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Men Fake Orgasms, Too, and We Can Blame the Patriarchy

By Christina Cauterucci

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As the punch line of plenty a hackneyed sitcom and amateur stand-up routine, the faked orgasm has long been relegated to the sphere of women’s work. That might be why, every time a new study about men’s feigned orgasms pops up, the internet reels in disbelief.

“WHAT? How did we not know this before?” wondered Cosmopolitan on Friday in response to a new Canadian survey of 230 men age 18 to 29 who’d faked orgasms with their current partners. On average, the men reported pretending to orgasm during a full quarter of their sexual encounters. In 2014, Time Out New York was “surprised” when a “whopping” 30.6 percent of its survey participants (fewer than 100 New York men) admitted to faking orgasms. But that number wasn’t too far off from the results of a 2010 University of Kansas study, which saw 25 percent of its 180 male respondents say they’d faked it. That figure rose to 28 percent when researchers narrowed it down to those men who’d had penile-vaginal sex. Some have used these facts to stir anxiety and self-conscious terror in women who have sex with men: “Has YOUR man ever faked his orgasm?” the Daily Mail asked when the Time Out survey dropped.

Luckily, this new Canadian survey doesn’t lend itself to knee-jerk sexual dread. Instead, it delves into the reasons why men fake orgasms and how those reasons correlate to their relationship satisfaction. Previous studies have shown that men’s rationales for feigning orgasm are not so different from the reasons why women play pretend in bed. Both have reported that they fake because they’re intoxicated, to arouse their partner, and to end sex sooner; the most common reason among both genders is preserving partners’ feelings. This new survey indicates that men who pretend to orgasm because they want to avoid having a talk about their sexual needs are less likely to be satisfied in their relationship and in bed. The study’s authors say these men “might be contributing to [their] own low desire and satisfaction by reinforcing unsatisfying sexual activity by feigning orgasm rather than communicating [their] sexual needs and desires.”

But the root cause of this problem—faked orgasms as sub-ins for honest conversations about sexual desires—lie in gender norms that compel men to strive for unrealistic benchmarks of sexual performance. “The image is that men are always up for sex, which makes you feel under pressure to perform even when you don’t want to,” Harvard urologist Abraham Morgentaler said of men’s reasons for faking.

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Those same improbable expectations have given rise to women’s pretend orgasms, too. The authors of a 2010 study that found up to 80 percent of women faked orgasms wrote that women often do so “because their men are so goal-directed they won’t stop until a woman climaxes.” Our social construction of sexual pleasure has pegged men’s orgasms as simple—inevitable, even—and women’s orgasms as complicated reflections of their male partner’s sexual abilities. The authors of the new Canadian survey write that these reductive ideals may encourage men to feign orgasm to “appear normal” and women to fake it so their partners’ egos don’t crumble. In fact, they argue, the entire phenomenon of fake orgasms is a direct result of a patriarchal culture that enforces stringent gender norms:

Orgasm simulation constitutes a “complex emotional response to the intensely patriarchal culture in which women have sex” where the relative invisibility of women’s orgasm contributes to a constant cultural anxiety surrounding its authenticity. This anxiety, coupled with the cultural association of sexual technique with masculinity, creates an obligation for women to meet a standard of loud and exaggerated display of pleasure, providing fertile grounds for orgasm-simulation, which ultimately serve to privilege male sexuality.

At first, the knowledge that men, too, feel so much pressure to orgasm that they sometimes fake it makes the whole concept of the fake orgasm seem less insidious: Women aren’t the only ones who are sometimes more concerned with their partners’ feelings than they are with their own pleasure or desire to stop having sex. But when the rationale rests on gendered expectations, it still serves to uphold roles that form the foundation for toxic masculinity. It also paves the way for the profoundly sad possibility of repeated sexual encounters wherein both partners fake their orgasms to please or impress the other. That specter comes courtesy of a society that prizes orgasm over the complex reality of sexual pleasure.

Complete Article HERE!

