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Health & Sex

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Sexual Orientation: Does Your Nose Know?

Researchers Say Sexual Orientation and Gender Affect Response to Certain Body Odors

WebMD Health News

May 10, 2005 -- Forget the perfume. Your body odor may already be sending powerful signals to potential partners.

New research suggests that preferences for certain body odors may provide valuable clues about a person's gender and sexual orientation.

The study showed that homosexual men and lesbian women had strikingly different body odor preferences compared with heterosexual men and women in terms of which scents they found appealing and how their own body odor was regarded by other groups.

The results suggest that differences in body odor are detected and responded to based, in part, on an individual's gender and sexual orientation.

Sniffing Out Sexual Cues

In the study, researchers asked 82 heterosexual and homosexual men and women to indicate their preferred scent among body odor samples collected from the sweaty underarms of 24 male and female donors of different sexual orientations.

The participants were asked to make scent comparisons -- rating the odor's intensity and pleasantness -- for the following samples:

  • Heterosexual males vs. gay males
  • Heterosexual males vs. heterosexual females
  • Heterosexual females vs. lesbian females
  • Gay males vs. lesbian females

The results showed that body odor preference varied greatly among men and women of different sexual orientations.

For example, gay men preferred body odors from gay men and heterosexual women. But odors from gay men were the least preferred by heterosexual men and women and by lesbian women.

"Our findings support the contention that gender preference has a biological component that is reflected in both the production of different body odors and in the perception of and response to body odors," says researcher Charles Wysocki, PhD, of the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia, in a news release.

Stronger Body Odor Not Better

In addition, researchers found that body odor preference was not related to the intensity of the odor. Instead, it was tied to perceptions of the odor's pleasantness or unpleasantness.

They say the next step is to understand how biological mechanisms responsible for the production of body odors differ among men and women of different sexual orientation and what factors lead these groups to perceive body odor differently.

The results are scheduled to appear in the September issue of Psychological Science.

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