The Science Behind Sexual Attraction

Having ‘chemistry’ with someone is a lot more complex than we think. As it turns out, there’s actually chemicals involved; neurochemicals, as well as subconscious sensories and hormones. The root of attraction comes down to five things; pheromones, dopamine, serotonin, MHC and even the female menstrual cycle. Here’s the scientific breakdown behind it.

1. Pheromones

This arousal-stimulating chemical will unknowingly help you entice your mate. Pheromones are a chemical substance that is secreted externally in our sweat and other bodily fluids. Once pheromones are released, it is retrieved subconsciously by members of the same species directly affecting their behavior and physiology. The subconscious chemical absorbance triggers sexual desire, sexual readiness, increasing hormone levels, fertility and deepened emotions.

2. Dopamines

If there were such thing as a love drug, this would be it. In fact, neurologists have proven that high levels of dopamine have the same effect on the brain as cocaine. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter in the central nervous system acting with the brain to assist in regulating the limbic system – which is responsible for controlling feelings and emotions. The feeling of attraction and infatuation that we experience when falling in love, or succumbing the lust, cause an increase in the release of dopamine in the brain. Additionally, dopamine raises testosterone levels — a hormone known for sparking hypersexuality. Through dopamine release, our bodies will experience an intense rush of pleasure, heightened sense of passion, sexual arousal and a general feeling of ecstasy.

3. Serotonin

Basically, this chemical is guilty for causing all those butterflies you get around your new lover boy and the late nights you spend over thinking what’s going on in his mind. Serotonin is a neurochemical that is involved in the transmission of nerve impulses and aids in various neurological processes. It is most commonly known for being the catalyst of mood disorders including anxiety, depression and OCD. When you are in love, or simply attracted to someone, your body will release lower levels of serotonin — this is why when you begin to catch feelings, you are likely to find yourself being uncharacteristically anxious and consumed with your new crush. On the opposing side of the spectrum, high levels of serotonin can have a cold-hearted effect on emotions, therefore interfering with romance and attraction. Elevated serotonin levels can blunt emotions, create a lack of sexual desire and diminish arousal.

4. Major Histocompatibility Complex

If you get a sense that someone is a good match for you, you’re actually getting a scent. MHC is a series of genes that are essential for the immune system to recognize foreign molecules. It’s the dominant factor in distinguishing one individual’s cells from another’s and determining histocompatibility, the degree of similarity between the antigens of two individuals. Human senses can pick up on the variations in MHC genes through scent. When it comes to attraction, humans prefer a partner whose MHC strongly varies from their own.

Studies prove that hormonal contraceptives (i.e birth control) can alter a woman’s preference on MHC genes and therefore, alter their preference on sexual partners. Basically, when a woman is not on the pill, they are attracted to a man who’s MHC is different from theirs. When a women is on the pill, it makes them more attracted to a man who’s MHC is more similar to theirs and possesses more feminine physical attributes. With this said, it has also been proven that women who find someone attractive/start a relationship with someone while they are on the pill, and then stop taking the pill mid-relationship, they have found themselves ‘falling out love’ and losing attraction to their mate. And vice versa.

5. Menstrual Cycle

And even though this is purely physical with a hormonal influence, a woman’s cycle can play a role in attraction. It’s been said that when a woman is ovulating, the increased levels of estrogen can have a beneficial effect on her appearance. Aside from the superficial benefits of having clearer skin, shinier hair, body definition and more symmetrical features, increased estrogen levels can boost brain chemicals that promote positive self-esteem and mood – which honestly is the only thing that should really matter. When ovulating, women prefer men with more virile attributes; i.e. muscular bodies, symmetrical facial features, dominant behavior and masculine body odors [bringing us back to the above segment on MHC]. But in the end, this all works out given that certain chemicals a woman gives off in her sweat during ovulation are said to increase testosterone in men, making them even more “manly.”

Simply, blame it on biology.

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