Shaming Men Doesn’t Build Healthy Sexuality

By David J Ley Ph.D

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Male sexuality is intensely under attack, in the increasingly vitriolic social dialogue related to pornography. Though women watch and make pornography, most of the current debates focus on aspects of masculine sexual behaviors. These behaviors include masturbation, use of pornography, prostitutes or sexual entertainment like strip clubs. Promiscuity, sex without commitment, and use of sex to manage stress or tension are all things that are frequently a part of male sexuality, whether we like it or not. But, male sexuality is not a disease, not a public health crisis, it is not evil, and it does not overpower men’s lives or choices. Shaming men for these behaviors isolates men, and ignores powerful, important and healthy aspects of masculinity.

There is a common perception of male sexuality as intrinsi­cally selfish, overly focused on “scoring” and sexual conquests, on anonymous, “soulless” sex, and on the outward manifestations of virility.  But there are other, oft neglected sides of male eroticism. Straight men are far more focused upon women’s needs, and upon closeness with women, than we give them credit for. Nancy Friday wrote that “Men’s love of women is often greater than their love of self.” Men give up friends and male camaraderie and accept a life of economic support of women, even leading up to an earlier death, all in order to be with women. More than half of all men describe that their best sexual encounters came when they “gave a woman physical pleasure beyond her dreams.” Men redi­rect their selfishness away from their own satisfaction, and toward a sense of fulfillment and accomplishment, by giving sexual satisfaction. Male sexuality often involves an intense focus on the needs of their partners, and men gain great pleasure, even a strong sense of manliness, from giving their lover sexual pleasure.

In fact, men’s desire to sexually satisfy their partners comes at the price of their own satisfaction. When a man is unable to make his partner orgasm, many men report incredible frustration, disappointment, and self-doubt. Women even complain that men put so much pressure and intent upon helping the woman achieve orgasm that the act ceases to be pleasurable and starts to feel more like childbirth. In such cases, women fake orgasms, not for themselves, but to satisfy their partner’s needs. Until a woman has an orgasm, a man doesn’t think he’s done his job, and his masculinity hangs in the balance.

Franz_Von_Stuck_-_SisyphusMen are taught from a young age that they must be sexually competent and sexually powerful with exaggerated and impossible ideals. Surveys of sex in America find that, compared to women, men are far more insecure and anxious about their sexual performance. Nearly 30 percent of men fear that they ejaculate too soon, most men sometimes experience erectile dysfunction connected to anxiety, and one man in every six reports significant worries about his sexual abilities to satisfy his partner. These are huge burdens that men carry, and are just one reason why many men pursue other forms of sex such as masturbation to pornography.

Compared to women, men actually experience greater pain and psychological disruption from the ups and downs of romantic relationships. Not only do the negative aspects of a romantic relationship hurt men more than women, but the positive aspects and benefits of that relationship have greater impact upon the man than the woman. Because women are better able to access outside support from friends and family, they often fare better than men. Men are often isolated and burdened with the expectation that they shouldn’t feel pain, or if they do, they must suffer alone.

For men, physical affection and sex is one of the main ways we feel loved, accepted, and regarded. For many men, it is only through physical love that we can voice tenderness and express our desire for togetherness and physical bonding. Only in sex can we let down boundaries and drop our armor enough to be emotionally vulnerable.

Sex plays a greater role in the lives of men as a form of acceptance and mutual regard than it does for women. Women touch each other all the time, with hugs, holding hands, closer body contact, and smaller “personal space.” Men shake hands. Really good friends might, at best, punch each other in a loving way, do a careful “man hug,” or even swat each other’s buttocks, if it’s during an approved masculine sporting event. (Many homosexual men experience this differently, when they come out and are part of the LGBTQ community) So the body-to-body contact that sex offers feeds an appetite, a craving, one that is often starved near to death in men.

Male sexuality is portrayed as something that men must guard against, and describe it as though it is a demonic force, lurking within our souls, which must be constrained, feared and even rejected. Men are portrayed as powerless to control themselves, in the face of sexual arousal that is too strong. Men are painted as weak, harmed and warped by sexual experiences such as pornography. As a result, men are told to be ashamed of the sexual desires that society has called unhealthy, and told to forego those condemned sexual interests. But an essential part of man is lost when we encourage men to split them­selves from their sexuality.

