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By Mark M. Green, Abstracted from A Scientists View of Almost Everything

 “For though thou wash thee with nitre, and take thee much soap, yet thine iniquity is marked before me”—Jeremiah 2:22 informs us of the ancient use of ridding out bodies of dirt and smell but not necessarily iniquity. Smelling someone who does not have what we consider a pleasant scent is not an experience we favor in modern life. We can avoid being rank nowadays with all the indoor plumbing and available soap products, but what went on years ago is another story. The word smell has a pejorative tone—we don’t like to hear about smell. But the rest of life, animal and plant, uses airborne chemicals, what we would call smell, to carry out all kinds of life’s functions.

Scientists began to realize in the mid-twentieth century that some of these airborne chemicals, which are called pheromones, act like hormones. Hormones (from the Greek word for impetus) are chemicals released by cells that affect cells in other parts of the same body. Adrenaline is a hormone, and you can feel its effect the next time you come face to face with a big growling bear or when you almost get hit by that tractor trailer coming the wrong way. Adrenaline prepares the entire body for action in an emergency.

A pheromone is a chemical given off into the air by one member of a species that triggers a hormone-like response in another member of that same species. We recognize pheromones in all kinds of animals, from insects to rats to monkeys, and have identified the precise chemicals that these animals are using to affect each other’s behavior.

Mammals closely related in their biochemical makeup to ours, for example monkeys, among other species, are affected by pheromones, especially for sexual purposes. What about us? It’s hard to answer that question. How is one to conduct an experiment? Besides that, our behaviors are so complicated that many inputs might be required to bring about attraction to the opposite sex.

During recent decades scientists have tried to get a handle on the question of sex pheromone activity in human beings by exposing selected people, under highly controlled conditions, to the odors we produce, under our arms and in our urine as examples. But asking people how they relate to these odors, however controlled the experimental conditions, always raises the question of subjectivity. In other words, you have to listen to what someone tells you, to the scientist conducting the experiment.

Recently, there has been a big advance in exploring the connection between the odors given off by human beings and their sexual effect. Swedish/Serbian biologist Ivanka Savic, from the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, has been conducting detailed observations of the response of the brain to the kinds of odors suspected to cause one human being to affect another’s sexual behavior. These experiments have become possible because of advances in the technology of observing the brain, advances that allow scientists to see neurons firing and observe with millimeter resolution the boundaries of different parts of the brain.

Publishing the work of her group in a world-renowned journal, Dr. Savic first showed that smelling a derivative of the male sex hormone testosterone, found in male sweat, and a derivative of the female sex hormone estrogen, found in female urine, elicited totally different responses in homosexual men, heterosexual men, and heterosexual women. While common odors were responded to in the same way in her sexually divergent test group, reactions to testosterone and estrogen differed in a very interesting way. Homosexual men’s and heterosexual women’s brain scans responded in the same manner, and very differently from the responses of heterosexual men. Dr. Savic was demonstrating not only a clear example of sex pheromone behavior in human beings, she was at the same time demonstrating a possible biological basis for male homosexuality.

This Swedish group dug deeper by looking directly at the brains of a large number of carefully chosen homosexual and heterosexual men and homosexual and heterosexual women under conditions that caused no perturbing odors or any sexual stimulation. These experiments had nothing to do with pheromones. The scientists were looking directly into the brains of these sexually divergent people. They discovered that two areas of the brain known to be important to sexual activity and emotional responses were similar in homosexual men and heterosexual women, and differed greatly from the observations of homosexual women and heterosexual men, which were similar to each other. Dr. Savic believes that her observations cannot be easily attributed to perception or behavior. In other words, there are very likely hard-wired differences in the brains of these sexually divergent people.

Although it appears that these differences have been present since at least early childhood, if not in the womb, how the differences arose is not at all certain. The Swedish scientists discuss this point noting all the arguments: environmental effects, which would have to take place, at the latest, in young teenagers; genetics (a possible “gay gene,” which, however, has not been found), and sex hormone influences in the uterus of the mother and/or in the fetus.

It’s important that none of Dr. Savic’s observations point to adult sexual behavior as a source of the differences in people’s brains.

Homosexuality is not a choice.

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