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Aunt Becky Returns — Podcast #188 — 03/01/10

Hey sex fans,

Becky Sherrick Harks, as her affable alter ego Aunt Becky, is back with more of what makes her the treasured sex writer, essayist and author of the wildly popular blog, Mommy Wants Vodka. This is Part 2 of our conversation for The Erotic Mind podcast series.

Part 1 of our chat, which appeared last week at this time, can be found in the podcast archive. All ya have to do is use the site’s search function in the sidebar to your right; type in Podcast #186 and PRESTO! But don’t forget the #sign when you do your search.

Aunt Becky will also share more fruit of her Erotic Mind. We’ll learn why vacation sex is the best sex there is.

Aunt Becky and I discuss:

  • Sex writing essays — cohesive presentation with a punch line.
  • How her writing has changed over the years.
  • Exploring the absurdity of sex and mommyhood.
  • The power of words.
  • Getting off on making people laugh and grossing them out.
  • Her audience and the reactions she gets from her readers.
  • What the future holds for her.
  • Advice for the novice sex writer.

For more of Aunt Becky and her sex writing visit her on her Mommy Wants Vodka website HERE! Or the Toy With Me site HERE! Or look for her on Facebook HERE!

BE THERE OR BE SQUARE!

Check out The Lick-A-Dee-Split Connection. That’s Dr Dick’s toll free podcast voicemail HOTLINE. Don’t worry people; no one will personally answer the phone. Your message goes directly to voicemail.

Got a question or a comment? Wanna rant or rave? Or maybe you’d just like to talk dirty for a minute or two. Why not get it off your chest! Give Dr Dick a call at (866) 422-5680.

DON’T BE SHY, LET IT FLY!

One last thought, I hope you’re also following my two other interview series, which appear on Wednesdays. One is called Sex EDGE-U-cation — I converse with prominent practitioners, educators and advocates of unconventional sexual expressions and lifestyles. And we investigate the world of fetish sex and kink. The other is called SEX WISDOM — here I chat with researchers, educators, clinicians, pundits and philosophers who are making news and reshaping how we look at our sexual selves. I can assure you that these conversations will be well worth the time you spend with us.

Look for all my podcasts on iTunes. You’ll find me in the podcast section, obviously. Just search for Dr Dick Sex Advice. And don’t forget to subscribe. I wouldn’t want you to miss even one episode.

Today’s Podcast is bought to you by: Fleshlight & FleshJack.

The Joys of Muff Diving

Name: Carol
Gender: Female
Age: 28
Location: Montreal
I like oral sex, but my new BF doesn’t know what he’s doing down there. He’s really sweet and I like him a lot. Unfortunately, he thinks he’s like this really great lover when actually he sucks…and not in a good way. I know he reads your column, he was the one that turned me on to your site, so could you give him some pointers on how to orally pleasure a woman. He doesn’t listen to me.

keep-calm

Alrighty then, Carol! Instead of me, who has no pussy, pontificating on the joys of muff diving, I turned to my #1 friend of the lesbian persuasion, Joy. Not only does she have her very own pussy, she sure as shootin’ knows her way around other pussies as well. I shared your letter with her and asked her for her advice. I figure, if you wanna learn how to do something right, ya talk to a pro. Simply put, no one sucks cock as good as a homo; no one gobbles clam like a dyke. Enough said!

Joy’s first comment was…and I quote; “What’s this chick doin’ with a dude? If she wants good head, he should bed a dyke. Once you go lezzie, you never go back.” Ahhh, Joy is such a…joy!

Ok, so giving a chick some head is about the most perfect sexual thing you can do for a woman. It makes her feel special. What woman doesn’t groove on knowin’ her partner finds her finger-lickin’ good? And maybe that’s a real good place to start this tutorial. If you don’t like the taste or smell of pussy juice, give up on the idea that you’ll be a fabulous lover. However, if you want to give this whole eating out at the Y thing a try, but you don’t know if you can handle your partner smell, or she’s unsure about you bein’ down there, thinking she might smell, you guys could start off by showering or bathing together.

Many women prefer oral to intercourse, because it has the potential to give her an exceptional orgasm. And for all those gals out there who need loads direct clitoral work to get off, mouth-to-clit stimulation is one of the easiest, most enjoyable ways to get make that happen.

