Sweat and Sex
People who work out have more sex. This is according to a study published in The Journal of Scientifically Obvious Facts That Are Politically Incorrect But Totally True Even If It Hurts Your Feelings. (Shugart, et al. 2016)
But besides making you more physically attractive – or at least less gross from the neck down – is there something else going on? For example, does the smell of male sweat cause women to get aroused? Scientists have actually been looking into this.
The Questionable Science of Pheromones
The science of pheromones (scented sex hormones) is all over the place, with some researchers saying that humans can't detect them and others saying that some humans can, at least some of the time.
Women do appear to be sensitive to male pheromones, particularly around ovulation, at least if they're not using sexually-blunting oral contraceptives.
The Journal of Neuroscience reported a study where women smelled swabs of androstadienone, a constituent of sweat, and a placebo. Researchers measured body temp, skin conductance, pulse, blood pressure, respiratory function and cardiac rate. Those women who took a whiff of androstadienone displayed more signs of sexual arousal. It even put them in a better mood.
But not all male pheromones are the same. For example, the pheromone androstenone isn't the same as androstenol. Fresh man-sweat produces a scent of androstenol, which is attractive to women. But after 20 minutes or so, that sweat gets oxidized. Now it's just body odor. So, fresh sweat good, old sweat bad.
Men with higher levels of testosterone give off more of these pheromones. So it's possible that fresh sweat from a low T male isn't as arousing as that from a high T guy. Also, the oxidized sweat of a high-testosterone dude probably smells worse.
Add to this the research showing that only about 70 percent of men and women can detect these chemical signals. Thirty percent smell nothing, possibly because of a missing gene. Based on DNA samples, those who can smell androstenone were found to have genetic variations in a single odorant receptor called OR7D4.
Furthermore, the power of these pheromones may only work at very close range. One experiment showed they can only be detected at a distance of around 18 inches.
Horny Sweat and New Mommy Sweat
But then there's this. Men's sweat smells different when they're aroused, and women can unconsciously tell the difference according to another study from The Journal of Neuroscience. The study involved collecting the armpit sweat of men as they watched either erotic movies or non-erotic movies, then having women sniff the sweat while their brains were monitored with MRI. (Science is fun.)
And here's another weird one. Half of the female test subjects in one study were asked to wipe their upper lips with cotton pads soaked in the sweat of nursing mothers. (The placebo group did the same but with benign smelling pads.) Those given the sweaty pads of breast-feeding mommies reported a 42% increase in desire for their hubbies and boyfriends. Single women reported more sexual daydreams.
Could it be that the scent triggered primitive breeding instincts? Seems that way.
The Mating Instinct
Here's another possible reason that sweating, or the result of frequent exercise that causes sweating, may trigger female arousal. Males who burn 200 or more calories a day by exercising reduce their chances of impotence. Exercise also decreases stress, which contributes to erectile dysfunction and infertility.
Behavioral ecologist Fhionna Moore concluded that women prefer men with low levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Instinctively, females seem to know that high-cortisol men have suppressed reproductive function. Not an attractive sign that a man would make a good baby-maker or provider and, like it or not, the base functionality of our brains still operates at that level. Sorry, feminists.
See, much of what we think of as "attractive" is rooted in rather primitive-sounding mating signals. Certain physical features we think of as "hot" are actually just fertility indicators: youth, full breasts, a muscular male butt (really, this has been studied), etc.
So it's possible that women are unconsciously attracted to men who sweat through exercise because it signals to them that these guys are less likely to be impotent and would make better candidates for pair bonding and procreation.
Or Is It All In Your Head?
Studies on perfumes and colognes generally show they have no real effects on the opposite sex. But they do have an effect on the wearer. If the scent makes the man or the woman feel sexier, he or she will behave differently, consciously and unconsciously.
A woman who wears a scent that makes her feel sensual may act sexier, indirectly increasing her attractiveness. The same could be said about man-sweat. If you think your fresh sweat turns women on, you may act more confident and sure of yourself, which does turn women on.
So, What Conclusions Can We Draw?
- The smell of fresh male sweat does seem to lead to arousal in females, at least if they're ovulating, not on oral birth control, have the right genes, and get really close to you.
- The smell of old sweat is just nasty. Take a shower.
- Your lady friend will be more randy after being around a nursing mom and her infant.
- Being in good shape and feeling confident probably has much more to do with your attractiveness than your excretions in the squat rack.
- Getting sweaty with your significant other is always a good idea.