Sniffing Out Sex


I was laying in bed the other night with a sexual interest and (for various reasons) we sniffed each other. I know it sounds weird but there is science behind scents and sex.

Aside from pheromones potentially playing a role in sex partner selection, something called MHC (major histocompatibility complex) is generating significant hype among biologically oriented sexademics. MHC is a big gene family that plays a role in our immune system response. Ever wonder why your friend got the flu one year while you didn’t? Differing MHC that have the capacity to create a range of different antigens (the things that kill or contain viruses).

So, how the hell does this relate to sex? Some researchers argue that when (straight) people are seeking potential mates the impetus is to find someone with a vastly differing MHC. This ensures that your offspring will have a more diverse MHC makeup and be able to fend off more diseases and survive. Note that this only really applies if you want to make babies.

Recently, a couple of online dating sites emerged with the intent to utilize (read: possibly exploit) this new interest in MHCs and mate selection. I wonder how this is panning out for them as the process needs hundreds of thousands of people to be successful. Personally, I still think that the best way to find a person to have a (long term) sexual or romantic relationship is through friends. But, maybe I’m old fashioned.

I was eight the first time I heard about the olfactory aspect of mate selection. My class was on a field trip to the science museum and there was a plastic squeeze bottle attached to a string placed in front of a plaque that explained pheromones. One part of the plaque read:

Few people can actually smell pheromones. Hold your nose over the bottle, gently squeeze and inhale to see if you are one of the few who can.

I wanted to be special so I was disappointed when I only smelled air. Oddly enough, when my romantic interest and I sniffed each other last night we were really puzzled as to why neither of us smelled anything on each other. No musk, no sweat, nothing. I wonder if it means anything, aside from the fact that neither of us wear cologne/perfume.

3 thoughts on “Sniffing Out Sex”

  1. When you don’t smell anything you are really just smelling nothing new, after a few minutes of exposure to an odor it’s no longer as intense of an experience, the longer the exposure the less intense.

    When there’s a change, as when you first smell a flower or a person after not being exposed to the smell for a while that’s when you notice the smell as a difference.

  2. I took part in some research on this subject at my university, samples were taken from our sweat over a 3 day period and a shirt we slept in was collected too. We then answered questionnaires which I imagine were designed to give us a numerical value that represented our ‘masculinity’ – they were questions regarding dominating conversations and social groups, as well as things like exercise and what we find desirable. We also had photographs taken, and rated computer generated facial images on how attractive we found them. I think the samples and data is being sent to another university where a female group will rate the odour of the samples and see if the most attractive smelling samples are linked to the images/answers etc that that individual also finds the most attractive. Interesting stuff.

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