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What is really afoot with the foot fetish?

Why are some people attracted to the human foot and why is this particular fetish so misunderstood??



The origins of the foot fetish

How the adoration of the human foot began is shrouded in mystery because it is so much more than what it seems; namely, an erotic trigger for sexual arousal. Although never traditional, since the dawn of time feet have been a stimulus for arousal. This is evidenced in the mythology, paintings, sculpture and sacred writings of many ancient civilizations including Egypt, Greece and the ancient rites of Judaism, Christianity, Buddhism and Hinduism.

The modern foot fetish

While the practice remains unchanged, the stimuli for the foot fetish in today’s world are vast and diverse because they include all forms of media; namely, art; movies; television and the Internet.

The Antebellum Art Gallery in Los Angeles recently celebrated foot worship with an exhibit entitled: Fools For Feet, which featured, among other things, a foot worship workshop, stained glass art, paintings, ceramic sculptures and drawings devoted to the human foot. There is even a foot karaoke session in which lovers of feet get a chance to sing about related songs such as These Boots Were Made For Walking and Blue Suede Shoes.


Psychological Aspects

To Sigmund Freud, the erotic allure of feet was due to a physical resemblance to the penis, but modern psychological theorists have developed more scientific and sophisticated answers, such as early childhood imprinting and conditioning experiences, which occur when a child unconsciously connects a sexual response with a non-sexual object.

Some famous foot fetishists

The world is full of foot fetishists, some of whom are both famous and infamous. The caretakers of were known to screen women’s feet before they could have a romantic encounter Elvis Presley with him.

Pop artist, Andy Warhol, did many shoe portraits (Untitled Feet, 1958) and kept a human mummified foot by his bed. English novelist, Thomas Hardy had a fixation with women’s feet as well as talk show host, Jay Leno.  Foot fetishes affect all kinds of people, even those from the darkest side of human depravity, such as serial killer, Ted Bundy.

Why has the foot fetish survived ancient cultures and adapted to modern tastes and predilections? Well, my friends, the answer is not blowing in the proverbial, Bob-Dylan  wind, but lies rather in the words of an ancient adage that reads:

If the shoe fits…


Complete Article HERE!

Having sex with a man doesn’t make you gay

But if you’re man enough to do it and still call yourself straight, be man enough to talk about it

by The Guyliner

men who have sex with men

Labels are important. They help us. They can protect us. Labels tell you that there are baked beans in the tin you’re holding; labels warn us not to wash our merino sweater above 30 degrees. We trust labels, because without them, we’d get it wrong. But sometimes, labels don’t work – they are derogatory or incorrect or unwelcome. One part of society where labels are changing is within sexuality and gender. As the landscape expands from straight/gay and man/woman to include bisexuality, queerness and trans people, among others, many are finding themselves moving away from the specific, restrictive pigeonholing a label can bring and merely tagging themselves “Me”.

But what happens when you’re happy with the label society has assigned you, but quite fancy trying out something someone like you doesn’t normally do, or what if you start to travel down one path, only to find you prefer another, and want to change course and stay on it for ever? Do you have to re-label yourself? Does it mean you’re not who you thought you were? Is it time to mute whichever episode of Stranger Things you’re watching, stand up, tell the room you dreamt another man’s erection touched you and have an identity crisis? In short: if you’re straight but have sex with another guy, does it make you gay?

beautiful buttIt rather depends on what you think being gay means. For most people, ask what “gay” means to them and, if we’re talking about guys, they’ll say a man who has sex with other men. And this, of course, is a huge part of being gay. But the reduction of gayness to be nothing more than just sex can not only be counter-productive – as in, uptight straight guys are missing out on something quite spectacular – and, frankly, homophobic, but it’s also plain wrong.

You know when you see a kid acting or talking a certain way and you think, “they’re gay” or “they’ll be gay when they’re older” – how do you explain that? They don’t even know what sex is yet, straight or gay. The feelings “gay” children have and the character traits they display can’t be boiled down to some potential gay sex they may or may not be having 10 or 15 years down the line – that’s gayness right there, already in play. Whether you believe in nature or nurture or any other theory, there’s more to being gay than just shagging another guy.

