How to Boost Oxytocin When You're Single
Oxytocin is an important hormone your body releases when you fall in love, have an orgasm, give birth, breastfeed and more. Known as the bonding or cuddle hormone, oxytocin makes us want to be near people.
Oxytocin is one of the four "happy hormones", along with dopamine, serotonin and endorphins, so it may be beneficial to boost oxytocin.
"When you experience serotonin and dopamine, you feel good and start to tingle and glow. Oxytocin is that feeling and more," said licensed clinical psychologist Nancy Irwin, Psy.D., of Los Angeles. "You feel good, but there's also this extra need to attach, to touch. You feel connected on a spiritual, psychological and biological level."
But oxytocin release isn't limited to intimate moments. Anything that makes you feel like you're bonding with people—or pets—can release oxytocin and create the euphoric effects that go with it.
6 ways to increase oxytocin
Oxytocin can give you a feeling of empowerment when you're with like-minded people and help you feel connected to others. It acts as a chemical messenger and controls feelings of trust, cooperation, recognition and bonding.
Here's how to boost oxytocin levels without having sex:
1. Pet a furry friend
Studies show petting and cuddling pets can release oxytocin in both you and the animals, which is soothing for both parties, noted Tricia Wolanin, a clinical psychologist in Paris and author of "The Fragrance of Wanderlust."
"[When we pet animals] we can tangibly sense their appreciation and care for this act of acknowledgment and love," she added.
When Wolanin uses dogs in therapy sessions, she notices dramatic differences in clients who are generally depressed.
"For a moment, their spirits seemed to be lifted, smiles appeared on their faces and they were able to get out of their misery and find joy," Wolanin explained.
2. Volunteer for a worthy cause
Dedicating yourself to a cause can trigger an increase in oxytocin production, too.
"If you want to experience an attachment of pure loving energy, volunteering is a great way to do that," Irwin said. "When you care about a purpose or something bigger than yourself, you become attached to that cause and to other like-minded people."
Whether it's rescuing animals, saving the environment, teaching sports to at-risk children or working on a political campaign you're passionate about, find something that's an expression of who you are, she added.
3. Create deep, nonsexual relationships
Oxytocin is released when we feel connected to others, but not just romantic partners. Spending time with friends and family can reduce stress, promote happiness and help us feel supported.
"You could have a wonderful, deeply attached relationship with a niece, a nephew or with your grandchildren," Irwin said. "Anytime you have pure love—outside sexual attachment—for a person, animal or cause, you'll feel those oxytocin hormones released."
4. Try group exercise
While aerobic activities like swimming, jogging and gardening can release endorphins and serotonin, group activities such as intramural sports and swim meetups can release those happy hormones plus oxytocin.
Researchers have found the oxytocin released during team sports can lead to better performance as it facilitates trust and cooperation.
Another study found when positive social interactions coincide with increases in oxytocin, our brains get a feeling of reward. This creates a positive feedback loop in which the activities make us feel good, so we want to keep doing them.
5. Hug people
Hugging and other forms of nonsexual touching induce oxytocin release as well.
"We can receive the benefits from hugging friends and family, not just with a romantic partner," Wolanin said. "Try to feel the hug and extend it for several seconds. Often, we pull back too quickly before we can receive the positive effects."
For people who feel they don't receive enough physical touch, Wolanin recommended joining "cuddle puddles" or hiring professional cuddlers. A cuddle puddle is a party or an event specifically intended to allow people to experience nonsexual group physical intimacy through cuddling.
6. Gift yourself a massage or yoga session
Short on time? Schedule a quick massage for a fast burst of oxytocin. Research shows 15 minutes of massage can boost oxytocin levels in both the person receiving it and the massager.
"A massage is always physically healing and is a great act of self-love," Irwin explained. "It can help you attach to the love you have for yourself, which sounds crazy, but it gives you a solid base and raises your self-esteem."
Yoga is another form of self-care that can reduce anxiety and stress. One study showed that people who practiced yoga recorded higher levels of oxytocin. You can try partnered yoga or smaller classes with a teacher who makes adjustments to increase the human touch aspect.
Anytime is the time to feel the love
Oxytocin is one of the mood-boosting hormones that help us bond to people, groups, purpose and even pets. If you feel like your oxytocin levels are low, your strategy doesn't need to involve swiping through dating apps.
Instead, try treating yourself to a yoga class or massage, visiting a pet cafe if you don't have animals of your own or signing up for a volunteer event in your community. While it may not be the same sensation you get with an orgasm or a new partner, it'll undoubtedly make you feel better.