For $50, you can go online and buy a 60-milliliter bottle of nasal spray containing oxytocin, a naturally occurring hormone produced in the human brain.
Since the spray isn't approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, it can't be sold as a cure or treatment for anything in particular. But if you've followed the headlines over the past decade, you know that oxytocin — the hormone chiefly responsible for triggering contractions in pregnant women and letting down milk during lactation — has also been shown to enhance feelings of social bonding and improve sociability in people with autism.
As the manufacturers of the nasal spray promise: "You will no longer get tired of social interactions, rather you gain an ability to enjoy them. You will be able to read emotions off people's faces, look at others in the eye without flinching in an empathetic way."
Empathy and eye contact are great and all, but oxytocin also has a sexier side. Oxytocin levels have been shown to spike during orgasm, and people dosed with extra oxytocin have warmer, fuzzier feelings toward their spouses and partners. New lovers also have higher natural oxytocin levels than their single peers. All of which has earned oxytocin the catchy nickname, the "love hormone."
But while decades of research have proven that oxytocin clearly has a role in bonding us to our social and sexual partners, it's not a magic bullet — or magic nasal spritz — to achieve romantic bliss. Experts warn that there's still plenty to learn about the popular neuropeptide, and that oxytocin is likely not the only ingredient in the complex biochemical soup we call love.