Sunday, March 04, 2007

Testosterone Can't Be Anti-Snuggling

Skimming through the Yahoo! "news" highlights, I saw this column with the following explanation for why "bad boys" don't get attached to women that they sleep with, and why women shouldn't fall for them:

"...when a woman has sex, she releases oxytocin and bonds with her partner. Oxytocin is called the "snuggle chemical." It triggers orgasm, but it's also released when a mother breast-feeds. It makes you feel close and connected and vulnerable. The effects of oxytocin are offset by testosterone, so a high-testosterone person doesn't bond from having sex. And there you have it: Bad boys don't get attached!"

This can't be true, especially because bad boys (and all of their delicious muscles) are so much FUN to snuggle with!

As a general rule, I do not buy into biological determinism and, speaking from personal experience, it's an open question whether having sex causes a woman to feel the urge to bond with her partner. Sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn't, but I think it has more to do with the relationship and the motivations for having sex than with the physical act and the experience of orgasm.

My bigger problem is with the author's theory as to why bad boys allegedly fail to bond with the woman they sleep with. First of all, she assumes without any explanation that "bad boys" have higher testosterone levels than other men. As she has provided no scientific basis for this assumption, I can only conclude that her statement lacks any support whatsoever. Even if someone had attempted prove such an assertion, I have no idea what kind of experiment they would run to prove their hypothesis. Going into random social circles, asking the women to identify the bad boys, cheats, and sexually aggressive males among them, and then testing the men's testosterone levels? Somehow, I can't see a lot of people, men or women, participating in such an experiment.

Second, I find it very difficult to believe that testosterone interferes with the male desire to bond with a sexual partner. For all of you who do buy into biological determinism, it doesn't make any sense. Even if a testosterone-jacked man were chemically programmed to impregnate as many women as possible, leaving them to fend for themselves with his unborn children potentially growing in their wombs wouldn't seem to be the best way to protect his seed. Without forming some kind of bond with the woman he just slept with, how is a man to know whether a woman had his child, raised his child as the child of another man, or eliminated his seed with a convenient dose of abortifacient herbs?

It also doesn't square with history and the tremendous effort men have gone to in order to control and contain women's sexuality and reproductive capabilities. If bad boys didn't care about the women that they slept with, why the harems, purdah, foot binding, prohibition on pants, chastity belts, prohibitions against driving, and all the other institutions men have created to immobilize the female body? Not that I'm suggesting that subjugation is the same as "bonding." And, now that I think of it, I suppose all of the patriarchal institutions could be just as easily explained if we bought into the author's theory. If there was a chemical in men - say, testosterone - that actually inhibited men's ability to bond with women, I think we might just have the most perfect explanation for the subordination of women.

But, that explanation sounds a little too neat.

Even if testosterone did interfere with a desire to "snuggle," I have no idea why this should be presumed to mean that high levels of testosterone interfere with a man's desire to bond with a sexual partner. Is snuggling the only way to bond? Are we to assume now that men who snuggle either (a) have lower levels of testosterone (Men, Don't believe this!), or (b) are just driven by ulterior motives?

Here, again, I have to turn back to my personal experience. I've never slept with a man who didn't want to snuggle afterwards, and most of them usually did plenty of snuggling long before the time to do the deed arose. Some of them were bad boys, in the sense that they were too cute, immature, and selfish for their own good, and some of them were good guys - the kind of men I never doubted. Bad or good, I never noticed any correlation between testosterone, desire to commit, or snuggling.

What about you?


Gregory A. Becerra said...

The orginal quoted article lacks any definition as to what constitutes a "bad boy". All the quoted statement really says is that Oxytocin makes one feel close, connected, and vulnerable. Many chemicals do this. Beer does this. It also states that this particular effect is offset by testosterone. But it does not state exactly how. Testosterone may act as a receptor blocker to Oxytocin or may chemically bind with it. Or maybe the original author is just speculating that since testosterone makes one feel the opposite, then it must offset Oxytocin (this does not follow).

Assuming the extremely broad statements about biochemistry is correct, the author is not saying the bad boy will not snuggle. She only says don't expect him to stick around because (while he may snuggle/go through the motions) he will not chemically bond with the woman.

I believe making predictions about behavior based on only two chemicals and one external factor (the act of sex) will not produce accurate results. Many other factors, such as events leading up to sex, events during sex, and events after sex, would be more useful to predicting male and female bonding. For example, suppose the guy's feet sink really bad. The woman may not realize this until during or after sex. This will greatly damper any chemical bonding that has occurred.

While I would agree that minor factors alone will not determine whether men and women will bond with each other, these small factors could make a significant difference when all other factors are constant. For example a woman who has borderline feelings for a man might easily bond with him once they have sex where she might not if the relationship remained platonic.

In response to the comments about men being chemically programmed to impregnate as many women as possible, I believe this to be true, but again this is only one factor of a greatly complex biochemical system. The biological mechinism for men is to go for numbers alone. The need to protect offspring exists, but this is not attached to the former. I would explain mens' overprotectiveness of womens' sexuality from a biological standpoint by saying that a man could not determine easily if he was the father of a child, so those men who exhibited this over-protective behavior had a genetic survival advantage to those that did not exhibit this behavior. In other words jealous, protective men tended to have more offspring that were their own. This would extend to explain where jealousy came from and such institutions as marriage (keeping in mind that adultry was originally only considered the woman playing around while the man was expected to have sex outside of marriage).

Gypsy said...

The "bad boys" I snuggled with were probably only doing it in hopes of another round. ;-)

But, actually, I'm not much of a snuggler unless I'm in love (or really serious like) with the person. How completely slutty of me to say, but cuddling feels more intimate than sex sometimes.

Bubbles said...

I guess I am confused by what the article is trying to say-- I certainly don't need to have an orgasim or breast feed to have a good snuggle or to feel "close, connected, or vulnerable".

And I am suspicious of the idea that snuggling is related to feeling vulnerable -- a good snuggle is one in where you feel safe, warm and happy. At least thats a good snuggle to me (and how do you measure vulnerablity, anyway?) Maybe, just maybe, the "bad boy" doesn't stick around because he is the one that feels vulnerable? I guess maybe I am confused with the language...

I don't doubt that chemicals and biology come into play with all of this- sex, snuggling, breast-feeding, whatever-- but it certainly isn't the determining factor...

Buttercup said...

Gregory, You're clarification is accurate, that the article does not imply testosterone might make a man anti-snuggling. Rather, testosterone - by interfering with the man's desire to bond - would make snuggling just a means to an end. It's the same old stuff we always hear, based on this belief that men are programmed to sew as many seeds as possible, a belief that I do not espouse. That being said, I think we both agree that the article made many unsupported overgeneralizations. Thanks for commenting!

Gypsy - Your libido is an amazing thing. :)

Buttercup said...

Bubbles, Good point. I don't want to snuggle unless I feel safe and secure either. Your comment about the bad boy's potential insecurity also made me think of a conversation I was having the other night where we were discussing male insecurity as a driving force behind their desire for power.

Sparky Duck said...

So Im guessing "Men Rule!" is not going to cut it as a response? Bad boys, at least in my experience of watching my buddies could be easily replaced by little boys

priggie said...

Its all way too complex. The only responsible line of action is to keep the research alive:-) I read an interesting article called Whats in a kiss? at that really greys the borders between whats in our mind/heart and whats in our pants!