SEXUAL HEALTH: Scent of (un)attraction

Friday July 14 2017

Do pheromones work to attract human beings to

Do pheromones work to attract human beings to each other, or have we evolved past that? PHOTO| FILE| NATION MEDIA GROUP 

By JOACHIM OSUR
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After seven years of a relatively harmonious marriage, a big crisis erupted in Joyce’s family. The trouble started when Joyce bought her husband cologne as a gift. He threw it hard against a wall and broke it, then stopped being physically intimate with her.

Joyce, a 32-year-old accountant, had just secured a new job with an international NGO. As part of her orientation, she had spent two weeks at their Canada headquartes. It was the first time she was away from him and their two children for that long. Dan, Joyce’s husband, was a 36-year-old high school biology teacher. After three days of acrimony the couple decided to come to the sexology clinic.

“I feel demeaned. If she wants me to shower more than once a day I can do that but she does not have to buy me perfume to pass her message!” Dan shouted.

UNWANTED GIFT

“This is really unfair, I just bought you a gift!” Joyce shouted back, her eyes welling up with tears.

Incidentally during their courtship, Joyce mentioned repeatedly that she loved Dan’s natural body smell. She would hold him for hours on end because of this. Dan enjoyed this, and it boosted his ego and confidence.

“So would you say I am mistaken, doctor?” Dan asked me. “Have I gone insane? What other message is there in her gift?” I asked the couple to give me time to explain the whole issue of body odour and intimacy before we could find a solution to their problem.

The sense of smell is an important avenue for sexual attraction in many animal species. Dogs and cats travel long distances, guided by pheromones produced by females on heat, to meet them.

“I teach that to my students all the time,” Dan interrupted, “and that is why I hold the issue of smell dearly.” I asked him to allow me to finish my explanation.

Pheromones in human beings are a contentious issues, though. In one study, men were asked to smell vaginal secretions from different women, and it was shown that secretions from ovulating women made men’s testosterone levels surge, meaning that men’s bodies may be able to detect and positively respond to ovulating women… but only in the confines of their bedrooms during intimate moments.

In another study, it was shown that women are, to some extent, attracted to men with high testosterone levels during the time of ovulation; they find body odour from such men more pleasing than from men with lower testosterone.

However all these studies are non-conclusive and their values are unclear in real life situations. Further, study of the human nose has failed to identify the cells that animals use to detect pheromones. Infact, the human brain has no ability to detect pheromones. This would imply that there is nothing sexually stimulating about the way a man or woman smells.

End of discussion

“I don’t believe that!” Dan said, throwing his hands in the air.

The only thing we can prove is that body smell is closely tied to immunity, and women tend to be more pleased by men with immunity that significantly differs from theirs. This is important in reproduction since the offspring of such a union is likely to have much stronger immunity. Smell parse does not, however, cause one to be intimate with another.

But a good smell does have its place in making us feel good. This is the basis of aromatherapy. If your mate has worn a pleasantly smelling perfume, this may elevate your mood and give you a sense of happiness. This is not sexual though; flowers, scented candles and even the smell of baked goods have the same effect.

“I am confused!” Dan groaned again.

So back to Joyce and Dan’s conflict: it is possible that Dan’s natural scent was pleasing to Joyce when they were courting, and this elevated her mood. It is also possible that Dan had a different immunity from Joyce and higher testosterone levels in his youth, heightening her attraction to him.

But testosterone levels fall. We acquire other body smells as hormone levels change and although we may not necessarily start smell pungent, our natural smells fail to impress those we love. A good-smelling perfume maintains the pleasant smell in such a case.

Dan shook his head and reached out for Joyce’s hand, pulling her to her feet, saying that they should leave. Before I knew it they were out of the door and gone.