Friday, April 19, 2013

Ding Dong, I love your Pong! In which I discuss Pheromones.

Imagine: you met him on Match, or Eharmony, or wherever.  He has teeth, a job, and likes animals.  You arrange to meet in a public place.  He suggests that chic, fine dining place that you know you shouldn’t really afford, but what the heck! 

He is there, waiting at the bar, with his neat amber measure bathing on the rocks.  He looks good, better than his picture, and you start to wish that maybe you hadn’t hurried straight from work, but had stopped to tame the humidi-fizzed nest on your head, that maybe you had spritzed with your perfume and sucked on a Listerine tab, reapplied the lip gloss that feels like a weight in your pocket. 

But the date goes off well.  He compliments you, asks you questions, orders the wine with alacrity; suggests a couple of appetizers to start.  He waves the waiter over and speaks with bon homie, like he’s been there a thousand times before and he and the waiter are great mates.  You notice the way he treats people and acknowledges them with a raise of his dark brows and a Cheshire Cat beam.  He is confident.  People like him, and you like that. 

You share dishes.  It’s surprising, this sudden coupling, but you go with the flow and enjoy his attention.  At the end of the date, you see your reflection in his eyes.  His focus is all for you and it’s consuming.  You know you shouldn’t, but you do want to kiss him, to feel his hot lips on yours, the rhythm, the taste of him.  It’s a long unawkward kiss as you hover by your car—knowing that you should get in and drive away, but that kiss! 

The next dates pass just as the first, but the kisses are deeper, longer.  He’s full of stories!  So entertaining!  He wears charisma like a leather onesie.  He makes you feel special.  And then IT happens, x number of dates in, maybe after three-too-many white lotus martinis: the frantic peel of clothes, the clash of flesh, the flail, the push, the pull, the thrust, the pneumatic motion as your bodies writhe in unison, pumping to catch that elusive wave that will bring both of you to shore, beached.  You fall asleep a tangle of sweaty spent limbs.  Morning comes early, you roll over and inhale the daylight, and UGH! GOOD GOD, WHAT IS THAT STENCH?
Hereeeeee's... Stinky Pete!

Just imagine.

Now, you are pretty sure he didn’t consume a double bean burrito last night.  He shared your flatbread and salad and drank from the same bottle of wine you did.  And you don't smell like a toxic wasteland.  No, you smell of vanilla and linen and sex.  He has not been poisoned by some dreadful unholy explosive gastric virus.  You are sure.  He sleeps.  You sniff.  You tent the sheets over your head.  Dear God, is this Auschwitz?  You rotisserie-chicken yourself over, not to disturb the slumbering form that was, pre-coital, quite lovely, but now… noxious.  You tentatively nestle back into that nook beneath his armpit, your flushed cheek burning through his cool contracting and expanding chest.  Maybe you were wrong.  You inhale again.  It’s not deadly farts, or inexplicable breath, it’s just... him.  He has a smell, and ain't no Gucci.

Pheromones.  Tricky little fuckers.  The scent that can drive a woman uninhibited and legs akimbo, or… sorry Chaps, running for the shower, or her keys, or the door.  Or all three.    

Scents are used to influence the senses.  This can be done defensively, ie: my brother pinning me to the ground and farting on my head; or as a lure, to turn a head just as a peacock tail, a six-pack, a delicious raucous laugh, a red Ferrari.  Scent can be key in sexual selection.  And I suppose this topic appeals to me because I can’t figure out how a chap, who could not be a good match in any way, shape or form, but—nice one Evolutionary Biology—has a smell so delicious to you that the bitter-sweet inhalation as your nostrils fill with the scent emanating from his skin, the waft of his manliness as you brush your cheek next to his in some faux display of civility, JUST GETS YOU, like someone has stabbed you in the intestines and twisted the knife like a Sicilian.  What is this Sense and Olfactory Captor?  What is this elixir that can drive us buck wild or headache-bound? 

