Encyclopedia of Sexuality and Gender

Living Edition
| Editors: Amy D. Lykins


Living reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-59531-3_1-1


Oxytocin is a nonapeptide hormone and neurotransmitter involved in numerous sexual, reproductive, affiliative, and prosocial features in men and women.


Sources and Secretion

Oxytocin, the principle uterine-contracting and milk-ejecting hormone of the posterior pituitary, was discovered by Henry Dale in 1906 and was named in 1920 (oxy = quick, tocin = birth). It is a nonapeptide and was the first polypeptide hormone to be sequenced and synthesized in biologically active form by Du Vigneaud et al. 1954, which won him the Nobel Prize for chemistry in 1955. It is now known that it has a wide spectrum of actions acting not only at the peripheral organ level but centrally as a neuromodulator/neurotransmitter.

Central Actions

Centrally, oxytocin is made in the body of the neurosecretory cells of the hypothalamic supraoptic and paraventricular nuclei and is released into the blood stream from the ends of their axons in the posterior pituitary. It is also released...

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.


  1. Andersson, K. E. (2011). Mechanisms of penile erection and basis for pharmacological treatment of erectile dysfunction. Pharmacy Review, 63, 811–859.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Blaicher, W., Gruber, D., Bieglmayer, C., Blaicher, A. M., Knogler, W., & Huber, J. C. V. (1999). The role of oxytocin in relation to female sexual arousal. Gynecologic and Obstetric Investigation, 47, 125–126.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Boccia, M. L., Petrusz, P., Suzuki, K., Marson, L., & Pedersen, C. A. (2013). Immunohistochemical localization of oxytocin receptors in human brain. Neuroscience, 253, 155–164.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Born, J., Lange, T., Kern, W., McGregor, G. P., Bickel, U., & Fehm, K. L. (2002). Sniffing neuropeptides: A intranasal approach to the human brain. Nature Neuroscience, 5, 514–516.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Burri, A., Heinrichs, M., Schedlowski, M., & Kruger, T. H. (2008). The acute effects of intranasal oxytocin administration on endocrine and sexual function in men. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 35, 591–600.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Carmichael, M. S., Humbert, R., Dixen, J., Palmisano, G., Greenleaf, W., & Davidson, J. M. (1987). Plasma oxytocin increases in the human sexual response. The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, 64, 27–31.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Churchland, P. S., & Winkelman, P. (2012). Modulating social behaviour with oxytocin: How does it work? What does it mean? Hormones and Behavior, 62, 357–370.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Cochran, D., Fallon, D., Hill, M., & Frazier, J. A. (2013). The role of oxytocin in psychiatric disorders: A review of biological and therapeutic research findings. Harvard Review of Psychiatry, 21, 219–247.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Daughters, K., Manstead, A. S. R., Hubble, K., Reeees, A., Thapar, A., & van Goozen, H. M. (2015). Salivary oxytecin cincentrations in males following intranasal administration of oxytocin: A doubleblind, cross-over study. PLoS One, 10, e01451054.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Du Vigneaud, V. R. C., Swan, J. M., Roberts, C. W., & Katsoyannis, P. G. (1954). Oxytocin: Synthesis. Journal of the American Chemical Society, 76, 315–321.Google Scholar
  11. Evans, S. L., Dal Monte, O., Noble, P., & Averbeck, B. B. (2014). Intranasal oxytocin effects on social cognition: A critique. Brain Research, 1580, 69–77.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Feldman, R. (2012). Oxytocin and social affiliation in humans. Hormones and Behavior, 61, 380–391.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Filippi, S., Vignozzi, L., Vannell, G. B., Ledda, F., Forti, G., & Maggi, M. (2003). Role of oxytocin in the ejaculatory process. Journal of Endocrinological Investigation, 26(3 Suppl), 82–86.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  14. Gimpl, G., & Farenholz, F. (2001). The oxytocin receptor system: Structure, function and regulation. Physiological Reviews, 81, 629–683.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Grinevich, V., Knobloch-Bollman, H. S., Eliva, M., Busnelli, M., & Chini, B. (2016). Assembling the puzzle: Pathways of oxytocin signaling in the brain. Biological Psychiatry, 79, 155–164.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Heinrichs, M., Meinlschmidt, G., Wippich, W., Ehrlet, U., & Hellhammer, D. H. (2004). Selective amnesic effects on human memory. Physiology & Behavior, 83, 31–38.