Life with MS

6 Non-Sexual Intimacy Boosters

By Gay Falkowski

While asking your doctor to treat sexual problems related to MS is important, it’s also helpful to know there are steps you can take outside of the bedroom or the doctor’s office to increase intimacy between you and your loved one.
In the last decade, research has shown us the “chemistry” that happens in our brains when we fall in love and bond with our significant other. Often referred to as the "love molecule," oxytocin (a hormone) is typically associated with helping couples establish a greater sense of intimacy and attachment. Oxytocin, along with dopamine and norepinephrine, are believed to be highly critical in couple bonding.
We have learned more as well about how activities other than sex can release brain chemicals that make us feel more connected to our mate. Here are six of them to consider:
1) Explore a new place or activity together. Lots of relationship experts suggest that couples that have been together a long time can keep the romance alive with regular date nights. Neuroscience research shows us that date night can, in fact, help keep a relationship fresh and rewarding, but if and only if you go about it in the right way. The key here is novelty: you and your betrothed must engage in fun, exciting, and new experiences so you can get the dopamine and norepinephrine flowing and reward your brain. Remember when you first fell in love? Dopamine and norepinephrine were a big factor.
2) Give each other massage, but gently please. Researchers at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles measured hormone levels in the blood of 53 healthy adults as they enjoyed 45 minutes of massage. In this experiment, the group was divided in two: about half were treated to deep tissue Swedish massage, the other half had a light massage. Interestingly, those who received a lighter massage experienced greater increases in oxytocin than those who had deep tissue Swedish massage.
3) Enjoy a music night. Listening to your favorite melodies and harmonies can trigger the brain to release large amounts of dopamine, a chemical that sends "feel good" signals to the rest of the body and plays a role in both motivation and addiction. The small study, published in Nature Neuroscience, used brain scans to show that college students released significantly more dopamine when they heard their preferred music (which ranged from Beethoven to Led Zeppelin to the Israeli trance band Infected Mushroom) as opposed to someone else's tunes.
4) Dance to your favorite songs. There's nothing quite like partnered dancing to get your oxytocin fix, according to Paul Zak, Ph.D., professor of economic psychology and management at Claremont Graduate University. In one experiment, Dr. Zak drew the blood of dancers before and after a night of dancing. He found that the oxytocin levels of the dancers rose 11 percent, regardless of age or gender. This finding and more about oxytocin are included in his book, The Moral Molecule.
5) Hug at least eight times a day. Tiffany Field, Ph.D., director of the University of Miami Medical School’s Touch Research institute says, “The gentle pressure of a hug can stimulate nerve endings under the skin that send calming messages to the brain and slow the release of cortisol.” Studies have shown that hugging for 20 seconds raises levels of oxytocin. A hug re-establishes the intimate connection and trust between you and your partner on a fundamental hormonal level.
6) Watch a tearjerker of a movie together. Seeing a powerful movie is the best oxytocin releaser Dr. Zak has found to date. Here's some context: When oxytocin is increased by 10 to 20 percent, noticeable behavior changes — like feeling more relaxed — result. Watching an emotionally compelling movie makes oxytocin surge 47 percent. Why? Our brains process the plot and characters as if they were in the room with us, Dr. Zak says.