Science of Love, Sex, and Babies

Women zero in on partner’s scent only

Posted in news by jenapincott on January 17, 2009

87armpitWhat a month. First, sex with her partner makes a woman less attracted to other guys. Then speculation about mind control properties in semen. And now research on how love affects women’s sensitivity to men’s body odor.

According to a new study led by Johan Lundstrom at the Monell Chemical Senses Center, love inhibits women’s ability to identify the body odors of their male friends. Twenty women, all deeply in love, were asked to smell the body odor of same-sex friends, male friends, and their partners. Although they were able to easily identify their partner’s scent, the women had difficulty placing the scent of their male friends. And only the scent of male friends eluded them. When asked to identify the sweat of their female friends, the women were much more accurate. It’s as if falling in love disables a woman’s sensory mechanism to all men but her beloved. Not only does love blind us, it apparently makes us partial amnosiacs. (Read BLONDES for more on sex and smell.)

How does this happen? According to the researchers, women’s sensitivity to men’s odor is hormonally modulated. “Romantic love,” they say, “deflects attention away from potential new partners…[and is] likely mediated by circulating neuropeptides.” Love leads us by the nose. Body odors help us bond.

It’s all very interesting, and I’d love to see more in-depth research. The women weren’t tested for their sensitivity to their male friends’ body odors before they fell in love. Yes, they could identify their female friends’ body odors more easily than those of their male friends, implying a sexual mechanism — but that might be because women are more physically intimate, spending more time in one another’s rooms, playing with one another’s hair, and so on. And how exactly does it work — does something in a man’s sweat trigger a hormone that flips some smell-related switch? Does it make a difference if a woman is having protected sex or is on the Pill? Is this another case of mind control? And importantly: could it work on men, too?


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