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This article is from the In-Depth Report The Science of Love
60-Second Mind

The Scent of Sexual Sweat

Do you like the scent of your Valentine? The Journal of Neuroscience reports that certain regions in women's brains are activated when they smell "sexual sweat." Christie Nicholson reports

[Below is the original script. But a few changes may have been made during the recording of this audio podcast.]

I think it was my mom, embarrassingly, who once told me, “You’ve got to love the smell of your man.”  Sounds cryptic, but studies have hinted that humans might detect pheromones, or that women are attracted to the scents of symmetrical men, or that a variation in genes determines the draw of a male scent.

Now, The Journal of Neuroscience published a study that shows women recognize male sexual sweat.

You might wonder, as the blogger Neurocritic did, what is “sexual sweat?” The paper doesn’t provide the chemistry, but in the study it’s the sweat excreted as men watch erotic videos. Researchers collected “neutral sweat” while the men watched educational documentaries.

Women sniffed the scents while their brains were scanned by an fMRI.

All but one of the 19 women did not recognize the scents as human, but their brains distinguished the sexual scent. Two regions reacted more to the sexual sweat than any of the other smells:  the orbitofrontal cortex (an olfactory area) and the fusiform gyrus, responsible for face/body recognition.

The authors speculate that activation of the fusiform may be the brain recognizing the human quality of sexual sweat, but this leap requires more study.

In the meantime try your own experiment…when you see your Valentine this week, lean in and take a deep breath. 

How do you feel?

—Christie Nicholson

60-Second Psych is a weekly podcast. Subscribe to this Podcast: RSS | iTunes

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