Joy says that the biggest mistake a guy can make with a pussy is divin’ in without knowing his way around. And like I always say, ladies, it is absolutely up to you to introduce your partner to your particular beaver. Remember, just because he might have been with other women, don’t make him an expert on your parts. Get it? Got it? GOOD!

muff2The novice cunt lapper will do well to approach this amazing piece of human anatomy very gently…at first. If the woman you’re eatin’ wants it more vigorous, she will ask for it. So relax and enjoy! If all this licking and sucking isn’t a turn on for you, it won’t be much of a pleasure for her, either. So, if you’re heart is not in it; don’t bother.

Don’t make the mistake that Carol’s boyfriend makes. Listen to the feedback you’re gettin on the job you’re doin’. If you’re not gettin feedback, ask for it. Just don’t talk with your mouth full. Once you hit on something that works with the gal you’re with, stick with it for a while. Unless of course you’re trying to drive her wild with some tongue teasing.

Joy insists that a soft tongue and a relaxed jaw works best. And holy cow, she knows of what she speaks. She always starts out licking her pal from vaginal entrance up to her clit. She follows the outer edges of her pal’s pussy along both sides —s lowly at first, then more rapidly. Sometimes she’ll even throw in a little raspberries. You know, the vibrating sound you make when you force breath through lightly closed lips. Joy stands by this technique, don’t cha know! Sounds like so much fun I kinda wish I had me a cooch.

Don’t be caught with idle hands while you’re eating out at the Y. Gently press the two outer vaginal lips together then run your tongue between the inner and outer labia one side at a time. Try poking your tongue into her vagina. The extent of the nerve endings for the typical woman’s vagina are around the opening and within the first couple of inches inside. Target them with a darting tongue motion. Insert a hardened tongue into her hole. Try moving your tongue in and out, as well as in circles around the inside of her opening.

Spread her outer vaginal lips with your fingers. With your tongue pointed, gently flick your tongue around her clit. Feel free to roam around in there, but keep coming back to her clit, because it’s the most sensitive area…just like your dick head, you dickhead! Some women find the direct approach too intense. If this is the case with your woman, blow a stream of warm breath over and around the clit. This lighter breathy touch might just do the trick. Again, be sure to ask for feedback and then do precisely what she says.

Once your partner is good and hot and juicy wet, Joy suggests you kick things up a notch. Spread her lips, expose her clit and give it a quick little suck. If this hits the spot, you might want to lightly pull back her clitoral hood and repeat the quick sucking motion. Joy assures me that this feels incredible, and it’s just the thing to do if you feel like tormenting your partner. Now take her exposed clit into your mouth and gently suck on it, simultaneously flicking your tongue over and around it. This combined with fingering her vag, will usually produce an intense orgasm.

Keep your tongue and hands busy flicking and massaging, poking and prodding lapping and kneading. In other words, find out what she likes and how she likes it and let her have it just that way.

Finally, Joy suggests you surprise the little woman by having a mint or an ice chip in your mouth while you eat her out. These can create a very intense tingling sensation and will enhance your performance immeasurably.

Good luck

What’s Your True Sexual Orientation? The Purple-Red Scale Is Here to Help You Find Out

By Nicolas DiDomizio

sexual orientation4

When reality TV dumpling Honey Boo Boo Child declared that “everybody’s a little bit gay” three years ago, she was unknowingly taking a page out of sexologist Alfred Kinsey’s book. His famous Kinsey scale, which identifies people’s levels of same- or opposite-sex attraction with a number from zero to six (zero being exclusively straight, six being exclusively gay), has been a favorite cultural metric for measuring sexual orientation since it was created in 1948.

But even though asking someone where they fall on the Kinsey scale is now a common dating website opener, the Kinsey scale is far from an all-inclusive system. As Southern California man Langdon Parks recently realized, the scale fails to address other aspects of human sexuality, such as whether or not we even care about getting laid in the first place.

So Parks decided to develop a more comprehensive alternative: the Purple-Red Scale of Attraction, which he recently posted on /r/Asexuality. Like the Kinsey scale, the Purple-Red scale allows you to assign a number from zero to six to your level of same-sex or heterosexual attraction, but it also lets you label how you experience that attraction on a scale of A to F. A represents asexuality, or a total lack of interest in sex “besides friendship and/or aesthetic attraction,” while F represents hypersexuality.

