Sex and Scent - or why am I being divorced/cheated-on?

Sex and scent go together. The nose is a direct extension of the brain, even more-so than the eyes. Odor has a profound effect on emotion, memory, behavior.

You see a woman at some distance and are immediately drawn by her appearance. You get closer, trying to read signals, negotiating. Do you like her? Does she like you? If you can manage some conversation, or a shared activity, that keeps you in proximity for a while, the two of you make your real decision - whether to continue the mating dance or not - based on how you smell to each other.

You might not even consider sex and scent as all that important, and you are probably unaware of it happening.

Part of it is your overt smells, everything from body odor to soaps and perfumes to the smells that attach to you from your work or your recreation. But the guy who works behind the counter at the fish store manages to get a girl now and then, so it's not just those overt smells that you can notice and possibly identify.

The sex and scent connection is also pheromones.

The combination is very powerful in determining how you and someone you've met are going to get along. Do you fit? Are you comfortable together? Do you feel like you belong - or at least like you want to belong?

Sure, appearance is important. You noticed her, possibly out of a crowd, and felt the need to pursue the possibility. She noticed you noticing her and either acknowledged you in some way, or shut you down before you took two steps her way. That was based on visual cues. Were you presentable? Did you look confident and healthy? Were you displaying signs of success, or at least good potential? If so, she made a very quick decision to let you into her space. You, in turn, made a snap decision to be attracted to her, based first on cues of health and vitality, like a good head of hair, a symmetrical, fine-featured face, the presence/prominence of her breasts, the apparent ratio of her hips to her waist, and so on.

But it's what goes on while you are in proximity - maintaining that proximity by being charming, staying within sniffing range of each other - that determines whether you leave together, and to a great extent whether you stay together.

That sounds so animalistic and mechanical at the same time

Certainly the verbal sparring and efforts to be charming are part of the negotiation and the attempt to see if you are both on the same page for the night - do you both want to start something worth some investment? Do you both want a one-night-stand? It can be awkward if you are not in agreement, but fail to communicate that essential bit of info.

But really, the whole process is to keep you in each others' close orbit long enough for pheromones and scents to work their magic... or to decide (out of your conscious control) that there's no magic. That's how sex and scent works with animals of the four-legged variety, and it's also how it works with us two-leggers.

On an unconscious, physical, chemical, biological level, you two are exchanging information about (among other things) your MHCs (that's Major Histological Complex - look it up). That's how your bodies tell each other that the nearby person-of-interest is a good reproductive match - if your immune systems complement each other, there's a better chance that you would produce babies with the best possible combined immune system advantages. If you are too similar in MHC cues, then there's less reproductive advantage to be had.

Visual cues have already told the woman that you are a good physical specimen, and so any resulting babies would be strong and straight and able to fend for themselves among other humans and animals. Once you passed that screening, you were allowed/encouraged to get close enough for your bodies to mutually determine that any offspring would also survive the micro-biological environment - that any children you created would have strong, resilient immune systems to survive the tens of thousands of diseases we all encounter.

This is much more important to women, because they get one egg and one chance to start a baby each month. Men have essentially unlimited sperm to toss around, and you don't care if you impregnate a few women who won't produce strong resilient babies from your sperm - if you aren't happy with the result, you don't stick around and help raise the kid. That's not necessarily true of you as a person, but it's biologically how we're made. Unconsciously, women who are in their fertile cycle and are therefore most ready to hook up with a man, are attracted to the kind of man (the right MHC) who can start a reproductively worthwhile baby. It's a big investment for a woman, and her biology can't afford to take it lightly.

The woman isn't thinking that, as she sizes you up. She's feeling it. Or not. Based on chemistry.

Is there a point here? Where's the divorce?

Well, that's the thing, you see. What if one of you is "lying" with those scent and pheromone signals, and you and your honey get together on the basis of an incorrect match?

See, those pheromones that you are getting from each other are telling each others' bodies and minds - unconsciously (all you know is that you like her, and she knows that she likes you) that you are appropriately different in your genetic makeup, and would make viable kids together.

Now, your conscious mind and hers might have no intention at all of making babies, but the machinery of attractiveness is whirring away, ensuring that - if/when the time comes - the two of you are compatible.

OK, so we met, got it on, and got married... why the divorce?

You stopped smelling good to her.

But... but... I haven't changed anything in years!

You both changed something. You had kids.

HAH! I knew those good-for-nothin' little...

Nope. Can't blame the little darlings.

It was the fact of having them.

More accurately, it was the fact that she had to stop taking the pill in order to have babies.

