Most people don’t give much thought to sweaty T-shirts, except perhaps with a concern to get out of one as soon as possible – egads, someone may notice you’ve been working out or working hard! But it turns out that the human body’s natural thermoregulation may do a bit more than cool you off and soak your clothes. It may also be a means of attracting a mate and a way to understand why some couples find a kind of “chemistry” between them, even before they truly get to know one another. And, it turns out that just as Aristotle reasoned, opposites attract.
We’ve been brought up to think that we’re attracted to another person primarily through sight. Some have made a strong case that the voice – what a person sounds like and how he or she speaks — is just important, if not more so. But what if the most important sense is smell?
Several scientific studies over the past 15 years have produced strong evidence to suggest that women are “attracted” to men who are genetically dissimilar to them. The most well known of these is the “sweaty T-shirt” study,” conducted by Swiss zoologist Claud Wedekind at the University of Bern. Wedekind was working with the hypothesis that human odor correlates to personal genetic makeup. He brought together 49 women and 44 men, carefully selected for the variety of their gene types. He gave the women a nasal spray to use for two weeks before the experiment so their nasal passages would be clear. He gave each man a cotton T-shirt to wear for 48 hours and asked them to avoid wearing any perfumes or deodorants. Those shirts were returned to Wedekind, who put each one in a box with a “smelling hole.” The women volunteers each sniffed seven shirts, each from men with varying gene makeup. They were asked to rate the odors in each box according to pleasantness and “sexiness.”
The results were clear: Overall, the women preferred the scents of T-shirts worn by men whose genetic makeup was most dissimilar to their own. Scientists have been talking about something called pheromones for decades, but the way they talk about these “chemical signals” sent out through the pores you’d think these men of science a tad utilitarian when it comes to interpersonal romance. Wedekind proved his point that God has provided us with a transmitter and receiver for genetic information that could influence who we’re attracted to. Why? Because couples who have dissimilar gene pools tend to have children whose immune responses are stronger. (That’s one reason why incest is illegal – it creates the “inbred” effect.)
There was one stark exception to Wedekind’s findings. Women taking oral contraceptives, which partly mimic pregnancy, were more often attracted to men with a similar gene makeup. Wedekind called this “the Pill effect.”
Now, one wonders what the results would be had Wedekind (or anyone else) conducted a second study, one that had men sniffing women’s sweaty tees. It stands to reason that the men would choose the T-shirts of those women who are most genetically dissimilar to themselves. But what of the women who use oral contraceptives? What would the men think of them, of their sweaty tees?
Let me give you a piece of anecdotal evidence that may not be for the feint of heart. (Lightweights: skip down to the next paragraph.) I had a friend in college who often wondered why, when she went out in a group of mixed company, the guys always seemed to be much more interested in her than in her female friends. Ostensibly, this gal – let me call her Liz – didn’t differ significantly from the other eligible ladies around her — not in age, affability, or physically attractiveness. Perhaps Liz smiled a bit more, was more gregarious, more intelligent, or more sympathetic – I’m not sure. But Liz once pointed out that, among her college girl friends, she was one of the few who wasn’t on the Pill! I remember Liz wondering aloud if guys might naturally be more drawn to women whose biochemistry isn’t simulating that of a pregnant woman. We’ll, it makes you think, doesn’t it? (I remember also that Liz wasn’t big on fancy perfumes. Perhaps the men could get a good whiff of her without any odor prophylactics. )
I don’t know whether there’s any scientific evidence to support this theory, but the Swiss “sweaty T-shirt” experiment did conclusively demonstrate that the women who were taking oral contraceptives were not particularly attracted (as were the other women) to the odors of the men who were genetically dissimilar to them. Evidently, the Pill affects the smeller.
With all that smelly info in mind, perhaps you just might want to consider ways of getting your real odor out there. To that end, consider these ten tips.
1. Forego all antiperspirants and deodorants. Soap is adequate.
2. Go on summer dates in the great outdoors, or at least in places where there’s no AC.
3. Instead of showering before a date, shower afterward.
4. Lay off the perfumes and cologne. Mouthwash OK.
5. Don’t smoke.
6. Wash your clothes in perfume-free detergents – and don’t use “drier sheets.”
7. Protect your nasal membranes from infection (so your nose can smell properly)
8. Avoid eating smell-producing foods.
9. Don’t dump hormones (like “oral contraceptives”) into your body.
10. If all else fails, smile a lot.
But, hey, let’s not go overboard. If your stink becomes too ripe, this plan is gonna backfire. If those around you become conscious of how you smell – if, for example, they start waving their hand in front of their faces — they’re not going to care how dissimilar their genetic pool is from yours. They’re just going to hold their nose and keep away.
The nose knows.