So if we remove the label of “gay” from sex acts we traditionally assume are only the domain of gay men, does this mean you can take part in them and still be straight? Where do we draw the line? Getting a blow job from a guy, for example, is something a lot more straight men have experienced than the stony faces down at the Dog and Gun might have you believe. Is it less gay if there’s no mutual contact of genitals? Because it’s passive? A service, almost?

James, 28, says he regularly got blowjobs from a gay pal in his teens, but he doesn’t consider himself gay. “Me and my mate would fool around but mainly he would do it to me,” he explains. “I wasn’t as interested in his cock as he was in mine, but I think we both got something out of it.” If there’s one thing hormone-frazzled 17-year-old boys aren’t getting anywhere near enough of as they want, it’s oral sex. “I didn’t have a girlfriend yet and my mate was just discovering his sexuality and wanted to try. I always made it clear we weren’t in a relationship and that nobody should know. But I didn’t feel guilty and I think he was cool with it.”shut your cock washer

You could argue that there was an element of exploitation to James’s relationship with his mate. The friend was finding his feet with his sexuality and James was the willing guinea pig – as long as nobody found out – but if you’re encouraging a gay man to perform fellatio on you, aren’t you gay? “I’ve never been with a man since and I’m happily married now. I doubt I’d do it again as that would mean being unfaithful, but I consider myself straight. It’s fine to experiment; it’s a big part of finding out who you are.”

And what about when contact with another man happens as part of your relationship? Mark, a 28-year-old investment banker had already had one skirmish with a gay guy when his colleague’s boyfriend came on to him in a club bathroom and went down on him – real life really is stranger than soap opera – but his second time was a different matter altogether. His girlfriend was there.

downlow6“I was in the couples room at Torture Garden [a fetish club in London] and a stranger gave me a blowjob,” Mark explains. “I was there with my girlfriend at the time and we’d both got pretty wild.”

So why stop at a blowjob and not take it further? When in Rome, and all that. “I just didn’t really feel the desire to f*** him. I suppose it’s possible I might go further one day but I think it’s very unlikely. I almost never think men are attractive.”

But if you’re involving a third person in your hitherto straight sex life, does this mean either you or your partner is bisexual? For Mark, it’s not a concern. “Why do I continue to identify as straight? I suppose it’s because I couldn’t imagine myself having a relationship with a man. In the same way I have gay friends who’ve f***ed women, but would never identify as bi, or worry they’re straight.

“I think that ‘being gay’ or ‘being straight’ is about much more than some sexual contact.”

So a BJ is a BJ, but what about when things go further? Is the threshold for gayness actual penetration? Surely, if you’re having anal sex with a man, you’re gay, no? That’s what the guys in the locker room would say, right?

Thinking about having sex with a man isn’t a sign you’re gay yourself, no more than idly imaging pushing your evil boss under a truck means you’re a latent homicidal maniac. Sometimes, though, even if you’ve never imagined it, when the opportunity presents itself, a primal instinct takes over, as videographer Zak, 25, discovered.

“I’d never really thought about being bi or gay, he explains. “I’d only ever been with girls and had never really been sexually attracted to any guys.

“When I was 20 a load of our sixth form year got together for a party. George was a guy from my year I’d known fairly well but never been close to. We were both fairly drunk and I remember just feeling happy to see him for the first time in ages and for some reason, knowing he was gay, I kissed him rather than hugging him. We chatted for a bit and then we both carried on with the night – not really thinking much about it.”

So far, so straight – no need to adjust any labels so far. Everyone is as they should be.

Zak continues: “Later on, we were both alone on the landing and he kissed me again. This time, for some reason, I didn’t really stop him and before long we were fully making out – we snuck into one of the bedrooms and one thing led to another.”

But was this a harrowing experience? Was there much soul-searching or did Zak just have a blast?