Pick your letter-number combo below:

sexual orientation5

Parks told Mic that he came up with the idea for the Purple-Red scale after learning about asexuality and realizing that he was a “heteroromantic asexual, or a B0 on the scale” — someone who is interested exclusively in romantic, nonsexual relationships with the opposite sex.

“I then thought, not only are there sexual and asexual people, [but] there are different kinds of sexual people as well,” he said. “I thought of adding a second dimension to Kinsey’s scale to represent different levels of attraction.” (As for the color scheme, Parks opted for purple because of its designation as the official color of asexuality, while “‘red-blooded’ is a term often used to describe someone who is hypersexual.)

The scale represents all possible degrees of sexual attraction, from those who only want to have sex when they’re in a relationship to those who are ready and rarin’ to go pretty much whenever. For instance, if we use Sex and the City as an example, Carrie would likely be an E1, while the more prudish Charlotte is probably more of a D0 and uptight Miranda an E0. Our beloved bisexual, sex-crazed Samantha? Totally an F2.

trysexual

Busting myths about sexual attraction: Back in 1978, Dr. Fritz Klein tried to update the scale to make it more inclusive of a wider range of sexual experiences, as well as sexual fantasies. His final product, the Klein Sexual Orientation Grid, came out a bit clunky, however, and was still based on the assumption that everyone using it was capable of experiencing sexual attraction in the first place.

Parks’ Purple-Red Scale accounts for those who experience sexual attraction at different times in different contexts, as well as those who don’t experience it at all. That’s notable in part because although asexuality is not exactly rare — according to one estimate, approximately 1 in 100 people are asexual, though they might not self-identify as such — it’s one of the most widely misunderstood sexual orientations, with many people assuming that asexuals are just closeted gay people or too socially awkward to have sex.

But asexuality is a legitimate sexual orientation with many unique shades of its own. As the Huffington Post reported back in 2013, many asexual people don’t just identify as asexual. For instance, they can also self-identify as “heteroromantic” (meaning they’re interested in having exclusively romantic, nonsexual relationships with members of the opposite sex) or “demisexual” (meaning they’re open to experiencing sexual attraction within the context of a strong emotional connection or committed relationship).

“Some people don’t want to have sex in a relationship at all, and others view it as the whole point of the relationship,” Parks told Mic. “Yet others typically start off having no feelings but build them up over time. Still others don’t want sex for themselves, but are still willing to have it for other reasons,” such as to procreate or make their partner happy.

That’s why Parks’ Purple-Red scale is so important: It acknowledges the shades of grey in sexual orientation and sexual interest. Both, he explained, are fluid and largely dependent on context.

Why do we need scales in the first place? While the Purple-Red scale is helpful in classifying sexual attraction, some people might argue that we don’t need a cut-and-dry system for classifying our sexuality in the first place. If the burgeoning “label-free” movement of sexual fluidity is any indication, coming up with clinical labels like “E2” or “B0” might be purposeless or even counterproductive to achieving true sexual freedom.

But Parks believes that having a simple tool like the Purple-Red Attraction Scale can be useful, particularly as a way to improve communication in the dating world. “The scale was designed to provide a quick and easy way of scoring a person’s view of relationships on forums and dating sites,” he said. Imagine, for instance, if you logged onto OkCupid and entered your sexual orientation as D5, instead of simply self-identifying as “gay,” “straight” or “bisexual.”

Parks also noted that the Purple-Red scale is a great way to match partners who have similar or compatible sex drives. “Attraction type is every bit as important as orientation,” he told Mic. “We see it all the time: John wants sex, sex, sex, while Jane doesn’t have the feeling right away.”

sexual orientation3

Because discrepancies in sex drive can cause problems in same-sex and opposite-sex relationships, Parks wants people to use the scale as a way to establish sexual compatibility right off the bat.

“Instead of relying on assumptions like ‘Oh, he’s a guy, go for it!’ or ‘She’s a woman, wait for it,’ people can now use their letters to describe their basic outlook on relationships,” he said.

“Attraction type is every bit as important as orientation.”

