The mere scent of a man can drive a woman to drink more alcohol, according to new study

The mere scent of a man can drive a woman to drink more alcohol, according to new study
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Women who thought they were participating in a consumer survey of men’s cologne drank more beer when they were exposed to cologne that, unbeknownst to them, had been scented with androstenone — a sex pheromone in boars.

“We inferred that detection of male sexual scents, even in the absence of awareness, may instigate drinking because of the longstanding cultural association between alcohol use and sex,” the researchers summarized in the journal, Experimental and Clinical Psychopharmacology.

“These findings may have important implications for understanding and treating alcohol use disorders.”

The relationship of alcohol use to human sexual behaviour has been well established, even as far back as the Old Testament

In an earlier paper, the same team found that men who smelled T-shirts worn by women in the fertile phase of their menstrual cycles drank more beer than men who smelled shirts worn by non-fertile females. They were also more likely to approach an actual woman. When led into a room with a row of five empty chairs, they chose the seat next to the “phantom” female, a chair made to look as if a woman was sitting on it. (A pink cardigan was slung over the back and a red purse was on the seat.)

“The relationship of alcohol use to human sexual behaviour has been well established, even as far back as the Old Testament,” the team wrote.

“Evolutionary theory says that men and women behave in ways to maximize their reproductive success,” said co-author Robin Tan, of the department of psychiatry at the University of California, San Diego.

“Alcohol is a social lubricant,” Tan said. It also makes people less sexually inhibited. “People drink, and they have these sexual expectations that alcohol might help them engage in sexual activities,” Tan said.

She and her co-author Dr. Mark Goldman, of the University of South Florida, hypothesized that women exposed to a male scent would drink more “presumably because they viewed alcohol use as a pathway to sexual expression.”

For their experiment, they used androstenone, a derivative of testosterone and a potent component of male body odour that’s thought to act like a male sex pheromone. In one old (1980) study, researchers who sprayed androstenone on chairs in a dentist’s waiting room found women preferred the odorized seats (men avoided them). Others have found no effect on women’s preferences.

The new study included 103 undergraduate females between 21 and 31 years old. The women were told they were part of a consumer study rating male cologne and different beverages (sparkling water, soda or beer, though all actually received only the “beer,” which, for safety reasons, was non-alcoholic.)

For the cologne sampling, the women were randomly assigned to sniff fragrance strips that had been sprayed with either manufactured androstenone scent, or water alone.

They were also poured two, 12-ounce glasses of non-alcoholic beer each.

It s sort of thought that guys are usually the ones who usually approach females; females aren t usually the ones who approach males

Women exposed to androstenone drank more beer than the non-exposed females — about one tenth a 12-ounce glass of beer more over 10 minutes.

While it may not seem much, that amount of “added consumption” during a university day isn’t trivial, Tan said. “A lot of them had class or other things to do, they’re drinking by themselves, and they’re drinking in this isolated laboratory.

“When you take all those factors in consideration, even the fact we found any difference means we were picking up on something.”

 Unlike the men in the previous study, women exposed to androstenone didn’t sit closer to a “phantom male.” Differences in gender and social norms might explain why, Tan said. “It’s sort of thought that guys are usually the ones who usually approach females; females aren’t usually the ones who approach males.”

The researchers cautioned that deliberately sniffing scents in a lab might not mimic real world social settings, like a bar. 

In addition, the women who smelled the water-only cologne rated their scent as slightly more pleasant, and less strong. 

Still, the studies taken together hint at a “never-before-discussed biobehavioral pathway” that can influence how much people drink, Tan and Goldman wrote. It might help explain why drinking and binge drinking ramps up during the teen years and the onset of puberty, they added. “Drinking during this foundational time of life may, therefore, be embedded in a network of forces not yet addressed in any prevention strategy.”

“We as humans often have very little insight into why and how we behave,” Tan said. “Maybe our biological forces play a much larger role than we think they do.”

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