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Desire’s In The Air

October 17, 2009 News, Research No Comments

Anyone with an e-mail account has heard about pheromones, those magical chemicals that trigger behaviors in organisms.

Today, hundreds of companies are trying to capitalize on the idea of human pheromones to attract the opposite sex, never mind that no study has ever really identified them. What we do know is that scent matters. Scent, after all, can trigger memory like nothing else. And, of course, it plays a deciding role in attraction.

In the late 1990s, Dr. Alan R. Hirsch, director of Chicago’s Smell and Taste Treatment and Research Foundation, conducted a study that found a lot of food smells were incredibly arousing for men. Among these: the combination of pumpkin pie and lavender; cinnamon buns, doughnuts and licorice; pumpkin pie and doughnuts; orange; and lavender and doughnuts; buttered popcorn and cheese pizza.

(Wow, so the stench of most of my ex-boyfriends’ rooms in my early 20s wasn’t only not disgusting, it was actually arousing to them. Scary.)

True to our capitalistic spirit, someone has made a scent to cash in on the supposed aphrodisiac qualities of one of these combinations. Eau Flirt is a blend of black currant, plum, raspberry, apple, and black licorice and lavender, jasmine, ylang, nutmeg and cinnamon (the classic aromas of pumpkin pie), musk and woods.

At $98 a bottle, this baby costs more than most designer scents. Is it worth it? Only one way to find out, right?

I’ll tell you one thing–I’m glad it doesn’t involve notes of buttered popcorn and pizza.

Thumbnail image by Zsuzsanna.

Music Highs–Useless But Good

October 16, 2009 News, Research No Comments

Biologically speaking, music has no value. And yet. And yet listening to it is still one of the most rewarding activities in which we can engage. Why

A study by Valorie N. Salimpoor, Mitchel Benovoy, Gregory Longo, et al, used methods of high temporal sensitivity to see if there’s a relationship between increases in pleasure states and emotional arousal (which include things like changes in heart rate, breathing, electrodermal activity, body temperature, and pulse).

The experiment went like this: 26 people listened to self-selected intensely pleasurable music and neutral music. Results showed a strong correlation between ratings of pleasure and emotional arousal. By the same token, those who did not experience pleasure also showed no significant increases in emotional arousal.

These results suggest what emo kids have known all along: that strong emotions might be rewarding in and of themselves.

Thumbnail photo by Rossina Bossio Bossa. Information via PLoS ONE.

Voles To Help Us Decode Desire

October 15, 2009 News, Research No Comments

Prairie voles. Those little rodents that look a lot like fat mice, inhabit the tall grasses of the Midwest and whose infamous bent for monogamy could help us figure out why humans pair up.

Or so we’ve been told for years. Must have been a slow newsday on Monday when Bloomberg ran the story about some work being done by a research team at Emory University in Atlanta.

What we know so far: voles produce oxytocin and dopamine in their brains, two vital hormones for monogamy. The first creates bonds. The second fuels cravings and euphoria.

Essentially, voles have the Disney fairytale down flat. They meet, they sniff, they get down and bam! They have this everlasting bond that lasts forever, even after they stop making and rearing their babies–which they raise together.

Scientists have discovered that male voles may mate with another female after forming this bond with a previous partner, but this is only for the purpose of procreation. The magical bond they formed once never happens with any other vole again.

Larry J. Young, a social-neurobiology researcher at Emory who has been studying voles for the past 15 years had a bit of advice for those of us looking to do like voles.

“Engage in activities that stimulate oxytocin, that is, intimate contact,” Young said. “Your body is wired to be sensitive to the kind of intimate contact when you’re making love to release both oxytocin and dopamine to active those systems.”

Photo by Jacob Arnold.

Pleasure Noms: Natural Pain Killer

October 15, 2009 News, Research No Comments

Chocolate can relieve pain. Surprise, surprise.

A study, published in the Journal of Neuroscience by authors Peggy Mason, Ph.D., professor of neurobiology, and Hayley Foo, Ph.D., research associate professor of neurobiology at the University of Chicago, demonstrated the effect of chocolate, and apparently water also, in experiments conducted on rats.

If you can’t put your PETA-supporting selves on the shelf for a sec, skip this next part.

The rats were given a chocolate chip, sugar water, or water. As they consumed these items, a light bulb beneath the cage was turned on, creating a source of heat that generally made the rat lift its paw. When consuming chocolate or water, however, the rats were much slower to respond to the heat than they were otherwise. This is interesting because to date, it was believed that sugar was the cause of lowered sensitivity to pain.

Mason and Foo repeated the heat test and gave the rats were quinine, a bitter drink. In this instance, the rats reacted to heat as quickly as usual, which suggests that non-pleasurable food or drink fails to trigger pain relief.

A part of the brainstem called the raphe mangus, which is responsible for blunting pain during sleep, is thought to be at work during the consumption of pleasurable foods. The theory goes that animals need to focus on feeding to ensure survival, so when they encounter something pleasurable, the raphe mangus kicks in, enabling them to filter out distractions, such as heat and pain. The same part of the brainstem would not come into play if the food or liquid being ingested was not pleasant–possibly recognizing it as potentially toxic.

So, two things: chocolate is not quite Advil. And we don’t necessarily need sugar.

Thumbnail photo by distopiandreamgirl. Information via ScienceDaily.

Pheromones: More Indicator Than Aphrodisiac

October 14, 2009 News, Research No Comments

Scientists studying fruit flies discovered that the elimination of pheromones in these makes the insects attractive to normal male fruit flies–regardless of their sex–as well as other species of fruit fly.

