Science

The dirtiest thing you'll read in today's New York Times

Lesbians react to the smell of certain bodily odors in ways similar to heterosexual men and different from heterosexual women, new research suggests.

Link Is Cited Between Smell and Sexuality

I, for one, will admit that my first thought upon reading that opening line was very, very impure. Horribly impure. Deliciously, mouth wateringly impure. Thank god I kept reading, because I’m at work and it’s getting difficult to concentrate.

The substances involved are a progesterone derivative produced in male sweat and an estrogenlike steroid that has been detected in female urine. The two smells are processed in the brain differently from ordinary odors.

Okay, so the test lesbians weren’t smelling actual . . . bodily . . . er . . . fluids. They were smelling derivatives. This is enough to snap me back into detached scientist mode. Just barely. Mmm, fluids.

Long story short, the women’s brains processed each smell differently, by registering the faux estrogen in the hypothalamus as opposed to wherever the hell other smells are processed (I suppose that would be the unfortunately named “olfactory bulb“). The researchers may be on their way to discovering the long sought human pheromone.

Wait a second . . . silly researchers, why didn’t they just check the Internet? Think of all the time that could’ve been saved if they had simply Googled “human pheromone” and taken a glance at a few of the 1,130,000 responses that were relayed in just .10 seconds! Sites like “Luvessentials.com” and “phermonesandmore.com,” which touts itself as a “Pheromone Warehouse!” Who needs to make lesbians sniff things in labs when this shit is everywhere? One sponsored link claims in the title, “Phermones Don’t Work.” Alarmed, I clicked the link to find a web site devoted to reviewing and ranking every available pheromone on the market so you can find the one that DOES work for you. Whew, for a second there I was worried these things were SCAMS!

The number one and two non-sponsored links lead to the Athena Institute, surely a legitimate repository of scientific learning. The Institute is basically a collection of links to articles mentioning human pheromones, sponsored by the venerable scientician Winnifred Cutler. Cutler has a number of fancy degrees from UPenn and Stanford. Her bio also boasts that she is co-inventor on five patents! And we all know how scientifically rigorous a patent is.

Winnie’s list of professional accomplishments includes this paragraph, in bold red on her web site to really make it stand out in the timeline:

In 1993 Dr. Cutler formulated, tested and marketed a pheromone cosmetic fragrance additive for women, Athena Pheromone 10:13tm and in 1995, an aftershave additive for men, Athena Pheromone 10Xtm the subject of a double-blind, placebo-controlled study published in Archives of Sexual Behavior, Vol. 27, No.1, pge 1, February 1998.

Which explains the page on her site selling $99 bottles of crap — it may as well have read “in 1993, Dr. Cutler crossed over to the dark side in order to turn a quick buck.” One such bottle promises to “increase the romantic attention you get from men.” Ignore the bottom of the page where it says, “not an aphrodisiac.”

To be fair, it looks as though Winnie has always been a few crayons short of a box. I found this article from The Guardian mentioning her study that found that women’s menstrual periods are affected by the phases of the moon, a common misconception that had been debunked plenty of times (I’m pretty sure that our own Bad Astronomer even tackled this one at some point).

So anyway, I think I’ll save my money for now. At least until they get a few more lesbians, gay guys, and heteros in the lab for some sexy sniffing fun. Mmm, fluids.

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca leads a team of skeptical female activists at Skepchick.org. She travels around the world delivering entertaining talks on science, atheism, feminism, and skepticism. There is currently an asteroid orbiting the sun with her name on it. You can follow her every fascinating move on Twitter or on Google+.

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1 Comment

  1. JF
    May 16, 2006 at 12:22 pm —

    Curious and inquisitive (and perhaps a little desperate, I admit), I did some quick research a few months ago, looking at the "pheromones for men to attract women" products and going by how well I could find positive reviews of each one. After getting bored of reading yet more "WOW! THIS STUFF WORKS!!!" reports, I simply picked the one that was currently winning in my list of candidates and ordered it.

    Consider these points:
    1. For one very small bottle (it's from the US so it's in fl.oz. and that's kind of alien to me) and international delivery I paid nearly $70.
    2. Yes, it smelled nice. But also, there was a smell there that I had never smelled before in other aftershaves, deodorants, colognes, etc.
    3. One of the comments I noted associated with this particular one was something along the lines of "It works best if you spray it around your neck and chest area."

    Hmmm… three seemingly unrelated points, but if you throw the word "self-suggestion" into the mix, it all starts to make sense.
    First, the money. "I paid all this money for a little drop of scent? IT MUST WORK!"
    Second, the unique smell. "I'M WEARING COLOGNE BUT IT'S NOT LIKE ALL MY OTHER COLOGNES!"
    Third, the suggestion that it "works best" when sprayed on my neckal and chestal areas. "I CAN SMELL IT STRONGLY BECAUSE IT'S RIGHT UNDER MY NOSE!"

    Conclusion? It's all about suggestion. The initial price means that there's a strong incentive to believe it works. Then, when I'm wearing it, the unique smell reminds me that I AM wearing it and not just normal men's smelly stuff. And of course, to get the best dose of that suggestion-trigger, if I spray it where I can always smell it then I'm constantly being reminded that I've got it on me and that I will be irresistible to women.

    However, once I decided that I wasn't going to buy into some grand self-suggestion scheme, I wasn't any more irresistible. Just the same old me.

    As ever.

    Oh well.

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