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Gay men and straight women can smell you are sexy September 7, 2009

Posted by Geekgirl in brain, sexual orientation.
Tags: , ,

An oldie but goodie. Here is the abstract for an article regarding pheromones. Pheromones are hormones, except that they are emitted by one individual and have an affect on another. Pheromones often have no odor. They are quite prominent in many species, especially insects.

Men produce a pheromone in their sweat called AND. Straight women and gay men are attracted to it. Heterosexual men are attracted to EST, a pheromone produced by women, but gay men are not. These results were obtained by analyzing the part of the brain that recognized the pheromone.

Due to copyright, I cannot reprint the article. However, it is online for free. Just click on the title of the abstract.

Brain response to putative pheromones inhomosexual men

  1. Ivanka Savic*,,,
  2. Hans Berglund§, and
  3. Per Lindström*

+Author Affiliations

  1. Departments of *Clinical Neuroscience and §Medicine, Karolinska University Hospital, 171 76 Stockholm, Sweden; and Department of Neuroscience, Center for Gender-Related Medicine, Karolinska Institute, 171 77 Stockholm, Sweden
  1. Edited by Jan-Åke Gustafsson, Karolinska Institute, Huddinge, Sweden, and approved April 4, 2005 (received for review October 27, 2004)


The testosterone derivative 4,16-androstadien-3-one (AND) and the estrogen-like steroid estra-1,3,5(10),16-tetraen-3-ol (EST) are candidate compounds for human pheromones. AND is detected primarily in male sweat, whereas EST has been found in female urine. In a previous positron emission tomography study, we found that smelling AND and EST activated regions covering sexually dimorphic nuclei of the anterior hypothalamus, and that this activation was differentiated with respect to sex and compound.

In the present study, the pattern of activation induced by AND and EST was compared among homosexual men, heterosexual men, and heterosexual women. In contrast to heterosexual men, and in congruence with heterosexual women, homosexual men displayed hypothalamic activation in response to AND. Maximal activation was observed in the medial preoptic area/anterior hypothalamus, which, according to animal studies, is highly involved in sexual behavior.

As opposed to putative pheromones, common odors were processed similarly in all three groups of subjects and engaged only the olfactory brain (amygdala, piriform, orbitofrontal, and insular cortex).

These findings show that our brain reacts differently to the two putative pheromones compared with common odors, and suggest a link between sexual orientation and hypothalamic neuronal processes.



1. lynne the butch / non-trans lesbian - September 7, 2009

When I see things like this, I always wonder where gender came in. I’m not talking trans here, but the simple gender variance some call “butch” and “femme” (use whatever words work for you), which can exist in gay or straight men, and gay or straight women.

So, is it only femme (gay) men and femme (straight) women who can do this? Or can masculine gay men and femme gay women also do this?

It reminds me of something I saw years ago on a documentary, when someone went to a local event and asked “lesbians” to show their ring-finger length compared to their index finger length, as an indicator of androgens in the womb (it’s been awhile – correct me if I’m indicating the wrong chemical). The researcher than pronounced that these androgens in the womb caused women to become lesbians, because all the lesbians had longer ring-fingers.

But I sat there saying, “Wait a minute — they only picked out butch lesbians to ask, because those were the ones who were assumed to be Gay. Any femme lesbians in the crowd were ignored, and if there were butch straight women in the crowd, they managed to go unasked, as well.

Whether the finger-length theory is legitimate or not, the data was obviously skewed (however unintentionally) by the researcher’s bias/ignorance (call it what you will).

Hey Jude - September 8, 2009

Lynne, you are right on the money. This was a small study and, from what I can find in the literature, has not been repeated. In other words, this is the only study that I can find about pheromones.

The reports on finger length are contradictory. You got it right, androgens. Different studies show different results. One study that I read implied that ethnicity played a role. I haven’t blogged about finger length because I’m still trying to find all the studies and analyze them as a group.

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