The Rittenhouse Review

A Philadelphia Journal of Politics, Finance, Ethics, and Culture

Monday, May 16, 2005  

It Reveals More Than You Think

Have you ever read an article in a newspaper, magazine, or journal that’s so weird -- so disturbing yet simultaneously so believable -- that it struck you like the proverbial train wreck? That is, so fascinating you had to keep reading (looking) as much as you wanted to toss it aside (turn away)?

Try this one: “Study Links Sexuality, Smell: Gay? Lesbian? Straight? It May All Make Scents,” by Faye Flam in the Sunday (May 15) Philadelphia Inquirer from which these excerpts were culled:

The lowly armpit may not seem the most likely spot to seek insight into the human condition, but scientists studying the scents emitted there have now shed light on one of today’s thorniest controversies: the nature of homosexuality.

The scientists, from Philadelphia’s Monell Chemical Senses Center, released the surprise finding last week that gay armpits smelled different from straight ones. [Ed.: Link added.] […]

The findings, to be published in September in the journal Psychological Science, have yet to be confirmed but if they are correct, they add to a body of evidence suggesting that homosexuality is not just a choice but something rooted in biology. [Ed.: Link added.] […]

Monell’s [Charles] Wysocki, a neuroscientist, and colleague George Preti, an organic chemist, have been studying armpit odors for decades. [Ed.: !] Preti discovered the main culprit in the pungent smell of B.O. -- a chemical called 3-methyl-2-hexenoic acid. Not that it acts alone. “There are a good three to four dozen chemicals that make up the characteristic odor bouquet [sic],” he said.

Meanwhile, Preti and Wysocki found that the scent of male armpits caused a spike in women’s reproductive hormones and put women in happier, more relaxed moods. […]

The scientists found the genuine male armpit extract markedly elevated moods and certain fertility-related hormones for most of the women. But several women had a very different reaction: Their hormones remained flat, and their moods grew tense. A follow-up survey found that they were lesbians. That study led Wysocki to look directly at the relationship between body odor and sexual preference. […]

Gay male body odor caused an intensely negative reaction among straight men and women. The only group to rate it near neutral was other gay men. The straight men appeared the most squeamish about all body odors, including those from straight women, which they rated smellier than did the gay men.

I know this sounds trite coming from a blogger who makes a point of avoiding the sphere’s stock-in-trade phrases, but, really, go read the whole thing. And tell me, honestly if you can, you couldn’t look away.

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