Skip to main content

Oxytocin and Human Sexuality: Recent Developments


Purpose of Review

The purpose of the present review is to outline what is currently known about oxytocin and human sexual behavior. The present review utilizes existing research to outline an important question remaining in the field; does oxytocin facilitate sexual behavior or is it simply a result of the said behavior?

Recent Findings

Existing studies which measure oxytocin by way of blood or saliva reliably find elevations in oxytocin during sexual arousal and following orgasm. In contrast, studies which administer oxytocin intranasally report fewer significant results surrounding arousal and orgasm.


Existing research has yet to fully understand the function of oxytocin. Because of long-standing questions such as function, future research should pay close attention to the context of sexual activity (masturbation, partnered sex) and the specific types of pairings involved (sex with a long term versus a new partner and same-sex versus other-sex contact). Similarly researchers should carefully consider the mode of oxytocin assessment in consideration of question/s they wish to answer.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.


Papers of particular interest, published recently, have been highlighted as: • Of importance

  1. Bancroft J. The endocrinology of sexual arousal. J Endocrinol. 2005;186(3):411–27.

    Article  PubMed  CAS  Google Scholar 

  2. Blaicher W, Gruber D, Bieglmayer C, Blaicher AM, Knogler W, Huber JC. The role of oxytocin in relation to female sexual arousal. Gynecol Obstet Investig. 1999;47(2):125–6.

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  3. Carter CS. Oxytocin and sexual behavior. Neurosci Biobehav Rev. 1992;16(2):131–44.

    Article  PubMed  CAS  Google Scholar 

  4. Veening JG, De Jong TR, Waldinger MD, Korte SM, Olivier B. The role of oxytocin in male and female reproductive behavior. Eur J Pharmacol. 2015;753:209–28.

    Article  PubMed  CAS  Google Scholar 

  5. Gimpl G, Fahrenholz F. The oxytocin receptor system: structure, function, and regulation. Physiol Rev. 2001;81(2):629–83.

    Article  PubMed  CAS  Google Scholar 

  6. Carmichael MS, Warburton VL, Dixen J, Davidson JM. Relationships among cardiovascular, muscular, and oxytocin responses during human sexual activity. Arch Sex Behav. 1994;23(1):59–79.

    Article  PubMed  CAS  Google Scholar 

  7. Murphy MR, Seckl JR, Burton S, Checkley SA, Lightman SL. Changes in oxytocin and vasopressin secretion during sexual activity in men. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 1987;65(4):738–41.

    Article  PubMed  CAS  Google Scholar 

  8. Carmichael MS, Humbert R, Dixen J, Palmisano G, Greenleaf W, Davidson JM. Plasma oxytocin increases in the human sexual response. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 1987;64(1):27–31.

    Article  PubMed  CAS  Google Scholar 

  9. de Jong TR, Menon R, Bludau A, Grund T, Biermeier V, Klampfl SM, et al. Salivary oxytocin concentrations in response to running, sexual self-stimulation, breastfeeding and the TSST: the Regensburg oxytocin challenge (ROC) study. Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2015;62:381–8.

    Article  PubMed  CAS  Google Scholar 

  10. • Alley J, Diamond LM, Lipschitz DL, Grewen K. Associations between oxytocin and cortisol reactivity and recovery in response to psychological stress and sexual arousal. Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2019;106:47–56. This paper presents findings outlining similarities and differences in oxytocin and cortisol responses across both an arousal assessment and stress assessment.

    Article  PubMed  CAS  Google Scholar 

  11. Khajehei M, Behroozpour E. Endorphins, oxytocin, sexuality and romantic relationships. World J Obstet Gynecol. 2018;7(2):17–23.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  12. Burri A, Heinrichs M, Schedlowski M, Kruger TH. The acute effects of intranasal oxytocin administration on endocrine and sexual function in males. Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2008;33(5):591–600.

    Article  PubMed  CAS  Google Scholar 

  13. • Kruger TH, Deiter F, Zhang Y, Jung S, Schippert C, Kahl K G, ... & Hartmann U (2018). Effects of intranasal oxytocin administration on sexual functions in healthy women: a laboratory paradigm. Journal of Clinical Psychopharmacology, 38(3), 239–242. doi: This paper presents the results of a comprehensive study examining the influence of intranasal oxytocin administration on sexual arousal, orgasm and post orgasm satiety.