Perhaps one day, we’ll live in a world where we don’t need something like the Purple-Red scale to tell us about our own sexuality; a world where we don’t need to fit who we want to have sex with into boxes or spectrums or scales. But for the time being, whether you’re a B2 or an F5 or a D6, it’s cool that we have something like Parks’ scale to help us answer the nagging questions about sexual orientation that our culture keeps asking us to answer — and maybe it can help us find out a little bit more about ourselves.

Complete Article HERE!

Bend Over, Bro: The Men Who Love Pegging

by Gareth May

With one sex toy company proclaiming 2016 as the year that pegging takes off, it’s time to re-evaluate the benefits of telling your boyfriend to bend over.

Men Who Love Pegging

This is the most vulnerable I have been in a long time. Flat on my back, pillow under my ass, legs akimbo; my ankles are so close to my eyes I can inspect the architecture of my bones. And then she’s on me, all hot breath and readiness, a portrait of cockiness and control.

“Do you want my dick?” she asks, leaning over me, prodding at my most intimate space with something slippery and cold.

“Yes,” I whimper. “I do…” and I close my eyes and think of Charlie Glickman.

The year is 2011. Japan has suffered its biggest earthquake in over a century, the Arab Spring is tearing up the Middle East and the English riots are lighting up cities like Guy Fawkes. It’s pretty safe to say the world is going to hell – and at this juncture, to suggest that the answer to stopping this big ball of dirt we call home death-sliding right down the pan can be found at the tip of a dildo is, well, borderline delusional. Unless you’re sex & relationship coach Charlie Glickman PhD, that is.

Of course, when Glickman penned the blog post ‘How Pegging Can Save The World’ his thoughts were far from the above. Sadly, he wasn’t saying the best way to patch up world peace was to have soldiers and cops pull on a pair of Triple Penetrator Dildo Pants. In fact, Glickman was advocating role reversal in the bedroom, as a way of offering straight men an insight—”when sex is about catching rather than pitching”—into their female partner’s pleasure, potential discomfort and vulnerability. It’s something that I can certainly attest to.

“[Pegging] won’t make communication miraculously easy and it won’t fix everything about sexism or gender-based inequities [but] what it can do (besides being lots of fun) is help people develop empathy, compassion, and understanding for their partners,” he wrote. “And the more of that we have in the world, the better.”

Five years on and Glickman’s prophecy is inching (six, if you care to know) ever closer, especially if we take into account mainstream references in hit comedy Broad City as well as new year blockbuster Deadpool. Of course, pegging is nothing new. The 1976 Golden Age of Porn classic The Opening of Misty Beethoven featured a pegging scene; and the act emerged again, in bisexual and queer circles at least, in Carol Queen’s 1998 sex ed video Bend Over Boyfriend, culminating with Dan Savage coining the term “peg” for the first time in 2001 after a vote on his blog, Savage Love (“bob,” named after Queen’s vid, was also in the running).

Abbi considers pegging her date

Abbi considers pegging her date.

Mainstream depictions on Peep Show (2005), Weeds (2006) and Dirt (2007) followed, but whereas these portrayals involved an element of shame or “putting something up a man’s ass WTF” weirdness, Broad City and Deadpool celebrate pegging in a completely non-judgemental way. In the former, Abbi rises to the challenge (with a bit of wall twerking enthusiasm from Ilana) to peg her super-keen date and in the latter, pegging is thrown into the middle of sex montage like it’s no big deal; it just happens.

Erotic content is also seeing a pegging boom that defies demographics. Extreme hardcore producers Evil Angel, which boasts a 99 percent male viewership, tell me that their Strap Some Boyz series (link NSFW) has grown in popularity in recent years. Couple-friendly luxury sex toy brand LELO tagged 2016 as the year pegging really takes off, after the sales of male “anal pleasure objects” increased by 200 percent in 2015. As LELO point out in their yearly trends press release, “the deepening knowledge of gender expressions and sexual identities” as well as “the language of non-binary genders” are freeing people, particularly men, from the conventional confines of sexual identity, gender, and pleasure.

