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Turn-On for Women: Nursing Moms

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WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Gary D. Vogin, MD

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May 3, 2002 -- What turns women on? One answer turns out to be the scent of a nursing mother.

The findings come from a study reported at the recent annual meeting of the Association for Chemoreception Sciences by Julie A. Mennella, PhD, of Philadelphia's Monell Chemical Sciences Center.

Mennella's team didn't set out to study sex. They were working with breast milk as part of an ongoing study of how a mother's diet affects her infant's taste preferences. Female researchers found that their menstrual periods became irregular when handling the milk. This chance finding led to a controlled study to see whether scents produced by nursing women affect human behavior -- something already known to happen in other animals.

Mennella and colleagues at the University of Chicago signed up 47 women who had never had a baby. Several times a day for one month, all of the women sniffed a pad containing a neutral odor. Then the researchers asked 26 nursing mothers to wear absorbent pads in their bras and under their armpits. For the next two months, some of the original 47 women sniffed these pads while others continued to sniff the neutral pads.

"Women exposed to breastfeeding pads reported significant increases in sexual desire and fantasies," the researchers report.

Women without a sexual partner reported more sexual fantasies. Those with a sexual partner reported more desire for sexual intimacy.

Because the pads were worn during several nursing periods, the magic scent is likely a combination of the mothers' body odors, breast milk, and baby odors.

"Breastfeeding [chemical] signals in the context of a sexual partner increases women's sexual motivation," the researchers conclude.

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