“I did enjoy myself. I suppose I’m quite a sexually liberal person and didn’t really think of it as being ‘gay’, it was just was fun and at the time I was enjoying it.”MSM

The ability to distance oneself from any gayness of a sex act perhaps comes from how it plays out. Who shags who, who touches what – that kind of thing. Like James getting a BJ from his pal, Zak’s mate was also providing a service of sorts, but Zak was an active participant. “We had sex, both oral and anal,” says Zak. “I ‘topped’ [the other guy played a passive role and ‘received’], I don’t think I’d have been comfortable with it the other way around.”

It’s not uncommon for straight men who have sex with another man to experience “gay panic” and feel guilty about what they’ve done and what it means. This can, on occasion, lead to persecution of, or violence against the other guy, whether he’s gay or also straight. But Zak remains unfazed about the experience.

“I wasn’t embarrassed or ashamed,” he says. “I still identify as straight and don’t think I’d initiate something with a bloke, but put in the same situation I could see myself doing it again.”

Some guys might worry that they were gay – and if you’re wondering why anyone would “worry” about such a thing, do take a moment to research how gay men and women are treated across the world – but Zak takes a more relaxed approach.

“One of my uni friends described himself as ‘hetero-flexible’ and I reckon that’s probably where I am at too,” says Zak. “I don’t think repeating it would make me ‘gay’. I’m not attracted to them but I can appreciate men who are attractive. In the same way I’ve slept with women in the past who I don’t think I was really attracted to, sometimes sex is just sex and it’s fun.”

And Zak’s right, sex is just sex. It’s common for gay people, when they first come out, to say their sexuality doesn’t define them, that there’s more to them than simply being gay. It’s all part of the process of recognizing your sexual orientation and assert yourself as an individual, not part of some flock or movement. It’s the vestigial feelings of shame that coming out is supposed to eradicate, hanging on for dear life. “I’m not like the others,” they think. Most of us get over it eventually and reconcile with the fact we’re gay, but this refusal to define can, in some cases, be a positive thing – a defiance of society’s boring old norms. As long as it’s used constructively and positively, and not homophobically of course.

You as an individual get to decide how you label your sexuality, if at all. As long as nobody’s feelings are getting screwed over, you’re free to have sex with men or women at will and still call yourself straight.

But it’s worth acknowledging that you’re merely a tourist and all the privilege this gives you. You get all the pluses of gay sex – and they are pluses, admit it, you love it – but, as long it’s kept on the downlow, none of the prejudice and pressures the LGBT community faces apply to you. You get to dip in, and out, with little or none of the comeback.

Labels inform and warn and categorize, but they also help us come to terms with who we are. A label can be something to cling to, to identify with, to make us feel safe, to tell the world what we’re about.


Avoiding them altogether is brave, choosing one and then flouting the conventions of it could be braver still, but living with a label 24/7 and taking all the consequences it throws at you is perhaps the bravest path of all. And those repercussions can be noxious: LGBT people are discriminated against, mocked, beaten and murdered, all for doing things you get to do without question. Just for being.

Having sex with a man doesn’t mean you’re gay, definitely not. You get to be who you want to be. But don’t forget the sacrifices your gay brothers make on a daily basis so you can have that freedom to choose. You get to go back to your privileged status in the world – we can only be us.

“Gay” sex acts aren’t something to be ashamed of; if you’re man enough to do it and still call yourself straight, be man enough to talk about it. Don’t let it be a dirty little secret; own your sexuality – whatever it may be – with pride.

Complete Article HERE!

But to be young was very heaven!

This is the first time I’ve asked a question and my boyfriend said this is a great place to go, soo here goes…
I recently went off of the anti-depressant medication Lexapro, and what’s fantastic about it is that my sex drive has gone way up. The downfall is since I started that, it’s hard for me to get hard and to come. Now that I am off of the medication, I can come easier and everything feels better and my boyfriend is happy, but it’s still really hard to get hard and stay hard. My boyfriend says he doesn’t mind when I know he does, and it is a really big hit on my confidence and self-esteem. Here’s the kicker, I am a 17-year-old teenage boy.
Is this permanent? Will it, in the future, be easier to get and stay hard the longer I am off the medication? I don’t know if this is normal or not, but I remember before having absolutely no problems. Help? Thank you so much!!
-Very Shy

Well, Very Shy, what I can say for certain is that anti-depressants, as well as a host of other commonly prescribed medications, and even some over the counter meds, can and do have a major impact on a person’s sexual response cycle. Let me begin by asking you; how familiar are you with the concept of a sexual response cycle?

