While the last post used a sophisticated analysis of brain scans to understand our response to pheromones, this one is simpler. Volunteers sniffed samples of the underarm sweat of gay and straight men and women.

Some of the results were what we would expect. Men and women attracted to women responded positively to women’s sweat. Men and women attracted to men where attracted to straight men’s sweat. The big finding was in the participant’s reactions to gay men’s sweat. It got the strongest response: the strongest attraction from gay men, and the least attraction from others.

The study’s authors concluded that gay men produce unique odor components that heterosexual men, heterosexual women and lesbians do not, and that gay men perceive sweat odors differently as well. Some people theorize this is the root of homophobia… that there is something about gay men that is physically repellant to others. It would be interesting to find that homophobia arises from something as biological as our chemistry.

It is hard to imagine a more primal test of attraction than pit smelling. I know I’ve smelled pits that make me hot and bothered and others that make me cringe. Smell seems the essence of the magical “chemistry” we all seek in a partner, something deep in our own chemistry and wiring determines our response.

And as the study’s author said, “It’s hard to see how a simple choice to be gay or lesbian would influence the production of body odor.”


  • Gay Men: Attracted to male sweat indicating a biological root to attraction. May produce an odor repellant to those who are not gay men, a result of unknown origin but implicating a biological root to gay male-focused homophobia.
  • Lesbians: Attracted to female sweat indicating a biological root to attraction.


  • Charles J. Wysocki et al, Preference for Human Body Odors Is Influenced by Gender and Sexual Orientation, Psychological Science, September 2005; vol. 16, 9: pp. 694-701

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