Smells are an incredibly powerful part of attraction, and repulsion, to different people. What turns you on and what repulses you are not a choice, its a much more visceral reaction than that.

To test our response to different smells researchers scanned participant’s brains while they sniffed various odors, including the androgen-like pheromones of males (AND) and estrogen-like pheromones of females (EST). Their responses to the sex hormones were predictable: lesbians and straight men were attracted to the scents of women and irritated by male pheromones, and gay men and straight women were attracted to the scents of men and irritated by female pheromones.

AND EST
Straight men Irritation Sexual response
Gay men Sexual response Irritation
Straight women Sexual response Irritation
Lesbians Irritation Sexual response

All test subjects were similar in age and educational levels, healthy, unmedicated, right handed, HIV negative, and had a similar reaction to ordinary odors like lavender and cedar.

This study tells us that sexual attraction comes from a deeply physiological response. Watching the brain scans, researchers noted that smells that generated a sexual response were similar in both location and degree of activation in each of the attraction pairs.

We do not know why we are attracted to the pheromones we are attracted to, but we do know it is a fundamental body function determined through genes or womb environment early in fetal development.

Summary:

  • Gay Men: Attracted to male pheromones, irritated by female pheromones, indicating prenatal wiring for sexual attraction to men.
  • Lesbians: Attracted to female pheromones, irritated by male pheromones, indicating prenatal wiring for sexual attraction to women.

Sources:

  • Ivanka Savic-Berglund, MD, PhD, Brain Response To Putative Pheromones in Lesbian Women, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, May 8, 2006
  • Ivanka Savic-Berglund, MD, PhD, et al., Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, May 2005

This article is part of a series, Written on the Body, exploring the correlations between our body structures and sexual attraction.