The idea of love potions and spells has been around for centuries. For men, and women, the science of attraction has always held a special place in their heart. But it was male goats who possessed the secrets of love at first sniff. A special floral scent they release makes female goats go head over hooves for them. Could that even work for humans? It turns out that men might be more sensitive to visual cues and women to touch.
(Flickr / AJ-2319)
Want to get your woman in the mood just by being around? Sounds like a dream, but male goats really have this magic spell that will get their ladies ready to roll in the hay for them. Their secret? A chemical compound that they release from their head that makes females weak in the knees.
A team of researchers, led by the Professor Yukari Takeuchi from the University of Tokyo, worked on identifying what in the male goat’s smell was powerful enough to get females excited and ready for mating. Previous studies already showed that hairs, primarily on the heads of the males, and not urine, were responsible for this “male effect” pheromone activity. However, the main primer pheromone remained unidentified. Primer pheromones are chemical messengers that elicit long term physiological changes required for events such as ovulation, as opposed to more immediate sexual behavior induced by releaser pheromones. Only 15 to 20 mammalian pheromones have been identified and very little is known about primer pheromones. One of the only other cases identified is in rats and mice, where the presence of males speeds up the onset of puberty in females.
Takeuchi’s team used a “goat hat” containing materials that would absorb volatile chemicals and identified a host of compounds that were different between castrated male goats and intact bucks. The scientist then took nanny goats and measured the electrical signals in their brains, more specifically in the arcuate nucleus of the hypothalamus – the neural regulator of reproduction. When exposed to a cocktail of 18 of the chemicals found, the brain of nanny goats showed a sudden increase in the activity of the gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) generator. GnRH signals the release of the luteinizing hormone, which in turns plays a role in making females ovulate.
One of the citrus scented chemicals called 4-ethyloctanal was sufficient to create a response on its own, although slightly weaker. The whiff of the orangey floral scented chemical was enough to make the rhythmic spiking of GnRH in the brain increase, become faster and larger, hypothetically causing the female to ovulate. This molecule, in contact with oxygen, can also become 4-ethyloctanoic acid, a main component of a buck’s scent responsible for the attraction of females to males. “We are tempted to speculate that this is a clever reproductive strategy of the buck to alter behavior and activity of the reproductive center in the female for mating by a single molecule,” explains Dr. Takeuchi.
Incredibly, in goats, one odorous molecule is enough in goats to alter female behavior, physiology and reproduction. Could humans ever imagine having a love potion as powerful as that? Should we be looking at smell as the primary tool of love?
“Where we [humans] see the world primarily through sight and sound and then touch and a little bit of smell, (goats) see their world primarily through their sense of smell. They are sensing thing in the environment that we can’t sense,” explains John J. McGlone, a Texas Tech University professor to the livescience website. So, maybe we should be looking at visual arousal for humans. That’s what the team of Anouk Festjens of the University of Leuven in Belgium has been doing, using activation of the reward system in the brain as a sign of fundamental arousal.
(Flickr / Hegemony77 doll clothes)
According to most studies, and probably most personal experiences, the average man’s sexual system gets activated fairly easily. When it does, it trips off a whole system in the brain focused on rewards. Visual cues play quite an important role in triggering this activation. In fact, the mere sight of lacy lingerie may propel a man into reward mode, seeking immediate satisfaction with his decisions. Ok, so getting men interested in sex is not that difficult, that’s not new. How about for women, do visual cues suffice?
Most of the evidence shows that a sexy object isn’t enough to trigger their reward system in the brain. Women, more than men, connect sex to emotions. Therefore, the team found that cues from a subtler, more emotionally charged sense initiated sexual motivation: touch. Across three experiments, Festjens’ team found that women who touched intimate male clothing, compared to nonsexual clothing, showed evidence of shifting into reward mode. This sense difference in men’s and women’s arousal might explain why porn use is so gender oriented.
Surprisingly one of the side effects of thinking sexy, and going into reward mode, is that men and women change their decisions about economic rewards. They are more likely to take financial risks and pay more for the same thing. Being more inclined to score immediate pleasure and gratification can translate in women as wanting to shop and buy things. Think about that the next time you go shopping, and avoid the male underwear section if you don’t want to spend too much.
In the end, is stroking a male goat in boxers the best way to get aroused? Probably not. The science of attraction is complex and many different factors are to be taken into account. But taking it one step and one study at a time can help better paint a whole picture.