Unfortunately, as we teach men to be men, to understand, accept, and express their masculinity, we rarely attend adequately to the loving, nurturing, and amo­rous side of men. The most positive way that society and media currently portray male sexuality is when it is depicted as bumbling and stupid-making, a force that turns men into fools, easily led by our penises. But more often, male sexuality is depicted as a force that hovers just on the edge of rape, rage and destruction.

What is necessary for a healthy man, for complete masculinity, is the in­tegration, consolidation, and incorporation of ALL the varied aspects of our sexuality. When we try to externalize our desires for love and sex, excising them from ourselves as something external and dangerous, we run the real risk of creat­ing men without compassion, without tenderness, and without the ability to nurture. It is easy to suggest that what we are trying to excise are the base, primitive parts of men’s eroticism, those desires to rape, dominate, and sat­isfy oneself selfishly. But in truth, those desires, as frightening as they can be, are integrally linked to male emotional desires for safety, acceptance, protection of others, and belonging.

A_ShipwreckThose things that make men admired and respected—their strength, courage, independence, and assertiveness—are the same things which contribute to the differences in male and female sexuality. By condemning these characteristics, we run the real and frightening risk of abolishing qualities that are essential to healthy masculinity.

A healthy sexual male is one who accepts and understands his erotic and sexual desires, along with his drive for success, dominance (and often submission as well) and excellence. Healthy sexual choices come from internal acceptance and awareness, not rejection and shame. Research has shown that all men have the ability to exercise control over their levels of sexual arousal and sexual behavior, but no men can fully suppress their sexual desire. Healthy men can be men who go to strip clubs, visit prostitutes and watch pornography. They are men who make conscious sexual choices, accepting the consequences of their actions.

Our culture needs a sexual ethic focused on personal relationships and social justice rather than particular sexual acts. All persons have the right and responsibility to lead sexual lives that express love, justice, mutuality, commitment, consent and pleasure. Grounded in respect for the body and for the vulnerability that intimacy brings, this ethic fosters physical, emotional and spiritual health. It accepts no double standards and applies to all persons, without regard to sex, gender, color, age, bodily condition, marital status or sexual orientation. The Religious Institute

We need to begin encouraging personal integrity, responsibility, self-awareness and respect, both for oneself and one’s sexual partner(s). This is, I think, the goal for all men – to make their sexual choices an integrated part of who they are, and the kind of man they desire to be. Unfortunately, as long as we continue to shame and condemn men in general, and specific sexual acts, we are merely isolating men. Further, we are exacerbating the problem, because removing porn or shaming men for their desires or fantasies, does not teach men how to be a sexually healthy man.

Complete Article HERE!

6 Reasons Why Orgasms Need to Be Part of Your Morning Routine – Starting Now!

By Erica Braverman

Forget fiber cereal and coffee – and orgasm is the best way to start the day, hands down.

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A great start to the day can make the rest of the day fly by so much better. So what makes for a great start? Why not add an orgasm to the mix? Not only will your mornings be much more enjoyable, you’ll also get to enjoy a ton of physical and emotional benefits that last the entire day – and beyond!

Not convinced? Here are six benefits of daily orgasms:

Less Stress

Orgasm releases feel-good endorphins like dopamine and serotonin into the body, leaving you more calm, happy and balanced. Starting the day with a dose of good vibes will give you the clear mind you need to tackle whatever fresh hell the day serves up with a zen-like poise. (Try more than one! Read Top Tips for Multiples Female Orgasms for tips on how to do it.)

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Better Work Performance

Say buh-bye to anxiety and hello to the corner office. A recent study in Scotland proved that people who had orgasms before important speaking engagements felt much calmer and more self-possessed when it came time to deliver their speeches. This was probably thanks to the reduced cortisol levels that come from orgasm. Can you say “win-win situation”?

Bye Bye Belly Bloat

When you orgasm, a rush of oxytocin surges through you, making you feel physically amazing – while shoving your cortisol levels out the window. Since cortisol is the hormone behind both stress and belly bloat, you’re actually killing two birds with one stone. Go you.

Big, Beautiful Brains

Skip today’s regularly scheduled Sudoku puzzle – an orgasm doesn’t just make you feel great, it also improves your memory and boosts your brain activity. This is mainly due to a spike in your DHEA hormone, which also gives your skin that amazing post-sex glow. Hello, beauty and brains.

