Scent of a nursing woman

The sweat of breast-feeding mothers can be an aphrodisiac ... for women.

By Carol Lloyd

Published October 19, 2007 4:12PM (EDT)

Feeling apathetic about sex? Toss the erotica and hang out with a breast-feeding mom!

We've all heard about the pheromonic convergence of women in their menstrual cycles. Now there's more evidence that we're a steaming caldron of hormones that drive us to behave in all sorts of unconscious ways. Actually, a story in yesterday's Times Online (U.K.), based on research published in Hormones and Behaviour, is pretty intriguing if only because it points to a more complex picture of libidinous hormones and what "naturally" turns us on.

Springing off a lecture by Martha McClintock, a professor of psychology at the University of Chicago, at the American Society for Reproductive Medicine conference this week, the story describes McClintock's discovery that the sweat of breast-feeding mothers can raise the sexual desire of other women and change their ovulation cycles. McClintock suggested that the discovery could be used to create an aphrodisiac for women who suffer from "disorders of desire" -- apparently the big sexual issue for women with big sexual issues. The study asked research subjects to sniff a pad doused in sweat from a nursing mother twice a day and answer questions about their moods and sexual desire. Among women with partners, sexual fantasies increased 24 percent; among those without partners, sexual fantasies increased 17 percent, whereas the control group reported a 28 percent decline in sexual fantasies.

Turns out that Martha McClintock is the very same scientist who over 30 years ago discovered the pheromone effect of menstruation based on her observations in her Wellesley College dormitory. She has been hot on the scent path ever since.

Doesn't women being aroused by the body fluids of other women fly in the face of everything we know to be true about man and woman and their God-given attraction to each other? Actually, the scientists explain the seductive nursing-sweat phenomenon as an evolutionary response to food scarcity. They speculate that the chemical cue in the scent of nursing mothers signaled that it was, as the Times put it, "a good time to breed." That's all very rational, but maybe those halcyon days back in the caves weren't quite so Focus on the Family after all. Maybe the irresistible scent of a woman instigated wild all-female spas wherein the exhausted mother would be pampered, pleasured and, while her cave-mates took care of the baby, finally allowed to drop off into a long peaceful slumber. Now this might not count as evolution, but I would call it progress.

Carol Lloyd

Carol Lloyd is currently at work on a book about the gentrification wars in San Francisco's Mission District.

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