May 10th, 2005

calvin dancing

Brains

Some interesting stuff being reported in a variety of papers today about reactions to androgen and estrogen in sweat, and how gay men and straight men have a tendency to react differently to the smells.

Scientists in Philadelphia collected samples of underarm sweat from 24 donors of "varied gender and sexual orientation" and then asked 82 heterosexual and homosexual men and women to test them for any potential appealing qualities. The results revealed a divide. Gay men and lesbians showed preferences that were not those of heterosexuals of either sex. Gay men preferred the scent of gay men and heterosexual women. But, in turn, the scent of gay men was the least preferred by heterosexual men and women and by lesbians.

On the same day, the prestigious journal proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences published slightly more substantial research into what it is about male sweat that might trigger a response in the brains of gay men and heterosexual women.

Swedish scientists established in an earlier piece of research that the hypothalamus region of the brain became activated when men detected an oestrogen steroid known as EST, and women's brains in turn lit up when they got a whiff of a testosterone derivative known to biochemists as AND (that's Androgen to you and me).

In the latest study, they went further: they used brain imaging equipment to test the responses of homosexual men and heterosexual men and women, to EST, AND and other smells such as lavender. AND set the hypothalamus alight in homosexual men and heterosexual women; EST worked for heterosexual men alone.

But all of this research is about tendencies and probabilities, rather than some biological divide. A team in Oregon last year reported that they had detected a difference between rams that preferred ewes and rams that preferred each other. The difference, they reported, was in the hypothalamus. But there are only so many questions you can ask a sheep. For the moment, love remains as mysterious as ever.


Complete article here.
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