"Long before it's in the papers"
June 04, 2013


It’s not just chemical—it’s the same chemicals, study suggests

April 1, 2009
World Science staff

Much the same chem­i­cal cock­tail may flow in the bodies of both men and wom­en as a re­sult of sex­u­al or rom­an­tic at­trac­tion, a study sug­gests.

Has­san H. López and col­leagues at Skid­more Col­lege in New York re­searched wheth­er pre­vi­ous find­ings with men—that they re­lease two spe­cif­ic hor­mones when in­ter­act­ing with young mem­bers of the op­po­site sex—apply si­m­i­larly to wom­en.

Much the same chem­i­cal cock­tail may flow through the body of both men and wom­en as a re­sult of sex­u­al at­trac­tion, a study has found.

Rath­er than sub­ject fe­male test sub­jects to in­ter­ac­tions with ran­dom male strangers, López and col­leagues had the 120 wom­en watch vi­deo mon­tages ex­tracted from pop­u­lar films. There were four vid­e­os, show­ing an at­trac­tive man court­ing a young woma­n; a na­ture doc­u­men­ta­ry; an un­at­trac­tive old­er man court­ing a woma­n; and an at­trac­tive woman with no men pre­s­ent.

Female test sub­jects un­der­go­ing nor­mal hor­mo­nal cy­cles ex­pe­ri­enced “a sig­nif­i­cant in­crease” in lev­els of the same two hor­mones when watch­ing the first vi­deo on­ly, ac­cord­ing to the re­search team. The hor­mone lev­els were meas­ured through tests of sa­li­va.

The hormones were tes­tos­ter­one and cor­ti­sol.

Tes­tos­ter­one, sur­pris­ing­ly, is known as the male sex hor­mone—it ac­counts for the de­vel­op­ment of male sex­u­al char­ac­ter­is­tic­s—although it plays roles in mem­bers of the fairer sex as well. It’s pro­duced in the male tes­tes, and al­so in small quan­ti­ties in the ovaries and the ad­re­nal glands, which lie atop the kid­neys.

Cor­ti­sol, too, is pro­duced in the ad­re­nal glands. It acs to stim­u­lates forma­t­ion of gly­co­gen, or a stor­age form of sug­ar, in the liv­er and has oth­er met­a­bol­ic ef­fects. Both cor­ti­sol and tes­tos­ter­one are known as ster­oid hor­mones for their chem­i­cal si­m­i­lar­ity.

“Women may re­lease ad­re­nal ster­oid hor­mones to fa­cil­i­tate court­ship in­ter­ac­tions,” wrote López and col­leagues in their stu­dy, pub­lished in the March 19 ad­vance on­line is­sue of the re­search jour­nal Hor­mones and Be­hav­ior. The pre­vi­ous find­ings with men were pub­lished in the Sep­tem­ber 2007 is­sue of the same jour­nal and ear­li­er, based on stud­ies by James Roney and col­leagues at the Uni­ver­s­ity of Cal­i­for­nia, San­ta Bar­ba­ra.

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Much the same chemical cocktail flows through the body of both men and women as a result of sexual attraction, a study has found. Hassan H. López and colleagues at Skidmore College in New York researched whether previous findings with men—that they release two specific hormones when interacting with young members of the opposite sex—apply similarly to women. Rather than subject female test subjects to interactions with random male strangers, López and colleagues had the 120 women watch video montages extracted from popular films. There were four videos, showing an attractive man courting a young woman; a nature documentary; an unattractive older man courting a woman; and an attractive woman with no men present. Female test subjects experiencing normal hormonal cycles experienced “a significant increase” in levels of both hormones, testosterone and cortisol, when watching the first video only, according to the research team. The hormone levels were measured through tests of saliva. Testosterone, surprisingly, is known as the male sex hormone—it accounts for the development of male sexual characteristics—although it plays roles in members of the fairer sex as well. It’s produced in the male testes, and also in small quantities in the ovaries and the adrenal glands, which lie atop the kidneys. Cortisol, too, is produced in the adrenal glands. It acs to stimulates formation of glycogen, or a storage form of sugar, in the liver and has other metabolic effects. Both cortisol and testosterone are known as steroid hormones for their chemical similarity. “Women may release adrenal steroid hormones to facilitate courtship interactions,” wrote López and colleagues in their study, published in the March 19 advance online issue of the research journal Hormones and Behavior. The previous findings with men were published in the September 2007 issue of the same journal and earlier, based on studies by James Roney and colleagues at the University of California, Santa Barbara.