Friday, March 04, 2011

The Threatening Scent of Fertile Women

I've finally had time to check out the abundant links to background articles in John Tierney's Feb. 21 article in the NYTimes. I had not realized that there was such firm evidence that men can unconsciously detect, via changes in womens' cues and behavior and perhaps via pheromones, when women are at the ovulation stage of their menstrual cycle.
...recent studies have found large changes in cues and behavior when a woman is at this stage of peak fertility. Lap dancers get much higher tips (unless they’re taking birth-control pills that suppress ovulation, in which case their tips remain lower). The pitch of a woman’s voice rises. Men rate her body odor as more attractive and respond with higher levels of testosterone.
I would recommend reading the whole article, which describes experiments supporting rather elaborate evolutionary psychology theories about maintaining breeding relationships while also enhancing genetic diversity, such as:
...the “good genes” evolutionary explanation for adultery: a quick fling with a good-looking guy can produce a child with better genes, who will therefore have a better chance of passing along the mother’s genes. But this sort of infidelity is risky if the woman’s unsexy long-term partner finds out and leaves her alone to raise the child. So it makes sense for her to limit her risks by being unfaithful only at those times she’s fertile....By that same evolutionary logic, it makes sense for her partner to be most worried when she’s fertile.


  1. Find more good info like this in the free documentary "The Science of Sex Appeal".

  2. Anonymous5:26 PM

    What about the biology of attraction between people of the same sex? To what chemicals does a gay man respond when he feels attracted to another man? Is his sexual neural circuitry triggered by the smell of testosterone, and those of lesbians by oestrogenes? I just wondered if anything has been discovered yet...


  3. This is an interesting question to me, because I am gay. I know that I am attracted to men's smells and not to women's, but I suspect the attractant molecules are smaller and more volatile than androgens or estrogens. Also, subjects in the experiments are not aware of smelling anything, the olfaction is going on unconsciously.