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    Sexual Satisfaction Tied to Smell

    You may remember the experiment in 1995 in which female (presumably heterosexual) college students were asked to rate the “pleasantness” of the smell of several unwashed T-shirts that had been worn for two nights by several different male students. It showed that the more different the woman and man were in their genes (in particuar, the ones that cause immune responses), the more “pleasant” she rated his T-shirt.

    In other words, the less they both had genes that serve the protective function of causing immune responses, the more likely the woman would be sexually attracted to him. On average, heterosexual couples share only about 20% of their immune system genes. So, when it comes to immune system genes, opposites do attract.

    More studies have occurred on related topics. Male odors that a heterosexual woman subconsciously recognizes may have a powerful effect on sexual attraction. In Psychological Science, Oct. 2006, researchers found that woman appeared happieset with their sex lives when their immune systems were not similar to those of their male partners. Women whose immune systems were similar to their male romantic partner’s were also more likely to have sex with other men — or at least to think about doing it.

    The men and women in this study answered questions about their relationships. Each person rated their partner in terms of thoughtfulness, attractiveness, support, intelligence and other similar attributes. They also answered questions about their enjoyment of sex and their level of attraction to others.

    There was no correlation between the immune system genes and the nonsexual factors of their relationship, but there was a correlation with the sexual factors. In fact, the greater the similar immune system genes, the greater the likelihood of dissatisfaction with the woman’s sex life with that partner.

    Interestingly, there was no correlation between men’s gene and their enthusiasm for sex with the partner they had nor for interest in having sex with other women.

    What might be driving the women’s response? The researchers speculate that women, on an unconscious level, may be seeking to produce healthy children and therefore respond to men with very different sets of genes from their own. Children with different sets of immune system genes may have a greater ability to fight off a wider set of diseases.

    This “scent of a man” certainly is not the entire explanation for heterosexual women’s attraction, but it does offer an evoluationary perspective on some attractions that otherwise seem indescribable.

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