Dr Chauntelle Tibbals, sociologist and author of Exposure: A Sociologist Explores Sex, Society, and Adult Entertainment concurs, telling me that such increasing acceptance of ‘taboo’ sexual play that destabilizes gender norms may point to wider social ideals about sex. “In the past 10 years we have seen such an explosion in public gender awareness, understanding, and a willingness to explore boundaries and the social norms that contributed to the construction of said boundaries,” she says. “It’s only logical that pegging is now something we see in a comic book Hollywood film (Deadpool).”

r/pegging is a subreddit for pegging enthusiasts. Any of the 34,000 plus redditors post on everything from harness advice to “we did it!” confirmation images (link NSFW). I spoke to two of its members to find out why they got into pegging and the impact it’s had on their sex lives. Drew Harris* is an American construction worker. We exchanged messages a few days after he’d first been pegged. “My wife thought the macho man/tough guy attitude was something she wanted in her life [but the expectation] was not making me happy as that isn’t how I normally am and she wasn’t very happy either,” he told me.

A sample post from r/pegging.

A sample post from r/pegging.

“When we switched roles [with his wife as the dominant sexual partner and he as the submissive] everything pretty much felt right for both of us.” I also messaged ‘getsome187’ who has introduced pegging into his last four relationships. “Some of the girls would wonder if I was bisexual or felt inadequate by wearing a fake cock but they got over it,” he said. “It’s like I’m sharing something intimate with them and it brings us closer because there is a kind of vulnerability to it.”

‘M’, who I messaged on the kink social network Fetlife, and who has pegged two of her male partners, agrees. “Sometimes it can be a really intimate moment, at other times it can be dominating and filthy,” she says. “I definitely think it can bring you closer though. It’s nice when someone trusts you with their vulnerability.”

It seems that this shared knowledge of vulnerability stems from experiencing two sides of the same coin: that of penetration. “For a man who has never received anal penetration, sex happens outside the body,” Glickman told me in an email. “So while men might intellectually understand the need for warm-up before penetration, it’s not the same thing as experiencing it. There’s a different perspective that comes from knowing on a somatic level and I’ve talked with lots of women who say that exploring pegging has given their male partners a more attuned, patient approach to intercourse.”

Can pegging save the world? It certainly turned mine on its head. In the wake of pegging, instead of feeling emasculated, I felt empowered. All the social norms of being a straight man in the bedroom (I must be the penetrator, I must be in charge) had literally been fucked into insignificance.

“I think that any time someone is penetrating their partner, whether with a cock or a strap on, it’s about pleasure,” adult star and director of Guide to Wicked Sex: Anal Play for Men Jessica Drake told me in an email. “Everyone should try it once.”

Complete Article HERE!

Scents and Sensibility

“Sexual chemistry” is more than just a way of talking about heated attraction. Subtle chemical keys actually help determine who we fall for. But here comes news that our lifestyles may unwittingly undermine our natural sex appeal.

By Elizabeth Svoboda

illustrated sex

Psychologists Rachel Herz and Estelle Campenni were just getting to know each other, swapping stories about their lives over coffee, when Campenni confided something unexpected: She was living proof, she said, of love at first smell. “I knew I would marry my husband the minute I smelled him,” she told Herz. “I’ve always been into smell, but this was different; he really smelled good to me. His scent made me feel safe and at the same time turned on—and I’m talking about his real body smell, not cologne or soap. I’d never felt like that from a man’s smell before. We’ve been married for eight years now and have three kids, and his smell is always very sexy to me.”

Everyone knows what it’s like to be powerfully affected by a partner’s smell—witness men who bury their noses in their wives’ hair and women who can’t stop sniffing their boyfriends’ T-shirts. And couples have long testified to the ways scent-based chemistry affects their relationships. “One of the most common things women tell marriage counselors is, ‘I can’t stand his smell,'” says Herz, the author of The Scent of Desire.

Sexual attraction remains one of life’s biggest mysteries. We might say we go for partners who are tall and thin, love to cook, or have a mania for exercise, but when push comes to shove, studies show, the people we actually end up with possess few of the traits we claim to want. Some researchers think scent could be the hidden cosmological constant in the sexual universe, the missing factor that explains who we end up with. It may even explain why we feel “chemistry”—or “sparks” or “electricity”—with one person and not with another.nice boobs

Physical attraction itself may literally be based on smell. We discount the importance of scent-centric communication only because it operates on such a subtle level. “This is not something that jumps out at you, like smelling a good steak cooking on the grill,” says Randy Thornhill, an evolutionary psychologist at the University of New Mexico. “But the scent capability is there, and it’s not surprising to find smell capacity in the context of sexual behavior.” As a result, we may find ourselves drawn to the counter attendant at the local drugstore, but have no idea why—or, conversely, find ourselves put off by potential dating partners even though they seem perfect on paper.