Laser-Sharp Focus

Masturbation is like meditation. You go through the motions, you do it consistently, you are persistent and regular, and after a while – boom! – our mind changes, you get used to the focusing and relaxing, and you start feeling the benefits.

­This is because meditation and masturbation both promote mindfulness: the ability to be present, to quiet your mind and to focus on one thing. Our brains have to process a lot of information, but with mindfulness, we can learn to slow down and control that flow of information even when we aren’t meditating (or masturbating!).

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Good Things Come to Those Who Feel Good

What is it with this widespread belief that what feels good is bad for you, and you can only achieve greatness through suffering? Newsflash: many things that feel good are also good for you.

In fact, a number of studies from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill show that pleasurable experiences tend to generate an upward spiral in our lives.

It’s time to get real with yourself and do things that give you pleasure while meeting your goals. Ditch that Type-A guilt and remember that much like drinking a green juice or hitting the Stairmaster, feeling good is good for you.

Starting the day with an orgasm isn’t just a way to feel good in the moment – it can set you up for success all day long, while improving your overall health and well-being.

Complete Article HERE!

In Defense of My Small Penis

By Ant Smith

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A study released this week informs us that the average penis size worldwide is 5.2 inches long when erect. According to the BJUI, the urology journal, which published the findings, this should help to “reassure the large majority of men that the size of their penis is in the normal range.”

I’m sure it does, but that doesn’t mean these results are all good news: My life does not change one bit waking up to find that, today, I am only 1.2 inches below average, as opposed to the whopping 1.8 inch discrepancy of yesterday.

I suppose this whole exercise of laboriously measuring 15,521 penises—both flaccid and hard—demonstrates that, as a society, we do still possess the ability to obsess about size. ( I’m open to that accusation myself.) So, whatever else is said, I’m happy that we’re all talking about penis size in an open, honest, nonjudgmental, serious way. Which we all are, right?

And yes, another positive factor—helpfully pointed out by the folk at BJUI—is that those worried about their average-sized dick being small no longer have cause to worry. Because, at five inches, it’s not small; it’s average. From now on, when someone tells you that your average dick is small, it’s abundantly clear that the problem is in their perception, not your equipment.

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However, I’m unconvinced that second point holds up. For the man with penis size anxiety is a man who takes an enormous amount of convincing. Every time he hears a kindly lady state, “That’s not small,” he gives a blank stare and thinks, Thank you. I wish that were true.’

A penis can’t be measured by inches on a stick—a penis is as small as a man’s confidence betrays it to be, or else as small as the imagination of the partner he is with. We see new research emerging regularly, seemingly always driving down the international standard of “acceptable dick.” But this has never helped—and will never help—a single soul.

At the same time, we find ourselves confronted with language like “average” and “the normal range.” This implies that the rest of us are in the abnormal range, a polarization that doesn’t serve anyone very well. A polarization, in fact, that immediately draws my mind to a solemn story of penis size anxiety leading to teenage suicide. Size is not a mark on a ruler; it really is a state of mind.

There is no doubt in my mind that you know a man of around my stature, or less. Think for a moment who it could be. Your dad? Your brother? Your roommate? Wouldn’t you be angry to see someone point a finger at their penis and shriek, telling them, “Ew, you’re abnormal!” Draw upon the strength of your familial and social bonds and recognize this thinking as the trouble that it is.

When a man suffers size anxiety there is only one solution. Enlargement methods (pills, devices, surgeries) will never yield a result that ends in happiness—though bankruptcy, anguish, and physical deformation are definitely in the cards, if that sounds like your vibe. Likewise, comparison to others will never ease a troubled mind; you’ll go mad questioning the veracity of the data or the quality of the interpretations.

The only answer is to accept who you are.

While these surveys may seem to be devised to help that, they simply do not. Nobody quite believes them. At the rate they crop up, saying different things each time, they don’t even seem to believe themselves. They polarize society into those who are normal, and those who are abnormal. Even if they don’t quite encourage an obsession with size, they certainly endorse the idea that size is a necessary concern.

“But I have to feel something,” a lady recently said to me in an interview on the topic. And I quite agree. But I believe technique and imagination can excite a greater response from a greater expanse of flesh than any dick, of any size, could ever hope to.

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

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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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