Editor’s note: This text was written by Desmond Morris.
Originally, in our naked state, the apocrine glands that create the specialized armpit sweat were useful contributors to human sexual foreplay. The scent they produce, that is quite different from ordinary heat-reducing sweat and difficult to detect consciously, was an important arousal device.
The secretions from these glands are different in men and women. Men have fewer apocrine glands, but nevertheless their secretions produce a powerful response in women during close bodily contact. Women who nuzzle close to the freshly washed, naked bodies of their male companions will come under the influence of these primeval olfactory signals, even though they are unaware of the source. A man who just bathed or showered prior to a sexual encounter and who then, as a last-minute preparation, has sprayed deodorant under his arms, has robbed himself of the assistance of this ancient form of erotic stimulus.
Recent controlled experiments have proved beyond doubt the importance of these male scent glands. The pheromones they produce have been shown to influence the hormonal balance of women. Fresh sweat was collected on pads placed in the armpits of male volunteers. Concentrated extracts from these pads were then placed under the noses of female volunteers for a period of six hours. The women then reported that they felt less tense and more relaxed than they had done before the test. More importantly, there was a significant rise in the female hormone that triggers ovulation. This suggests that if future research can isolate the key chemicals secreted by the male armpit glands, it may be possible to use them as the basis for new fertility drugs or relaxant perfumes for women.
In another test, androstenol, a human pheromone that is chemically similar to testosterone, and which is secreted by the male armpit, was found to produce a stronger reaction in women at the time of the month when they were ovulating.
In studying the way that these armpit scents work, it has emerged that they only operate at very close quarters. The smelling range of pheromones amounts to no more than a few centimeters. In addition to causing pheromones to go stale, thick clothing also blocks them altogether when they are fresh. Even when naked, a loving couple must lie together in such a way that women are on average 7 per cent shorter than men. Alternatively, if women are 7 per cent shorter for some other reason, then that would account for why the scent-signalling is focused at the point where the female nose would come to rest.
It has been suggested that generic differences in male body fragrance may unconsciously play a part in mate selection. In other words, if you are a man, your genes may help to decide whether you smell attractive to a particular woman or not. A careful laboratory study discovered that women respond more strongly to men who have a fragrance similar, but nor identical, to their own. Interestingly, they react least to identical or to very different odors. This means that they are most likely to mate with men who are genetically closely related to them, but not too close. This makes sense because it means they will have a bias away from incestuous relationships and also away from relationships with males who are genetically remote. It should be added that women are, of course, quite unaware that they are capable of smelling genetic differences in the men they meet, or that these differences are influencing their choice of male partner. Perhaps that overworked Hollywood cliché, used to describe convincing screen lovers, that the chemistry between them is amazing, has a literal significance after all.
Source: The Naked Man, by Desmond Morris
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