Though we may remain partially oblivious to scent signals we’re sending and receiving, new research suggests that we not only come equipped to choose a romantic partner who smells good to us, but that this choice has profound biological implications. As we act out the complex rituals of courtship, many of them inscribed deep in our brain, scent-based cues help us zero in on optimal partners—the ones most likely to stay faithful to us and to create healthy children with us.

At first blush, the idea of scent-based attraction might seem hypothetical and ephemeral, but when we unknowingly interfere with the transmission of subtle olfactory messages operating below the level of conscious awareness, the results can be both concrete and devastating. When we disregard what our noses tell us, we can find ourselves mired in partnerships that breed sexual discontent, infertility, and even—in extreme cases—unhealthy offspring.

The Scent of Desire

When you’re turned on by your partner’s scent, taking a deep whiff of his chest or the back of her neck feels like taking a powerful drug—it’s an instant flume ride to bliss, however momentary. Research has shown that we use scent-based signaling mechanisms to suss out compatibility. Claus Wedekind, a biologist at the University of Lausanne in Switzerland, created Exhibit A of this evidence by giving 44 men new T-shirts and instructing them to wear the shirts for two straight nights. To ensure that the sweat collecting on the shirts would remain “odor-neutral,” he supplied the men with scent-free soap and aftershave.

hair pullAfter the men were allowed to change, 49 women sniffed the shirts and specified which odors they found most attractive. Far more often than chance would predict, the women preferred the smell of T-shirts worn by men who were immunologically dissimilar to them. The difference lay in the sequence of more than 100 immune system genes known as the MHC, or major histocompatibility complex. These genes code for proteins that help the immune system recognize pathogens. The smell of their favorite shirts also reminded the women of their past and current boyfriends, suggesting that MHC does indeed influence women’s dating decisions in real life.

Women’s preference for MHC-distinct mates makes perfect sense from a biological point of view. Ever since ancestral times, partners whose immune systems are different have produced offspring who are more disease-resistant. With more immune genes expressed, kids are buffered against a wider variety of pathogens and toxins.

But that doesn’t mean women prefer men whose MHC genes are most different from theirs, as University of Chicago evolutionary biologist Martha McClintock found when she performed a T-shirt study similar to Wedekind’s. Women are not attracted to the smell of men with whom they had no MHC genes in common. “This might be a case where you’re protecting yourself against a mate who’s too similar or too dissimilar, but there’s a middle range where you’re OK,” McClintock says.

Women consistently outperform men in smell sensitivity tests, and they also make greater time and energy sacrifices on their children’s behalf than men do—in addition to bearing offspring, they look after them most of the time. These factors may explain why women are more discriminating in sniffing out MHC compatibility.

Men are sensitive to smell as well, but because women shoulder a greater reproductive burden, and are therefore choosier about potential mates, researchers are not surprised to find that women are also more discriminating in sniffing out MHC compatibility.

Unlike, say, blood types, MHC gene complements differ so much from one person to the next that there’s no obvious way to reliably predict who’s MHC-compatible with whom. Skin color, for instance, isn’t much help, since groups of people living in different areas of the world might happen to evolve genetic resistance to some of the same germs. “People of different ethnicities can have similar profiles, so race is not a good predictor of MHC dissimilarity,” Thornhill says.

And because people’s MHC profiles are as distinct as fingerprints—there are thousands of possible gene combinations—a potential sex partner who smells good to one woman may completely repel another. “There’s no Brad Pitt of smell,” Herz says. “Body odor is an external manifestation of the immune system, and the smells we think are attractive come from the people who are most genetically compatible with us.” Much of what we vaguely call “sexual chemistry,” she adds, is likely a direct result of this scent-based compatibility.our what?

Typically, our noses steer us in the right direction when it comes to picking a reproductively compatible partner. But what if they fail us and we wind up with a mate whose MHC profile is too similar to our own? Carol Ober, a geneticist at the University of Chicago, explored this question in her studies of members of the Hutterite religious clan, an Amish-like closed society that consists of some 40,000 members and extends through the rural Midwest. Hutterites marry only other members of their clan, so the variety in their gene pool is relatively low. Within these imposed limits, Hutterite women nevertheless manage to find partners who are MHC-distinct from them most of the time.

