Thrown off the scent.
February 27, 2001 2:51 PM   Subscribe

Thrown off the scent. A fascinating story about The Pill and its effect on women's mate choice, and the effect of these choices on evolution. T-shirts belonging to unknown men were given to women to smell. All they had to do was say which smelt best. Women on the pill chose exactly the opposite t-shirts to those that didn't - find me free will, personal taste and the nature / culture divide in that if you can... [found via Plastic - and if you want to talk about that, then click here]
posted by barbelith (27 comments total)
Girls, all you need to know is that I'm 86% male!!

It's your evolutionary obligation to mate with me. That is, unless you want offspring that can't even pull ants out of a hill with a stick, let alone discover fire and hack perl.

Evolutionary obligation.

posted by sonofsamiam at 3:50 PM on February 27, 2001

Okay, there is a fundamental point being missed here. Women on the pill *don't conceive* 99 out of a 100 times, so what's the big deal? The experiment should be conducted with subjects who were once on the pill but no longer are, to see if the pill has any permanent affect.
posted by sid at 4:03 PM on February 27, 2001

But sid: if you choose your mate while on the pill and try to have children later, that's the problem. Imagine, saddled with the wrong man because your sniffer was out of kilter! I wonder if that could be grounds for divorce.

posted by frykitty at 4:09 PM on February 27, 2001

Just another argument against pre-marital sex, if you ask me... if a woman isn't having sex, there's less reason for her to be on the pill... which means she'll have a clear head when she's checking out the options.

Now, granted, this a bit tongue-in-cheek... But only a bit.
posted by silusGROK at 4:25 PM on February 27, 2001

So what this says is that a study needs to be conducted in which 100 gorgeous girls have sex with me while they're all on the Pill.

Science? Who said anything about science? Science is a way to screw up a perfectly good existence!
posted by Capn_Stuby at 5:38 PM on February 27, 2001

Have you seen the new TV ad for the pill? It's quite hilarious, as it involves a trio of women ... who all get married in the first seconds of the ad, before they start taking the pill.

Yeah. Right.
posted by dhartung at 5:50 PM on February 27, 2001

vis10n: I don't think thats a tongue in your cheek.

Abstaining from premarital sex and engaging in puritanical repression of a 'NATURAL' sex drive is ridiculous. I think it rushes people into marriage way too young, just because they are craving close human contact. Which they could, I might add, get safely, responsibly and lovingly from a casual lover or friend.

That being said, I'd like to hope that most single women know the dangers of the pill and only take it when they have a regular safe sex partner. Which would allow for their pheremone radars to be up and running just fine when they do meet that special aromatic someone.

posted by fiery at 6:04 PM on February 27, 2001

frykitty - hmmm, I didn't think of that. thanks for clearing that up.

How much does one take scent into account when selecting a mate? I get intoxicated by a potential mate's scent after i'm infatuated with her for other reasons. In general, one does not say 's/he smells so great', but rather 's/he has a great ass/personality/other'. Maybe a better experiment would be to ask females to choose a picture of a potential mate from a lineup, and then choose that man's shirt by scent alone? I wonder what the success rate of the average woman would be in that situation? What about women on the pill?
posted by sid at 6:17 PM on February 27, 2001

Abstaining from premarital sex and engaging in puritanical repression of a 'NATURAL' sex drive is ridiculous
Wow! Hear that, all you celibate people?! Why don't you all go to hell, you repressed, stunted, deformed trolls!

This is bullshit. If someone doesn't want to have sex, they don't have to.
posted by sonofsamiam at 6:20 PM on February 27, 2001

Of course I didn't mean to infer that all people must have sex, only that an across-the-board sentiment that all people should abstain is silly.

Sheesh, I now know how to push *somebody's* buttons.
posted by fiery at 6:39 PM on February 27, 2001

Heh. Damn, now I've come down hard on you twice. :P
Your original statement seems pretty across-the-board, which is why my riler got riled.
posted by sonofsamiam at 6:43 PM on February 27, 2001

i would just like to say, as a woman who started the pill three days ago, i am no longer interested in any of you slobs. get lost!
posted by palegirl at 7:22 PM on February 27, 2001

You've come down hard on me twice? Are you flirting with me? Can I just say, for those reading this, that I will never ever cross-my-heart make an across-the-board statement (unless I really want to).

And back to the topic......I think that smell can/does play a large part in our choice of mate (subconsciously or unconsciously). I find this study interesting, not only as it relates to the pill, but also its implications of other types of medicines or chemicals that we choose to put into our bodies,and what they might do to our senses.