This research by the team at the University of Toronto indicates that pheromones are not so much an aphrodisiac as they are part of a biological language used in mating that enables members to recognize their own species and make the distinction between males and females.

“The default [behavior] for males is to go for it,” one of the researchers, Joel Levine told CBC News. “But while males are turned on by the absence of hydrocarbons [i.e., pheromones], females are not at all interested in males who lack the hydrocarbons.”

(Female fruit flies, it should be mentioned, are always attracted to male fruit flies that do produce pheromones.)

Other weird behavior caused by lack of pheromones? The males attempted to copulate with each other’s heads. Normal sexual behaviour resumed when the fruit flies that had been stripped of their pheromone-producing abilities were treated with a single synthetic pheromone.

Thumbnail image by Max Westby. Information from CBC News.

Why Do Women Have Sex?

October 10, 2009 News, Research No Comments

Cindy Meston and David Buss, two researchers at the University of Texas wanted to get to the bottom of it: why do women have sex? They conducted an online survey of more than 1,000 women between the ages of 18 and 87 to find–surprise, surprise–that women aren’t all that different from men.

The number one reason that women have sex is that they’re attracted to their partner. The second? They want physical gratification. Far down the list you have what many have believed for centuries was the reason that drove women to have sex: for emotional bonding.

Many women said they had sex to bring them closer to God. And–surprise, surprise again–revenge sex was a big one. As was sympathy sex (sex with people you feel sorry for) and sex for conquest.

While men are still more likely to engage in uncommitted sex (hello, one-night stands), the gender gap has narrowed drastically since the 1950s.

Thumbnail image by I Live. Information via US News.

No Sex Tuesdays

August 27, 2009 News, Research No Comments

Well, it looks like the oversharing is paying off. A team of applied mathematicians at the University of Vermont analyzed 2.4 million blogs and other web overshares, counting the positive versus negative words as they appeared on individual days of the week.

Turns out Tuesdays is when we have the least sex. The good news? Less people seem to be getting into car accidents on this day. This being the city of perpetual driving, the no sex and no accidents is a bittersweet combo. But we’ll take it.

Bad day for driving? Wednesdays.

Good day for sex? Thursdays, apparently. And first thing in the morning, too.

Thumbnail image by Andrew Yanovskiy. Information via The Mirror UK.


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Gamers Won’t Be Seduced, Will Stare At Random Cleav Instead

That Steam allows the objectification and sexualization of female characters in a variety of its games but refuses to accept a game about actually engaging with women in a more interactive fashion is astonishingly backward.

FetLife Is Not Safe for Users

That the site doesn’t take measures to protect user content and has shown incompetence or negligence in regard to user privacy, all the while prohibiting victims from warning others about predatory behavior creates an environment where it is nearly impossible for members of the community to take care of themselves and one another. By enabling FetLife to continue espousing a code of silence, allowing the spinning self-created security issues as “attacks,” and not pointing out how disingenuous FetLife statements about safety are, we are allowing our community to become a breeding ground for exploitation.

Why You Should Vote No On Prop 35

Should people who benefit (parents, siblings, children, roommates!) from the earnings of “commercial sex acts” (any sexual conduct connected to the giving or receiving of something of value) be charged with human trafficking? Should someone who creates obscene material that is deemed “deviant” be charged as with human trafficking? Should someone who profits from obscene materials be charged with human trafficking? Should people transporting obscene materials be charged with human trafficking? Should a person who engages in sex with someone claiming to be above the age of consent or furnishing a fake ID to this effect be charged with human trafficking? What if I told you the sentences for that kind of conviction were eight, 14 or 20 years in prison, a fine not to exceed $500,000, and life as a registered sex offender?

Pretty and Calls Herself a Geek? Attention Whore!

If you are a woman, you might be given a chance to prove yourself in this community. Since there is no standard definition of what a “geek” is and it will vary from one judge to the next anyway, chances of failing are high (cake and grief counseling will be available after the conclusion of the test!). If you somehow manage to succeed, you’ll be tested again and again by anyone who encounters you until you manage to establish yourself like, say, Felicia Day. But even then, you’ll be questioned. As a woman, your whole existence within the geek community will be nothing but a series of tests — if you’re lucky. If you aren’t lucky, you’ll be harassed and threatened and those within the culture will tacitly agree that you deserve it.

Cuddle Chemical? Moral Molecule? Not So Fast

Zak’s original field, it turns out, is economics, a far cry from the hearts and teddy bears we imagine when we consider his nickname. But after performing experiments on generosity, Zak stumbled on the importance of trust in interactions, which led him, rather inevitably, to research about oxytocin. Oxytocin, you might remember, is a hormone that has been linked previously to bonding — between mothers and children primarily, but also between partners. What Zak has done is take the research a step further, arguing in his recent book, The Moral Molecule, that oxytocin plays a role in determining whether we are good or evil.

How to Avoid Pissing off a Stripper

Let’s talk about the strippers. Whether they like to be half-naked or not, whether they enjoy turning you on or not, there’s one thing they all have in common: they’re working. Whether you think that taking one’s clothes off for money is a great choice of career is really beside the point (is it a possibility for you to make $500 per hour at your job without a law degree? Just asking). These women are providing fantasy, yes, but that is their job. And as a patron of the establishment where they work, you need to treat them like you would anyone else who provides a service to you.


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