The few couples with a high degree of MHC similarity, however, suffered higher rates of miscarriage and experienced longer intervals between pregnancies, indicating more difficulty conceiving. Some scientists speculate that miscarriages may be the body’s way of curtailing investment in a child who isn’t likely to have a strong immune system anyway.

What’s more, among heterosexual couples, similar MHC profiles spell relational difficulty, Christine Garver-Apgar, a psychologist at the University of New Mexico, has found. “As the proportion of MHC alleles increased, women’s sexual responsiveness to their partners decreased, and their number of sex partners outside the relationship increased,” Garver-Apgar reports. The number of MHC genes couples shared corresponded directly with the likelihood that they would cheat on one another; if a man and woman had 50 percent of their MHC alleles in common, the woman had a 50 percent chance of sleeping with another man behind her partner’s back.

The Divorce Pill?

Women generally prefer the smell of men whose MHC gene complements are different from theirs, setting the stage for the best biological match. But Wedekind’s T-shirt study revealed one notable exception to this rule: women on the birth-control pill. When the pill users among his subjects sniffed the array of pre-worn T-shirts, they preferred the scent of men whose MHC profiles were similar to theirs—the opposite of their pill-free counterparts.

This dramatic reversal of smell preferences may reflect the pill’s mechanism of action: It prevents the ovaries from releasing an egg, fooling the body into thinking it’s pregnant. And since pregnancy is such a vulnerable state, it seems to activate a preference for kin, who are genetically similar to us and likely to serve as protectors. “When pregnant rodent females are exposed to strange males, they can spontaneously abort,” Herz says. “The same may be true for human females.” What’s more, some women report a deficit in sex drive when they take the pill, a possible consequence of its pregnancy-mimicking function.

The tendency to favor mates with similar MHC genes could potentially hamper the durability of pill users’ relationships in the long term. While Herz shies away from dubbing hormonal birth control “the divorce pill,” as a few media outlets have done in response to her theories, she does think the pill jumbles women’s smell preferences. “It’s like picking your cousins as marriage partners,” Herz says. “It constitutes a biological error.” As a result, explains Charles Wysocki, a psychobiologist at Florida State University, when such a couple decides to have children and the woman stops taking birth control, she may find herself less attracted to her mate for reasons she doesn’t quite understand. “On a subconscious level, her brain is realizing a mistake was made—she married the wrong guy,” he says.

“Some couples’ fertility problems may be related to the pill-induced flip-flop in MHC preferences,” Garver-Apgar adds. No one has yet collected data to indicate whether the pill has created a large-scale problem in compatibility. Still, Herz recommends that women seeking a long-term partner consider alternative birth control methods, at least until they get to know their potential significant other well and are sure they like the way he smells. “If you’re looking for a man to be the father of your child,” she says, “go off the pill before you start your search.”

If you were on the pill when you met your current partner, the situation is more complicated. Once a relationship has progressed to long-term commitment, says Herz, a woman’s perception of her partner’s smell is so intertwined with her emotional reaction to him that it could be difficult for her to assess his scent as if he were a stranger. “If she’s in love, he could smell like a garbage can and she’d still be attracted to him.”

Crossed Signals

The pill subverts a woman’s ability to sniff out a compatible mate by causing her to misinterpret the scent messages she receives. But it may warp olfactory communication channels in the other direction as well, distorting the signals she sends—and making her seem less appealing to men, an irony given that women typically take the pill to boost their appeal in a partner’s eyes.

Geoffrey Miller, an evolutionary psychologist at the University of New Mexico and author of The Mating Mind, noticed the pill’s connection to waning male desire while studying a group of exotic dancers—women whose livelihoods depend on how sexually appealing they are to male customers. Non-pill-using dancers made about 50 percent more in tips than dancers on oral contraceptives. In other words, women who were on the pill were only about two-thirds as sexy as women who weren’t.

Why were the pill-takers in the study so much less attractive to men? “Women are probably doing something unconsciously, and men are responding to it unconsciously,” says Miller. “We just don’t know whether it has to do with a shift in their psychology, their tone of voice, or if it’s more physical, as in the kind of pheromones they’re putting out.”