-master of the run on sentence
posted by fiery at 7:25 PM on February 27, 2001

This explains why my girlfriend dumped me shortly after going on the pill.

No, wait, that was my fault. :D
posted by gleemax at 7:38 PM on February 27, 2001

I don't know, if smell does play a part, it has to be totally subconsciously. I know I for one don't go around sniffing women before deciding to ask them out.

However, if it does play a part.. I smell good & I'm single, ladies. Gotta keep all my bases covered.
posted by zempf at 8:16 PM on February 27, 2001

it's a pheremone issue more than a smell issue, so of course it's subconscious. if i remember a bit of research i did last year, pheremones bypass the actual thinky-brain and go straight to the fight-flight-fuck brain. so actually, it's not even a matter of subconscious, more unconscious.
posted by pikachulolita at 9:57 PM on February 27, 2001

Another issue which arises from the piece I think is the relationship between desire and consciousness. I mean, how comfortable are any of us with the idea that fairly basic primal decision-making like who we would like to sleep with or marry could 1) come down to the relationships between our immune systems and 2) be radically (even absolutely) different under some kind of chemical inducement. I mean, I'm far from a cultural studies type, but even I'm slightly freaked out by the extent of biochemistry on every aspect of personality, decision-making and object-choice.
posted by barbelith at 1:18 AM on February 28, 2001

posted by tdstone at 1:34 AM on February 28, 2001

Yeah it does kinda take the magic out of everything. But we'll never know everything and we're probably going to kill ourselves off before we've ruined all the fun stuff anyway.

What is personality if not biochemistry?
posted by fiery at 1:37 AM on February 28, 2001


Sorry for that everyone, but he did leave himself wide open.
posted by fiery at 1:38 AM on February 28, 2001

Herz suggests that if you are on the pill and meet someone you want to have children with, you should stop taking oral contraceptives. "Go off," she says, "to see if you're still attracted."

Ugh, that's a horrible thought. And I wonder about its validity. If you stop taking the pill you may suddenly no longer be attracted to that person? I doubt that all attractiveness is based on pheromones. Some of it yes, but all of it? Plus, I met and fell in love with my guy online...since I doubt pheromones travel through phonelines, how could circumstances such as mine be explained?

Also, they need to do the same study but with pregnant women as well.
posted by crushed at 2:20 AM on February 28, 2001

I love science. How else, just in the course of your day's work, would you get to do things like have a lot of women sniff dirty T-shirts and then ask 111 Hutterite women to keep and show you their period diaries?

posted by pracowity at 2:50 AM on February 28, 2001

I suppose the issue, crushed, is whether or not the fact that you still liked him when you met him might or might not have been partially a physical, biological and pheremonic response.
posted by barbelith at 5:10 AM on February 28, 2001

I've taken the liberty of <embed>-ing my pheremones in this post. Just scratch-an-sniff your screen for a whiff o' "les fleurs de sam."

posted by sonofsamiam at 7:21 AM on February 28, 2001

Wow sam, that's amazing.. you smell just like *sniffsniff*.. computer monitor!
posted by zempf at 7:37 AM on February 28, 2001

I remember reading about a study in which women exhibited differences in their preferences for certain male facial features based upon their menstrual status. They preferred a more "masculine-looking" face closer to ovulation and a more "feminine-looking" face at most other times of the cycle. Article here. I wonder if a similar mechanism is at work with pheromone preferences.
Here is an excerpt of an abstract:

Grammer, Karl.
5-a-androst-16en-3a-on: A male pheromone? A brief report.
Ethology & Sociobiology, 1993 May, v14 (n3):201-207.

ABSTRACT: In a rating study, 289 women rated the smell of androstenone. The emotional reaction to androstenone changed during the menstrual cycle. Subjects rated the main component of male body odor unattractive. This changed to a neutral emotional response at the conceptive optimum around ovulation.

A woman might have different pheromone preferences at different stages of her cycle, and this effect could be altered by the pill. To confuse matters even more, consider the possibility that a particular man may give off different levels or types of pheromones at different times. Without a lot more information it requires a pretty big leap to assume that one particular woman will reject one particular man after going off the pill. I personally believe that pheromones play a role in human interaction, but that role is very complex and poorly understood at this point.
posted by gimli at 7:54 AM on February 28, 2001

Fiery. I think you're wrong... but don't have the time to really go into it. Besides, this thread is probably not the place.

And, for the record, that really was my tongue... or maybe a pastrami on rye (Mmm... lunch...).
posted by silusGROK at 1:19 PM on February 28, 2001

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