Considering your youth, you may have not heard of it at all. So ok, here’s the 411 on that. We all have a sexual response cycle, each person’s is unique, but everyone’s follows a similar pattern of phases.

sexual response cycle

Phase 1: Excitement — this phase, which can last from a few minutes to several hours, includes the following:

  • Muscle tension increases.
  • Heart rate quickens and breathing accelerates.
  • Skin may become flushed.
  • Nipples become harden or erect.
  • Blood flow to the genitals increases, which swells a woman’s clitoris and labia minora (inner lips), and a guy’s cock bones up.
  • Vaginal lubrication begins.
  • A woman’s breasts become fuller and her vaginal walls begin to swell.
  • The man’s balls swell, his scrotum tightens, and he begins secreting precum.

Phase 2: Plateau — this phase, which extends to the brink of orgasm, includes the following:

  • The changes begun in phase 1 intensify.
  • A woman’s vagina continues to swell from increased blood flow, and her vaginal walls turn a dark purple.
  • Her clitoris becomes highly sensitive and retracts under her clitoral hood.
  • A guy’s nuts further withdraw up into his scrotum.
  • Breathing, heart rate and blood pressure continue to rise.
  • Muscle tension increases.
  • Muscle spasms may begin in one’s feet, face and hands.

Phase 3: Orgasm — this is the climax of the sexual response cycle and it generally lasts only a few seconds. It includes the following:

  • Involuntary muscle contractions begin.
  • Blood pressure, heart rate and breathing are at their highest rates, with a rapid intake of oxygen.
  • Muscles in the feet spasm.
  • There is a sudden, forceful release of sexual tension.
  • A women’s vagina contracts. She may experience rhythmic contractions in her uterus.
  • The muscles at the base of a guy’s dick will rhythmically contract resulting in an ejaculation of his jizz.
  • A sex flush may appear over one’s body.

Phase 4: Resolution

  • The body slowly returns to its normal level of functioning, and swelled and erect body parts return to their previous size and color.
  • There’s a general sense of well-being, enhanced intimacy and, often, fatigue. Women are capable of rapidly returning to the orgasm phase with further sexual stimulation and can experience multiple orgasms.
  • Us men folk need recovery time after our orgasm. This is called a refractory period, during which we cannot reach orgasm again. The duration of the refractory period varies among men and changes with age.

With that behind us, I can turn my attention to your specific questions. At any point in this cycle there can be an interruption or break down. Like I said at the outset, some pharmaceuticals, as well as lots of over the counter remedies, can and do impede our sexual response.

You don’t mention how long you’ve been off the Lexapro, but I’ll wager it’s not long enough for it to have completely cleared your system. In that case, a little patience with yourself and perhaps a sense of humor about the whole thing will be the best therapy for you. I suspect that you will regain your sexual footing in time. However, a cockring may help you gain and retain an erection till that happens.

Good luck

Are YOU a pervert?

Study suggests half of us have an interest in deviant sexual acts

  • Psychologists questioned 1,000 people from Quebec about their sex lives
  • They found 46 per cent showed an interest in paraphilic sexual behaviours
  • A third had an interest in or took part in voyeurism and a fifth in fetishism
  • Masochism was most often associated with other deviant behaviours

By Richard Gray

It is often thought of as behaviour indulged by a fringe of society, but it appears sexual deviants may be more common than previously thought. A study has revealed sexual perversions, also known as paraphilia, are surprisingly widespread – occurring in nearly half of a population. Psychologists found in a survey of more than 1,000 people from Quebec in Canada, nearly 50 per cent expressed interest in activities such as fetishism, frotteurism, masochism or voyeurism.