The biggest earners in Miller’s study were non-pill-using dancers at the time of ovulation. Other studies have shown that men rate women as smelling best when they are at the most fertile point of their menstrual cycles, suggesting that women give off scent-based signals that broadcast their level of fecundity. “The pill might be producing cues that a woman is in the early stage of pregnancy, which would not tend to elicit a lot of male sexual interest,” Miller says. “It makes sense for men to be sensitive to that and for them not to feel the same chemistry with the woman.”

Drowning in Fragrance

The pill isn’t the only way we might confound sexual chemistry. Every day, far more people may be subverting their quest for love with soap and bottled fragrances. In ancestral times, smelling ripe was just a fact of life, absent hot showers and shampoo. This held true well into the 19th century, when the miasma of body odor in Parisian streets grew so thick that it was dubbed “The Great Stink of 1880.” Back when a person’s scent could waft across a room, a mere handshake could provide valuable information about attraction.

Since the 20th-century hygiene revolution and the rise of the personal-care industry, however, companies have pitched deodorants, perfumes, and colognes to consumers as the epitome of sex appeal. But instead of furthering our quest to find the perfect mate, such products may actually derail it, say researchers, by masking our true scent and making it difficult for prospects to assess compatibility. “Humans abuse body smell signals by hiding them, masking them, putting on deodorant,” says Devendra Singh, a psychologist at the University of Texas. “The noise-to-signal ratio was much better in primitive society.”

Miller argues that modern hygiene may be such an impediment to sexual signaling that it could explain why so many people in our culture get so physical so fast. “Hunter-gatherers didn’t have to do a lot of kissing, because they could smell each other pretty clearly from a few feet away,” Miller says. “With all the showering, scents, and soap, we have to get our noses and mouths really up close to people to get a good idea of their biochemistry. People are more motivated to do a lot more kissing and petting, to do that assessment before they have sex.” In other words, the need to smell our mates—and the comparative difficulty of doing so in today’s environment of perfumes and colognes—may actually be driving the sexual disinhibition of modern society.

Scents and SensibilityOther scientists counter that odor detection is a bit subtler. For one thing, it’s possible we select store-bought scents to complement our natural odorprints, rather than mask them entirely: One study found that people with similar MHC profiles tend to go for the same colognes. And Garver-Apgar points out that in spending hours together each day, partners have ample opportunity to experience each other sans artificial scents. “Once you’re in a close enough relationship,” she says, “you’re going to get a real whiff at some point.”

Scents and Sensibility

There’s no way to know whether couples who shell out thousands of dollars to fertility clinics—and those who struggle to make a relationship work because “the chemistry just isn’t there”—suffer MHC incompatibility. We might never know, since a multitude of factors contributes to every reproductive and romantic outcome. But we can, at least, be cognizant of the importance of natural scent.

“Scent can be a deal breaker if it’s not right, just like someone being too stupid or unkind or short,” says Miller. Nevertheless, smell isn’t the be-all and end-all of attraction, but one of a constellation of important factors. Armed with knowledge of how scent-based attraction operates, we have some power to decide how much priority we want to accord it. Is it more important to be with the partner who smells amazing and with whom you have great chemistry, or with the one who may not attract you quite as much on a physical level but is honest and reliable?

“People tend to treat this as an either-or situation: Either we’re completely driven by pheromones, like moths, or we’re completely in charge of our own destiny,” University of Chicago psychologist McClintock says. “But it’s not a wild idea that both factors are involved.” While people like Estelle Campenni have reaped untold benefits by trusting their scent impressions, it’s ultimately up to us how highly we value what our noses tell us.—Elizabeth Svoboda

Follow Your Nose

How to put your nose to work in choosing a partner—or evaluating an existing one.

Think twice about opting for the pill if you’re seeking a long-term partner. The first few weeks of a relationship are critical to assessing compatibility, so make sure your nose is up to the task.

Try a fragrance-free week. Eliminate factors that could throw your nostrils off. Have your partner set aside scented shower gels in favor of fragrance-free soap, nix the cologne, and use only unscented deodorant.

Keep smell’s importance in context. If you sometimes find your partner’s scent off-putting, don’t panic; it doesn’t necessarily mean fertility issues are in your future. Connections between MHC compatibility and conception problems have yet to be confirmed in large-scale population studies, so don’t plunk down big bucks for MHC testing at this point.

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