New research shows that the smell of male armpit sweat calms women down. Sniffing a lot of it can alter women’s menstrual cycles, so this discovery could be the start of a line of perspiration-derived contraceptives or fertility drugs. “The underarm contains physiologically active pheromones,” explains chemist George Preti. Pheromones are chemicals that affect the brain and alter our sexual behavior.

Female volunteer were exposed to male armpit odor for six hours, masked by perfume, so they wouldn’t consciously notice the smell, while their levels of luteinizing hormone were monitored. More luteinizing hormone is released from the brain as a woman approaches ovulation, and exposure to male armpit odor accelerated the arrival of the hormone.

The volunteers also reported feeling less tense and more relaxed. This may be because relaxation can be a prerequisite to getting into a sexually responsive mood. Swedish researcher Ivanka Savic says, “Our biology is primitive but we’re living in a sophisticated world.”

Prospective parents are always searching for new fertility drugs. Preti says, “People have looked in the rainforests and under the seas, but there are some very interesting physiologically active chemicals under the arm.”

Strong smells of all kinds can influence women?s behavior. Psychologists divided 63 females into two groups. The first group was asked to play a computer game that was impossible to win (but they didn’t know that), while being exposed to an smell developed in a laboratory. The second group watched a video in a room sprayed with the same scent.

Then they were all given a set of word tests in 3 separate rooms?one containing that same smell, one with another new smell and one with no scent at all. Researchers found that the first group of women didn’t spend a lot of time trying to solve them. Researcher Rachel Herz says, “They showed an unwillingness to work on a challenging task.” She thinks they associated the smell with frustration and were less inclined to try to solve the problems.

The second group of women, who watched the video, performed well on the word tests. Researcher Tim Jacob says, “The smell area lies next to the memory area in the brain. There are strong links between how the brain associates smell with experience and emotions. Certain smells can reinforce an experience or emotion.”

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