While sexual perversions are often considered to be uncommon, the success of books like Fifty Shades of Grey, which depicts sado-masochism (scene pictured), suggests otherwise. Now, a study has shown 46 per cent of people are interested in sexual behaviours considered to be deviant while a third had engaged in them

While sexual perversions are often considered to be uncommon, the success of books like Fifty Shades of Grey, which depicts sado-masochism (scene pictured), suggests otherwise. Now, a study has shown 46 per cent of people are interested in sexual behaviours considered to be deviant while a third had engaged in them

Around a third of those questioned also said they had had paraphilic sexual experiences. People who engaged in masochism were also more likely to have other fetishes.

The researchers said they were surprised to find that of the eight types of paraphilic behaviour recognised by psychologists, four of them appeared to be remarkably common. Voyeurism was reported by 35 per cent of men and women while fetishism was reported by a fifth of those questioned.

Masochism was enjoyed by 19 per cent and frotteurism – where sexual pleasure is derived from rubbing the groin against another person without permission – was ranked among the desires or experiences of 26 per cent

Professor Christian Joyal, a psychologist at the University of Quebec at Trois-Rivieres who led the study, said: ‘Some paraphilic interests are more common than people might think, not only in terms of fantasies but also in terms of desire and behaviour.

‘The main goal of the study was to determine normal sexual desires and experiences in a representative sample of the generVoyeural population.

‘These facts suggest that we need to know what normal sexual practices are before we label a legal sexual interest as anomalous.’ Professor Joyal and his team conducted telephone interviews with 1,040 people from Quebec about their sex lives. Of those questions, 46 per cent said they were interested in at least one type of sexual behaviour that is considered anomalous. They found there was a strong relationship between an interest in sexual submission and an interest in other sexual activities. This suggests the desire to engage in masochism is significantly associated diverse sexual interests. ‘In general, it is true that men are more interested in paraphilic behaviors than women,’ explained Professor Joyal.

A fifth of those questioned in the study said they enjoyed fetishism, where people derive sexual pleasure from non-living objects or by focusing non-genital body parts like feet (pictured) ranked among their desires or experiences. Nineteen per cent listed an interest in masochism or said they had experienced it

A fifth of those questioned in the study said they enjoyed fetishism, where people derive sexual pleasure from non-living objects or by focusing non-genital body parts like feet (pictured) ranked among their desires or experiences. Nineteen per cent listed an interest in masochism or said they had experienced it

‘However, this doesn’t mean that women don’t have these interests at all. ‘In fact, women who report an interest in sexual submission have more varied sexual interests and report greater satisfaction with their sex lives. ‘Sexual submission is therefore not an abnormal interest.’ Although the study, which is published in The Journal of Sex Research, was only conducted in Quebec, Professor Joyal said the findings could also apply to wider populations in North America and Europe. The researchers argue their findings also indicate clearer distinctions need to be made between normal and abnormal sexual behaviour.

They argued that many paraphilic behaviours seem to be quite common and so should be considered normal, but in some people they can become extreme, turning into disorders. However, Professor Joyal added: ‘A paraphilic disorder refers to sexual acts that involve non-consenting partners or that cause suffering or confusion in the person who engages in the behaviour. ‘The paraphilia may be absolutely necessary in order for the person to achieve sexual satisfaction. ‘A paraphilia is not a mental disorder but rather a sexual preference for non-normophilic behavior, whereas paraphilic behaviour is non-preferential and only engaged in from time to time. ‘At the same time, this study strongly suggests that some legal paraphilic behaviors are far from abnormal.’

Surprisingly 26 per cent of those questioned said they had an interest in or had taken part in frotteurism – where sexual pleasure is derived from rubbing the groin against another person without permission. In many parts of the world, frotteurism has become a major problem on packed commuter trains

Surprisingly 26 per cent of those questioned said they had an interest in or had taken part in frotteurism – where sexual pleasure is derived from rubbing the groin against another person without permission. In many parts of the world, frotteurism has become a major problem on packed commuter trains

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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