Tension relief — that’s what good lovin’ brings, says Stamford. “Sex and love are probably the Rodney Dangerfield of stress management. Because of all the negative energy, we take in during the day, it’s a very positive benefit.”
Kissing is also “a sensual meditation,” she says. “It stops the buzz in your mind, it quells anxiety, and it heightens the experience of being present in the moment. It actually produces a lot of the physiological changes that meditation produces.”
And while kissing may be nature’s way of “opening the door to the sexual experience,” she says, “it also has all that lusciousness that we need to pull us out of the mundane and the ordinary and take us into moments of the extraordinary.
The brain contains “a huge amount of receptors devoted to picking sensations from the lips,” Fisher says. “When people have been stabbed in the back, they often don’t know it. They think someone has pounded them with their fist because there aren’t many receptor sites for nerve endings.”
Fisher. “We know that massaging someone produces increased levels of oxytocin, which is a calming hormone. So there’s every reason to think kissing is extremely calming if you know the person well, or extremely stimulating if you are in love with somebody.”
Studies of rodents — voles, specifically — have shown that oxytocin makes a mother vole become attached to its offspring, says Larry Young, Ph.D. professor of psychiatry in the Center for Behavioral Neuroscience at Emory University Medical School in Atlanta.
Whether a guy vole sticks around “afterward” seems to be driven by oxytocin, Young tells WebMD.
Prairie voles are the only vole species that mate for life; their genetic makeup drives them to produce satisfying amounts of oxytocin. On the other hand, mountain voles are loners and breed promiscuously; they produce virtually no oxytocin.
In humans, this translates into the bonding benefits of kissing, foreplay, every bit of touching you do.
Here’s a tip: “One of most powerful releases of oxytocin is stimulation of the nipples,” Young tells WebMD. It’s the same biological mechanism that triggers milk flow during nursing. Sucking triggers oxytocin release, and thus the bond is created.
Humans, interestingly enough, are the only species that includes nipple stimulation in lovemaking, he adds.
That rush that sweeps through your body, during those particularly great kisses? Fisher knows it well.
“Kissing is contextual,” she says. “A kiss can be wildly sexual, wildly romantic, or it can be deeply gratifying because it’s an affirmation of attachment. Kissing somebody for the first time, rather than the 200th or 2,000th time, creates a situation of incredible novelty.”
That rush you feel is probably from two natural stimulants — dopamine and norepinephrine, Fisher says. “They tend to be activated when you get into a novel situation.”
Fisher says there are three different stages one typically goes through: Lust — the craving for sexual gratification
Romantic love — the feeling of giddiness, euphoria, sleeplessness, and loss of appetite when you meet a new love
attachment — that sense of security when you find a long-term partner.
“Each of these is associated with different chemical systems in the brain,” says Fisher. Sex drive and lust are triggered by testosterone, in both men and women. Dopamine and norepinephrine kick in when romance begins. Oxytocin is a factor in at the attachment phase, bringing the sense of calm and peace when you find “the one.”
If you’re in the midst of a “mad love affair, it’s quite possible you simply feel levels of dopamine, that zing of romantic infatuation,” Fisher tells WebMD. “If all you’re doing is having a sexual fling with someone you like very well — but are not in love with and don’t feel attached to — then all you may feel is sex drive, the effects of testosterone.”
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