  14. Born J, Lange T, Kern W, McGregor GP, Bickel U, Fehm HL. Sniffing neuropeptides: a transnasal approach to the human brain. Nat Neurosci. 2002;5(6):514–6.

    Article  PubMed  CAS  Google Scholar 

  15. Behnia B, Heinrichs M, Bergmann W, Jung S, Germann J, Schedlowski M, et al. Differential effects of intranasal oxytocin on sexual experiences and partner interactions in couples. Horm Behav. 2014;65(3):308–18.

    Article  PubMed  CAS  Google Scholar 

  16. Muin DA, Wolzt M, Marculescu, R, Rezaei SS, Salama M, Fuchs C, ... & Bayerle-Eder M (2015). Effect of long-term intranasal oxytocin on sexual dysfunction in premenopausal and postmenopausal women: a randomized trial. Fertil Steril 104(3), 715–723.

  17. Caruso S, Mauro D, Scalia G, Palermo CI, Rapisarda AMC, Cianci A. Oxytocin plasma levels in orgasmic and anorgasmic women. Gynecol Endocrinol. 2018;34(1):69–72.

    Article  PubMed  CAS  Google Scholar 

  18. Wheatley JR, Puts DA. Evolutionary science of female orgasm. In: In The evolution of sexuality. Cham: Springer; 2015. p. 123–48.

    Chapter  Google Scholar 

  19. Levin RJ. The human female orgasm: a critical evaluation of its proposed reproductive functions. Sex Relatsh Ther. 2011;26(4):301–14.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  20. Young LJ, Wang Z. The neurobiology of pair bonding. Nat Neurosci. 2004;7(10):1048–54.

    Article  PubMed  CAS  Google Scholar 

  21. Costa RM, Brody S. Women’s relationship quality is associated with specifically penile-vaginal intercourse orgasm and frequency. J Sex Marital Ther. 2007;33(4):319–27.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  22. Fleischman DS. An evolutionary behaviorist perspective on orgasm. Socioaffect Neurosci Psychol. 2016;6(1):32130.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  23. Coria-Avila GA, Herrera-Covarrubias D, Ismail N, Pfaus JG. The role of orgasm in the development and shaping of partner preferences. Socioaffect Neurosci Psychol. 2016;6(1):31815.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  24. • Moscovice LR, Surbeck M, Fruth B, Hohmann G, Jaeggi AV, Deschner T. The cooperative sex: sexual interactions among female bonobos are linked to increases in oxytocin, proximity and coalitions. Horm Behav. 2019;116:104581. This paper presents the results of a unique study examining differences in oxytocin levels following female-female and male-female sexual interactions between bonobo apes.

    Article  PubMed  CAS  Google Scholar 

  25. Hiller J. Gender differences in sexual motivation. J Men’s Health Gender. 2005;2(3):339–45.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  26. Heiman JR. Sexual dysfunction: overview of prevalence, etiological factors, and treatments. J Sex Res. 2002;39(1):73–8.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  27. Laumann EO, Paik A, Rosen RC. Sexual dysfunction in the United States: prevalence and predictors. J Am Med Assoc. 1999;281(6):537–44.

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  28. Uvnäs-Moberg K. Oxytocin may mediate the benefits of positive social interaction and emotions. Psychoneuroendocrinology. 1998;23(8):819–35.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to Jenna C. Alley.

Ethics declarations

Conflict of Interest

Jenna C. Alley and Lisa M. Diamond both declare no conflicts of interest.

Human and Animal Rights and Informed Consent

This article does not contain any studies with human or animal subjects performed by any of the authors.

Additional information

Publisher’s Note

Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

This article is part of the Topical Collection on Preclinical and Psychophysiology

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Alley, J.C., Diamond, L.M. Oxytocin and Human Sexuality: Recent Developments. Curr Sex Health Rep 12, 182–185 (2020).

Download citation

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:


  • Oxytocin
  • Sexual behavior
  • Sexual arousal
  • Orgasm
  • Sexual satiety