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Dating From the Inside Out
by Susan S. Davis

The Hormonal Connection:
Prolactin, Dopamine’s Competition

While scientific studies have revealed that a cocktail of chemicals is released by humans in relation to love, and, more particularly, before, during and after sex, most studies tend to focus on the Endorphin, Dopamine, Serotonin, and Oxytocin.

While scientists once thought of Prolactin (the hormone produced by the pituitary gland), as strictly stimulating breast development and milk production (in which Oxytocin has also been found), also has been linked to sperm production. As time passed, it has been discovered that Prolactin is associated with many other biological functions. Everything from inhibiting sexual drive, to immune functions, have found to include the effects of Prolactin, including stress responses, anxiety and despair, rather than the fight or flight mechanism, triggered by Cortisol.

Most recently, Prolactin has been found to be a major cause of the lingering "hangover" after passionate sex. Interestingly, women are not alone in releasing Prolactin after orgasm, Dr. Exton's research on men and animals, has uncovered a similar process.  


 According to Psychology Today, studies at two German universities found that Prolactin, may actually dull sexual arousal after orgasm, possibly as a signal to the body that it's reached capacity, and to prevent overload.

Michael Exton, Ph.D., a biological psychologist at the University of Essen's Institute of Medical Psychology, led a team of researchers that examined 10 women after masturbation. When an increase in the hormones Adrenaline, Noradrenaline and Prolactin, occurred during arousal and orgasm, however, Prolactin's rise was the most intense and prolonged. Dr. Exton commented, “The Prolactin surge may possibly signal the brain and reproductive organs that ‘once is enough.’”

Dr. Exton believes that Prolactin regulates Dopamine, the neurotransmitter involved in movement control, pleasure and pain, and equates it with a built-in switch for turning sexual desire on and off.

While Dopamine is a neurochemical associated with “goal seeking,” and “craving,” with a similar molecular structure to morphine. Prolactin tends to be conversely tied to levels of Dopamine. All addictive substances increase, which is why they're addictive. Organically, the largest discharge of Dopamine, occurs during the lead up to orgasm. It is believed that this is what causes human beings to participate in sexual activity, with such zeal, since the creation of time.

Even though Dopamine decreases immediately following orgasm, hangover symptoms from over-stimulation, may continue for much longer, in fact, weeks. People usually don’t realize the connection between the trigger of, and lasting effect of, Dopamine. Considering the powerful nature of this potent neurotransmitter, it may behoove humankind to take a closer look at its physical and, ultimately emotional effects.

Dr. Jeremy P.W. Heaton deduced, "Orgasm may induce changes in the hypothalamus that overwhelm Prolactin inhibition" (thus, allowing Prolactin to rise dramatically). It is a possibility, then, that the sudden drop in Dopamine, in and of itself, releases Prolactin. Thus, scientific studies have found that Prolactin rises sharply immediately after orgasm, in almost everyone. In addition, it has been determined that Prolactin is a far more accurate indicator for orgasm, than Oxytocin, which also often rises at orgasm.

It would appear, that, from an evolutionary standpoint, the increase in Prolactin, is nature’s way of changing a partner’s focus onto other maintenance activities, such as those required to survive. It also serves to decrease attachment to a partner, enabling advancement to another subject, which, in turn, ensures, biologically, that another Dopamine blast will occur. This is otherwise known as the 'Coolidge Effect' (the re-arousal of a male animal by the introduction of a new female. [Wikipedia].

It has been determined that Prolactin levels can remain elevated for some time after orgasm, even surging repeatedly for days. Subjects have reported mood swings related to orgasm, for as long as two weeks afterward.

It is suggested that orgasm leads to high levels (or surges) of Prolactin over a two-week period. Symptoms of elevated Prolactin appear to be similar in both sexes. Men with high Prolactin levels sometimes report low libido, headaches, mood changes (anxiety), and even erectile dysfunction.

Interestingly, cocaine addicts going through withdrawal, also have unusually high Prolactin levels, which usually normalize by the end of three weeks. Just as in orgasm, cocaine floods the pleasure/reward center of the brain with Dopamine. This could be why, often cocaine and/or sex addiction can go hand in hand, or, alternatively, why some cocaine addicts have reported that sex has become of no interest to them, as long as they were addicted to cocaine.

Additionally, when either Dopamine or Prolactin is unusually high, the other is low, and vice versa. For example, Schizophrenia is associated with high levels of Dopamine. Some anti-psychotic drugs (designed to lower Dopamine in Schizophrenics) also raise Prolactin levels. Schizophrenia patients treated with these drugs often complain of the same symptoms such as low libido, as others with high Prolactin.

Women have reported that many of the symptoms of PMS are similar to the effects of high Prolactin, including weight gain, low libido, headaches, depression, anxiety, and hostility. However, women have also noticed improvements in symptoms, using the approach of avoiding conventional orgasm, while engaging in sex frequently, to offset chemical overload and imbalance.

Perhaps the relationship between the intense Dopamine high, and subsequent unpleasant symptoms associated with Prolactin, may somehow assist in determining why intimate relationships often fall into a kind of manic-depressive cycle.

According to Chinese Taoist, Mantak Chia, philosophers have recognized that vicious crimes are often committed after sex, due to the fragility caused by a hyper-extended emotional state. They also noticed that repugnance could build up between intimate partners over time, due to the discomfort associated with the Dopamine drop off, or high Prolactin, following orgasm, which causes a depleted state.

Taoists have recognized that there is a natural cure: learn to make love without indulging in over-stimulation. In this way, neurochemical levels may stay more balanced. The results can eradicate intense mood swings, and facilitate an easy, natural, sustained attraction between partners.

Perhaps one day, therapists who study addiction (and the relationship between Dopamine and Prolactin) will lend support to the natural way to balance emotions. However, it is very unlikely that medical researchers in laboratories will publicize the possibility, if it is ever discovered, due to the fact that laboratory research is more geared toward producing commerce-driven substances that can be protected by patents and marketed as drugs, such as Viagra, Levitra and Cialis.

Results without chemical manipulations, may be achieved by learning to make love differently. In addition, while individual responses may vary, nonetheless, it is suggested that in order to combat the effects of Prolactin, that intimate behavior be modified. In this way, it will be easier to achieve an inner balance, that may ultimately avoid the extreme nature of the hormonal biology that can occur, and the inevitable emotional upheaval associated with it. This, of course, may present a much more desirable psychic state of being, as well as a healthier mental and spiritual connection to the physical self.

Susan S. Davis is a published book author and writer, currently doing research for a romantic screenplay she is writing. Her Dating From The Inside Out column is published every Tuesday.

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