledge (especially about how not to get caught up) is power.
Tanya M. Bass, sexologist
Carla Marie Manly, clinical psychologist and relationship expert
Dr. Jess O’Reilly, sexologist and author
Editor's Note: This story has been updated by Elite Daily Staff.
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