Bisexuality, Oxytocin and Pillow Talk

cropped-logo_2.pngDue to the dearth of quality bisexual scientific studies, we need to go beyond gender and look at human sexuality in general terms and apply it to the bisexual situation. In an interesting study, Denes[1] came up with several insightful conclusions about Oxytocin and the role of communication in relationship building. Her study was based on the theory that disclosure (heart talk) helps to develop and maintain relationships [2].  She theorized that Oxytocin bonding that occurs during and after orgasm enhanses the quality and intensity of post-orgasmic communication more than just the chemical body responses.

The study included 200 college students, with 77% female, 24% male. The participants ranged in age from 18 to 26 years old, with an average age of 19.6 years old. Ninety-six percent of the sample self-identified as straight, 5 participants identified as bisexual, 1 participant identified as gay, and 1 participant identified as pansexual. Sixty-nine percent of the sample identified as ‘‘in a relationship,’’ with an average relationship length of 13.9 months. Participants were asked to complete a survey within 2 hours of sexual activity. Denes concluded that men and women who experienced orgasm disclosed significantly more during pillow talk.  Secondly, she found that women who experience orgasm disclosed significantly more than both men who orgasmed and women who did not reach orgasm.  Such benefits, however, were limited to individuals in more committed relationships.   Denes also concluded that individuals who engage in more positive relational disclosures after sexual activity with their partners report more trust, relationship satisfaction, and closeness.

Let’s look deeper into her study to see the subtle connections and implications. Denes found that disclosing positive feelings for one’s partner after sexual activity is positively associated with trust, relationship satisfaction, and closeness. In the context of pillow talk, this suggests positivism, openness, and assurances increase after sexual activity (which releases oxytocin) resulting in partners experiencing positive relational outcomes. Such communication involves the disclosure of positive aspects of the relationship such as declarations of love, affection, and intimacy. We are now in the area of intimacy rather than passion and sexual desire.  In other words, pillow talk after sex can enhance intimacy and bonding which are good definitions of “being in love which is what we all need and desire.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the study is the differences between men and women. From other research, we find that the effects of oxytocin are known to be more pronounced in women than in men, as men’s testosterone diminishes the effects of oxytocin while women’s estrogen increases its effects[9].   In addition to viewing and experiencing sexual activity differently, women have been found to connect sex with love and are more committed to their relationships[8]. They have generally been found to disclose more than men when discussing relationships, emotions, and intimacy. This may be due to the Oxytocin effect in women which seems to have a variety of emotional effects that are associated with relationships, such as decreasing stress, decreasing perceptions of social threat, increasing bonding, and increasing the ability to read emotional cues[5].

On the other hand, research suggests that men can engage in sexual activity even when feelings of love may not exist for their partner and are more permissive in their sexual attitudes than women[7]. In addition, men are particularly vulnerable to the anxiety caused by their inability to talk out their stress. Much of this work from the Fever Model[6] explores how anxiety is produced when individuals keep important information inside. This anxiety builds, eventually leading to possible negative disclosure. Research suggests that the link between disclosure and liking is voided when disclosures are too intimate for one of the partners, or they violate the boundaries of tolerance for affection [10].  Men appear to be particularly vulnerable in this area.  According to other studies, men and women in less committed relationships may encounter more risk in pillow talk and may push individuals with less solidified relationships apart. It may be that when one individual reveals his or her feelings while his or her partner does not, it may create more stress and resulting in an imbalance in the relationship.

So what does this mean for the bisexual man in a gay relationship?  Lots. These studies place gay couples at a distinct disadvantage when it comes to relationship building.  Because they are more tuned to the sexual act itself, and tend to lose ‘the glow’ more rapidly; there is a tendency to forego the Oxytocin enhanced post-orgasmic pillow talk which deprives them of the opportunity to build deeper levels of communication, trust and intimacy. There are several implications to this research.  Gay couples must work harder at making pillow talk happen.  They have to set aside time after sex to let the Oxytocin glow linger and do the things that heterosexual couples do; namely, talk, cuddle, stroke and look into each other eyes, Since they are not naturally biologically equipped to do so they both have to cultivate the ‘feminine side’ of the sexuality to make this happen.

