The role of oxytocin in male and female reproductive behavior

Eur J Pharmacol. 2015 Apr 15;753:209-28. doi: 10.1016/j.ejphar.2014.07.045. Epub 2014 Aug 1.


Oxytocin (OT) is a nonapeptide with an impressive variety of physiological functions. Among them, the 'prosocial' effects have been discussed in several recent reviews, but the direct effects on male and female sexual behavior did receive much less attention so far. As our contribution to honor the lifelong interest of Berend Olivier in the control mechanisms of sexual behavior, we decided to explore the role of OT in the present review. In the successive sections, some physiological mechanisms and the 'pair-bonding' effects of OT will be discussed, followed by sections about desire, female appetitive and copulatory behavior, including lordosis and orgasm. At the male side, the effects on erection and ejaculation are reviewed, followed by a section about 'premature ejaculation' and a possible role of OT in its treatment. In addition to OT, serotonin receives some attention as one of the main mechanisms controlling the effects of OT. In the succeeding sections, the importance of OT for 'the fruits of labor' is discussed, as it plays an important role in both maternal and paternal behavior. Finally, we pay attention to an intriguing brain area, the ventrolateral part of the ventromedial hypothalamic nucleus (VMHvl), apparently functioning in both sexual and aggressive behavior, which are at first view completely opposite behavioral systems.

Keywords: Ejaculation; Maternal behavior; Oxytocin; Paternal behavior; Reproductive behavior; Ventromedial hypothalamus.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Humans
  • Maternal Behavior / physiology
  • Oxytocin / physiology*
  • Paternal Behavior / physiology
  • Reproductive Behavior / physiology*
  • Sexual Behavior, Animal / physiology*
  • Ventromedial Hypothalamic Nucleus / physiology


  • Oxytocin