Humans possess three major skin glands: sebaceous, eccrine and apocrine.  Apocrine glands occur in greatest concentration on the hands, cheeks, scalp, breasts and body hair and they are thought to produce this sexual elixir.  Interestingly, male apocrine glands are larger than women’s.  Women’s olfactory receptors are greater than men’s, and when women are ovulating their sense of smell becomes heightened.  It could be because the parental investment of women is greater than in men—we have to put in 9 months at least—so sniffing out a suitable mate has more consequences to a female.  Yup, the onus is on us.

So, Ladies, whilst it may seem like we are just suckers for Aqua Di Gio , Hermes, or High Intensity, we are not.  The underlying odour our nostrils are pulsating for, has deeper and greater significance for our offspring.  No wonder the perfume industry has been trying to bottle that bewitching ‘Love Spell’ for years.  Sadly, slaughtering deer for their musk, tigers, or goodness know what other poor creatures.  But it is not a fruity, oriental, musky, woodsy headache-inducing synthetic pong, it’s sex-smell from skin and hair that tells a potential partner about your DNA profile, a sequence of genes that broadcasts info about your immunity, and has us ovulating women snuffling for pheromones, as if for truffles!

In research on mice, females were found to choose males whose gene sequence least overlapped their own.  Ie: she wants her offspring to have as broad DNA and immunity profile as possible, so ensure a greater chance of survival.   In mice, the female sniffs out fitness by smelling her suitors urine.  In monkeys, they they rub urine on their feet to attract mates, advertising their immunity and therefore sexual fitness.  Now, I don’t know about you, but I have never sniffed my potential chap’s pee or rubbed my urine over myself.  (Hmm... maybe THIS explains why people enjoy golden showers?  Weirdos.)  However, I have made some shitty choices, so maybe I should.  Dogs waste no time in crotch-whiffing.
“Hey, I’ve just met you, and this is crazy, can I sniff your crotch please, and call me maybe?” 

There has been extensive research, not just on rodents, but I—a young college-attendee En--was part of such a project when I had to sniff male ‘T’ shirts and rate them for attractiveness—oh Phil Le Pelley and Dr. David Goulson, I remember—and women do prefer scents exuded from men whose MHC (major histocompatibilty complex) differs from their own.  And in terms of offspring fitness, that makes a lot of ‘sense’.  Lordy, innate instincts are clever. 

But there’s a twist—oooooh—yes, oral contraceptives can screw a female’s olfactory senses.  Since the contraceptive pill fools the body into thinking it is pregnant, it reverses our natural preferences.  So maybe if he smells irresistible, and he is a prize Bastardly Dicktard, it is just because you are being betrayed by your daily baby blocker.  OH NO!  To really get a sense of him, you, ladykat friend, should take a break and give him a good old whiff around a more hairy area.  If you want to puke, you might want to question your choices; if he smells like sex and desire wrapped in a weirdly attractive non-six-packed body, then maybe he’s for you.

Maybe he nuzzles your neck to get to those scent releasing factories behind your ear.  His olfactory receptors are not as receptive as yours, but he can, according to research, subconsciously detect the pheromones females release when ovulating, and accordingly, testosterone levels in men are higher during these times and lower when not ovulating!  Way to go, Evolution, conserve manliness for times of need!  Yup, LadyKat, he is inhaling you there, because he knows you like his warm, whiskeyed breath behind your earlobe, it's because he's sensing your fertility, like a rutting buck.  

Soapy cleansers and perfumes make it harder for humans to detect true histocompatibility, but in the morning, sans contraceptive pill, when the Gucci has disappeared with the stars, take a good inhale of him.  If you click, if there is chemistry, if his stench and your waft make a nasal cocktail of chemical desire, that sends loins into overdrive, then tally ho!  If not, perhaps it's another biological siren that you should heave ho.

Caveat: I am not necessarily recommending sniffing crotches or asking for urine samples on a first date.  Second date?  Well, absolutely!
(And, if you do happen to take a contraceptive break, I am not responsible for the consequences.  Thank you.  PONG ON!)

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