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Insel, T. R. (2010). The challenge of translation in social neuroscience: A review of oxytocin, vasopressin, and affiliative behaviour. Neuron, 65, 768–779.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Insel, T. R., & Hulihan, T. J. (1995). A gender –specific mechanism for pair bonding: Oxytocin and partner preference in monogamous voles. Behavioral Neuroscience, 109, 782–789.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. IsHak, W. W., Berman, D. S., & Peters, A. (2008). Male anorgasmia treated with oxytocin. The Journal of Sexual Medicine, 5, 1022–1024.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. IsHak, W. W., Kahloon, M., & Fakhry, H. (2011). Oxytocin role in enhancing well-being: A literature review. Journal of Affective Disorders, 130, 1–9.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Javor, A., Riedl, R., Kindermann, H., Brandstätter, W., Ransmayr, G., & Gabriel, M. (2014). Correlation of plasma and salivary oxytocin in healthy young men- experimental evidence. Neuro Endocrinology Letters, 35, 470–473.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  22. Kruger, T. H., Haake, P., Chereath, D., Knapp, W., Janssen, O. E., Exton, M. S., et al. (2003). Specificity if the neuroendocrine response to orgasm during sexual arousal in men. The Journal of Endocrinology, 177, 57–64.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Leng, G., & Ludwig, M. (2016). Intranasal oxytocin: Myths and delusions. Biological Psychiatry, 79, 243–265.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Levin, R. J. (2011). Can the controversy about the putative role of the human female orgasm in sperm transport be settled with our current physiological knowledge of coitus? The Journal of Sexual Medicine, 8, 1566–1578.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Levin, R. J. (2017a). The oxytocin released by the human female orgasm boosts sperm transport to enhance fertility- a new review of an outdated zombie concept. Journal of Pharmacology & Clinical Toxicology, 5, 1096.Google Scholar
  26. Levin, R. J. (2017b). Exceptionalism is not exceptional in relation to sexual and reproduction mechanisms: Contrasts of human and animal sexuality. Clinical Anatomy, 30, 940–945.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Loup, F., Tribollet, E., Dubois-Dauphin, M., & Dreyfus, J. J. (1991). Localization of high-affinity binding sites for oxytocin and vasopressin in the human brain. An autoradiographic study. Brain Research, 555, 220–232.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Murphy, M. R., Seckl, J. R., Burton, S., Checkley, S. A., & Lightman, S. L. (1987). Changes in oxytocin and vasopressin secretion during sexual activity in men. The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, 66, 738–741.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Quintana, D. S., Smerud, K. T., Andreassen, O. A., & Djupesland, P. G. (2018). Evidence for oxytocin intranasal delivery to the brain: Recent advances and future perspectives. Therapeutic Delivery, 9, 515–525.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Quintana, D. S., Westlye, L. T., Smerud, K. T., Mahmoud, R. A., Andreassen, O. E., & Djupesland, P. G. (2018). Saliva oxytocin measures do not reflect peripheral plasma concentrations after intranasal oxytocin administration in men. Hormones and Behavior, 102, 85–92.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Riedl, R., & Javor, A. (2012). The biology of trust: Integrating evidence from genetics, endocrinology, and functiona lbrain imaging. Journal of Neuroscience, Psychology, and Economics, 5, 63–91.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Ross, H. E., & Young, L. J. (2009). Oxytocin and the neural mechanisms regulating social cognition and affiliative behaviour. Frontiers in Neuroendocrinology, 30, 534–547.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Thackare, H., Nicholson, H. D., & Whittington, K. (2006). Oxytocin- its role in male reproduction and new potential therapeutic uses. Human Reproduction Update, 12, 437–448.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Uckert, S., Becker, A. J., Ness, B. O., Stief, C. G., Scheller, F., Knapp, W. H., et al. (2003). Oxytocin plasma levels in the systemic and cavernous blood of healthy males during different penile conditions. World Journal of Urology, 20, 323–326.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  35. Williams, J. R., Insel, T. R., Harbaugh, C. R., & Carter, S. C. (1994). Oxytocin administered centrally facilitates formation of a partner preference in female prairie voles (Microtus ochrogaster). Journal of Neuroendocrinology, 6, 247–250.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Independent Research WorkerSheffieldUK