Or maybe it wasn't kids.

Maybe, years after you got married, she had some health problem or a religious conversion, or something, and had to stop taking the birth-control pill.

Either way, having kids or stopping the pill for other reasons, she made a radical change in her hormones.


Hormones affect and control every process in your body. And in her body. Pheromones are basically hormones that are exuded from your body.

Hormones also affect how scents and pheromones are received and processed.

Basically, when she went off the pill, she went back to producing her natural cycle of scents and pheromones, and - this is the critical part here - she went back to her natural mode of classifying and reacting to received scents and pheromones ... back to her natural mode of being attracted to someone... or not. And natural-her doesn't really like natural-you, after years of unnatural-her being OK with natural-you.

Are we almost at a point, here?

What we are saying is that, if you and your lady had met before she began taking the pill, she might not have found you attractive enough to keep - and similarly, you might not have found her attractive enough to pursue. She would have exuded her natural pre-pill sex scent and pheromones, and at the same time she would have classified your scent and pheromones as less attractive than some of the other guys who were in the room the day you met. Sex and scent would have kept you from hooking up that day. Possibly, you would have kept looking and found your real match.

The reason you and she hit it off is that she was on the pill, which modified her hormones, and therefore the two of you seemed like a match - a match that would not have been there if she wasn't messing with her hormones.

There's informed speculation that the huge rise in divorces since the 1950s has actually had less to do with society's crumbling morals, and more to do with the birth control pill. Women going off the pill find their husbands are no longer as attractive as they'd been, and conversely that certain other men have become much more attractive.

It's probably no consolation that if you'd met a nice attractive girl who had the right smell (both overt and pheromone) and who found you similarly yummy, AND she was not on the pill, you two would still be together, because your bodies were "honest" with each other back when you met and made your marrying decision.

Chemistry is amazing, but chemistry sucks sometimes, and the arena of sex and scent is one place where modern chemistry can suck out loud.

Now what?

Sad to say, there's not much to do about you and your former honey. You can't take back all the shouting and recriminations that led up to the separation and divorce. Even if she went back on the pill now, it wouldn't make up for all those bad feelings. Besides, she can't stay on the pill forever. It's bad for her and gets worse the longer she's on it.

But there are a couple of important things you should do. One, you should do RIGHT NOW, and the other one at your leisure.

WHAT, then?

The "at your leisure" thing is: when you meet another woman, don't make a commitment until she's gone off the pill for a few months and still finds you attractive. If nothing else, women are learning that the pill is too dangerous to their bodies to be a "lifetime" thing, so at some point they all stop taking it.

The "right now" thing is: tell your children what you've just learned about sex and scent.

OK, maybe not if they are, like, six years old. But if your children are older than ten years, they are ready to learn about sex and life, and about this insidious effect of the pill - or of any other hormone-modifying contraceptive OR other medicine/drug/device.

You don't want them to start dating and mating without understanding this important "side"-effect of the contraceptive pill.

We think that condoms are going to become even more popular as people become aware of what can happen when life-mate decisions are made on the basis of chemically-disrupted sex and scent based attraction.

Let your children know the pitfalls, so they can make informed decisions affecting their entire lives. Tell them how attraction works. The visual cues are what determines that you'll get close enough for your hormones and pheromones to make the real decision. Maybe we can reverse the divorce trend.

Yes, yes, we know that many divorces are not because of sudden mutual lack of attraction due to the woman ceasing to take the pill. There are plenty of reasons - usually coming down to money - but ask yourself: How many of those marriages might have survived if the two people still desired each other and felt good in each others' company?

Wouldn't the participants have felt more motivation to save their investment of time, emotion and other intangibles? They might very well have found each other far less irritating when problems arose. They might have felt more impelled to compromise and to actively seek solutions to pressures and stresses if they'd still been attracted to each other.

You don't want that to happen to your kids, if it can possibly be avoided.

Don't delay.

"Sweetheart, if you start taking the pill, don't make a decision about who to marry while you are taking it. The pill can cause you to want a different man than you would if you were not taking the pill, and think what that means when you want to start a family or when you encounter some other reason for stopping the pill. Now, explain back to me the lifetime implications of what I just told you, so I know you've grasped it."

"Junior, when you think you've met 'the one', don't propose to her, and don't let her propose to you, until you've been together for at least a few months and still desire each other while she's not on the pill. She can't stay on the pill forever, and if your mutual chemistry works only while she's taking the pill, give some thought to what happens next. Now, in your own words, tell me what I just told you, and what it means to your life."

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