For years the scientific community recognized oxytocin as a brain chemical that was released in a mother and her newborn. As more research has been done, we understand that oxytocin is released during intimate touch, including sex. A unique thing happens when oxytocin is released. It builds a bond of trust. Yep, trust isn’t just happening on an emotional level, it is physiological as well.
Think about little kids and their peer or sibling interactions for a moment. The first time my oldest daughter came to me in tears because, during a playdate, her best friend told her she didn’t like her anymore. She didn’t want to be friends. They were only 4, but the look on her face was pure agony for me. Trust was broken. Thankfully, they found a way back from the life altering squabble about who was deciding the game to play that day; trust was restored. They could just move forward.
Let’s use that analogy to paint a picture. When a teen engages in sex, oxytocin is released. That chemical just told their brain that it not only felt good (dopamine), but to build a bond of trust (oxytocin). The brain naturally causes them to crave that bonding again.
What happens when the bond is broken? After all, what are the chances that these teens have the maturity to be in a committed relationship for the rest of their lives?
Or maybe they are simply pressured by peers into the hook-up culture that movies and media grossly glamorize. But the movie won’t show the part where the brain will actually take steps of self protection. The more often the pair-bond is broken, after all the neurotransmitters told the brain that they were to be connected and to crave one another, then the brain makes some shifts. The way the synapses fire change to adjust to breaking the bonds. A teen with an early sexual debut, with several broken pair-bonds, will have a significant amount of effort to shift their brains in order to restore it to the originally intended state. To release oxytocin during sex, then bonding and building trust.
In the book, Hooked, by McIlhaney and McKissic-Bush, they give this illustration as an example: The Chinese language does not have words with the sounds of R or L from the English language. Children who grow up in a culture who speak Chinese only do not need these sounds, so the language center of their brains do not develop the nerve connection. Basically, their brains don’t tell their mouths how to form that sound. However, with effort, a conscious choice can over time make a shift to the brain. Let me repeat that. With effort, a conscious choice can over time make a shift to the brain.
But who knows that? Likely, you didn’t have these facts available as a teen or even a young adult. I certainly did not. Unfortunately, this information will not be found in any of the recommended books or websites provided as resources for our kids in public school. The focus is dominantly about avoiding pregnancy and STDs. Little, if anything addresses their mental health.
Is their mental health genuinely impacted by sex? The Add Health study, conducted with a group of about 20,000 7th-12th graders, showed that adolescent boys and girls who had an early sexual debut were 3x more likely to be depressed. Girls were 3x more likely to commit suicide; boys 7x more likely to commit suicide as opposed to virgins. These statistics are a slap in the face to the educational community who says, “They are going to have sex anyway. They just need to be protected from disease and pregnancy.” What about protecting their life?
In the current culture that waves a banner for sexual choice, why is there tolerance for everything but avoidance? We can show our kids to not just tolerate it, but see the health value in it. My next post will detail some practical steps to help our children avoid risky behaviors and to protect their brains.
Choose Health Founder and Lead Educator