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Making Scents of Sex

Study finds men attracted to women doused with artificial pheromone

WEDNESDAY, March 20, 2002 (HealthDayNews) -- Forget baking him those cinnamon buns, and toss out those designer heels.

New research claims that what really turns a man on is a synthetic version of pheromones, natural biochemicals women normally secrete during their most fertile times.

In a study appearing today in the journal Physiology and Behavior, researchers from San Francisco State University have published what they say is the first study to independently test the power of a synthetic pheromone to attract men.

"We were able to show that a synthetic pheromone compound can affect a man's romantic behavior towards a woman, increasing his desire for a more intimate connection," says study co-author Norma McCoy, a professor of psychiatry at San Francisco State University.

While the concept may sound a little "new age-y," McCoy says it's really rooted in the most basic of human and animal instincts -- the drive to reproduce.

When a woman is fertile, she secretes pheromones, odorless biochemicals that are processed through sensors inside a man's nose. From there, researchers theorize, signals are sent to his brain, which in turn signals his body with an urge to "reproduce."

"He then automatically responds with romantic behavior, the end result of which is to have an intimate relationship," says McCoy.

McCoy's study found that much the same scenario occurs with the use of a synthetic pheromone, an idea sex therapist and researcher Michael Perelman finds exciting.

"I think that the more that we understand physiological causes of sexual behavior, the greater the opportunity for sex therapists to integrate that into the counseling that we do, to be able to further improve people's sexual health," says Perelman, co-director of the Human Sexuality Program at The New York-Presbyterian Hospital Weill Cornell Medical Center.

While he believes clinical application of this new data may be limited now, "it does portend a future where new compounds, both pharmaceutical and otherwise, are likely to be available to us, to assist our patients with their sexual health."

In McCoy's research, the women tested how well synthetic pheromones work in a "normal" social situation. The 14-week study recruited 36 women between the ages of 19 and 48, who identified themselves as white, Filipino, Latino, Portuguese, Chinese, Brazilian, Native American, Mexican, Japanese, Jewish and Hispanic.

For the first two weeks, they each kept a daily "baseline" diary, detailing their number of experiences with men in each of the following categories: petting/affection/kissing; sleeping next to a romantic partner; sexual intercourse; formal dates; informal dates; the number of times a man approached her; and frequency of masturbation.

The women were then asked to blindly choose one vial of liquid from a group of identical containers, half of which contained a synthetic pheromone compound and the other half a placebo solution. The women were told to add the vial to 2 ounces of their favorite perfume, and apply two to three dabs of the fragrance under their nose, on their cheeks and behind their ears at least once every other day.

The women, none of whom knew if they had the pheromone solution or the placebo, used the mixture over three consecutive months, during which time they continually recorded their encounters with men, using the seven categories.

After three months, researchers "broke the study code" to discover which 19 women were using the pheromone solution, and which 17 were using the placebo. McCoy's group then tallied the individual results entered in all the diaries, both before and after the women used the fragrance compound.

What they found: A whopping 74 percent of the women in the pheromone group saw an increase in three or more of the following activities: frequency of kissing, heavy petting and affection; sexual intercourse; sleeping next to their partner; and formal dates with men. By comparison, only 23 percent of those using the placebo solution recorded any significant change.

McCoy says there appeared to be no significant difference between the groups when it came to informal dating, the number of times they were approached by men, or their frequency of masturbation.

"The only area that seemed to be affected by the pheromones," says McCoy, "were intimate behaviors with a partner." The behavioral changes began during the first month, and intensified over the next two months.

While McCoy says a number of commercial fragrances claim to contain pheromones, she says it's important to note her research has nothing to do with the pleasantries of perfume, or how a woman smells.

What To Do

To learn more about pheromones, visit the Ludwig-Boltzmann Institute for Urban Ethology. You can also learn more by reading this story from CNN.

To discover more about the science of sexual attraction, visit this Emory University site.

SOURCES: Norma McCoy, Ph.D., professor, psychiatry, San Francisco State University, San Francisco; Michael Perelman, Ph.D., co-director, Human Sexuality Program, The New York-Presbyterian Hospital Weill Cornell Medical Center, New York City; March/April 2002 Physiology and Behavior
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