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The Science of Sexual Attraction

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Sexual Attraction

Sexual attraction is complicated, and there are no definitive answers to what makes a person attractive or unattractive. It has a lot to do with societal values, personality traits, and individual preference. You’ve probably experienced for yourself how something as subjective as a great laugh, a shared interest, or a moment of kindness can suddenly make someone attractive. Many scientific studies have tried to get at the factors that make someone attractive. They’ve studied everything from facial structure, to perceived personality traits, to femininity and masculinity. All of these can play a role, but there is some hard science behind how attraction works. Underneath everything, there are some chemicals pulling our heartstrings.

Pheromones: Attraction through Smell

We all know that the right scent can be attractive. Smell isn’t all about cologne and perfume, though; each person releases a kind of chemical called pheromones that lets off a unique smell. These pheromones play a key role in sexual attraction. Some research suggests that people may be attracted by the pheromones of individuals with different genes: an evolutionary advantage that helps to keep the gene pool diverse. All of this happens subconsciously but can spark attraction. Scientists believe that men can also sense fertility in a woman through her pheromones. When a woman is at the peak of fertility in her menstrual cycle, she lets off a slightly different scent, which men can subconsciously pick up on. That will make a woman more attractive. In fact, in a number of studies, men rated woman who were at peak fertility as more attractive.

The Hormones Underneath it All

When you get down to a scientific level, sexual attraction is all about chemistry. Estrogen and testosterone play a part in making us attractive to potential sexual partners. Then, when we feel that spark of attraction, much of what we’re feeling is dopamine and serotonin. These are the same hormones that make us feel happy; they’re connected to our brain’s pleasure center, so you can see how they’re connected to the feeling of attraction. A cocktail of other hormones (norepinephrine, oxytocin, and vasopressin) work to focus your attention on one person and maintain your feeling of attraction.

Why Does Science Work this Way?

Our bodies aren’t just promoting sexual attraction; they’re doing it in a certain way. Scientifically, we tend to be attracted to people with different genes, and our hormones want us to pursue that attraction and form a bond with one person. All of these chemicals are trying to give us a reproductive and evolutionary advantage. Offspring from parents with different genes tend to have stronger immune systems and genetic variability is important for keeping the species healthy. In essence, our bodies want us to have lots of babies, and they want those babies to be healthy. Our hormones are trying to point us to partners who will help us to meet those goals.   

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