Now let’s take a look at the bisexual man in a heterosexual relationship.  There is a definite advantage if he can allow his mate to lead and guide him into relationship building pillow talk which she seems to be chemically and physically equipped to do.  But first he must overcome his fears. Verbal disclosures may be a source of regret if the communication is too intimate for his level of commitment, particularly if he is still involved in his double life or he has not dealt with the psychological issues related to his bisexuality.  If his boundary tolerance levels are violated this may result in aversive reactions[11].  Individuals who are in a trusting, open monogamous relationship will likely experience less regret because their partners are already committed to them. Additionally, in a committed relationship, partners may be disclosing such feelings on a regular basis, and thus pillow talk would be relationship-appropriate and less likely to scare away the partner.  So what does this mean?  Bisexual men may have difficulty with intimacy and developing a wholesome relationship unless they are committed to being totally open and honest with their female partners, otherwise the intimacy of pillow talk with divide rather than unite. However, careful and complete disclosure can lead to openness and all the benefits of being in love that can come from pillow talk.

In conclusion, if you are in a gay relationship, make sure that you engage in pillow talk after sex.  This will lead to deeper bonding, a more satisfying loving relationship, and the kind of love that you are seeking.  If you are in a heterosexual relationship you have to be open and honest.  This means cleaning the slate with full disclosure and trusting your partner to support and understand you.  Let your partner guide and teach you through the intimacy that comes from pillow talk after orgasm.  At this point her love for you is wrapped up in a warm glow and she can lead you compassionately to a deeper relationship and a better understanding and acceptance of your “Self.”

[1] Denes, 2012.

[2] Altman & Taylor.

[3] Veenestra, 2007

[4] Veenestra, 2007, p. 39

[5] Guastella et al, 2005; Lim & Young, 2006

[6] Stiles, 1987

[7] Hendrick & Hendrick, 1995; Roche, 1986

[8] (Hendrick & Hendrick, 1995; Roche, 1986)

[9] (Taylor et al., 2002).

[10] (Bochner, 1982; Collins & Miller, 1994).

[11] (Floyd et al., 2008)

References

Altman, I., & Taylor, D. (1973). Social penetration: The development of interpersonal relationships. New York, NY: Holt, Rinehart and Winston.

Bochner, A. P. (1982). On the efficacy of openness in close relationships. In M. Burgoon (Ed.), Communication yearbook 5 (pp. 109–124). New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Books. Brody, S. (2003). Alexithymia is inversely associated with women’s frequency of vaginal intercourse. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 32, 73–77. doi: 10.1023=A:1021897530286

Collins, N. L., & Miller, L. C. (1994). Self-disclosure and liking: A meta-analytic review. Psychological Bulletin, 116, 457–475. doi: 10.1037==0033-2909.116.3.457 C

Denes, Amanda  2012. Pillow Talk: Exploring Disclosures After Sexual Activity. Western Journal of Communication; Vol. 76, No. 2.

Floyd, K., Judd, J., & Hesse, C. (2008). Affection exchange theory: A bio-evolutionary look at affectionate communication. In L. A. Baxter & B. M. Montgomery (Eds.), Engaging theories in interpersonal communication (pp. 285–294). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Guastella, A. J., Mitchel, P. B., & Dadds, M. R. (2008). Oxytocin increases gaze to the eye region of human faces. Biological Psychiatry, 63, 3–5. doi: 10.1016=j.biopsych.2007.06.026

Hendrick, S. S., & Hendrick, C. (1995). Gender differences and similarities in sex and love. Personal Relationships, 2, 55–65. doi: 10.1111=j.1475-6811.1995.tb00077

Kosfeld, M., Heinrichs, M., Zak, P. J., Fischbacher, U., & Fehrl, E. (2005). Oxytocin increases trust in humans. Nature, 435, 673–676. doi: 10.1038=nature03701

Lim, M. M., & Young, L. J. (2006). Neuropeptidergic regulation of affiliative behavior and social bonding in animals. Hormones and Behavior, 50, 506–517. doi: 10.1016=j.yhbeh.2006. 06.028

Stiles, W. B. (1987). ‘‘I have to talk to somebody’’: A fever model of disclosure. In V. J.

Veenestra, M. (2007). Afterglow. In F. Malti-Douglas (Ed.), Encyclopedia of sex and gender (Vol. 1, pp. 39–40). Detroit, MI: Macmillan Reference.

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