Home > Arousal, Bones--Fox TV, Crying, Emily Deschanel, Gene expression, Libido, Pheromones, Sex, Tears > Women’s Tears of Sadness Reduce Men’s Arousal – Pheromone science and speculation

Women’s Tears of Sadness Reduce Men’s Arousal – Pheromone science and speculation

Woman Crying – photo by Shandi-lee

It has been reported in the January 6 online edition of Science that a whiff of a woman’s tears of sadness will reduce a man’s libido. I read the report in Science News, and I quote from its  article.

Crying women may literally turn men off. Odorless chemical signals in a woman’s waterworks lessen any stirrings of sexual interest in a guy who whiffs her tear-stained cheeks, a new study suggests. Chemical compounds in tears that douse men’s desire have yet to be identified.In the study, 24 men, ages 23 to 30, sniff a jar containing either tears collected from women as they watched sad film clips or drops of salt solution that had been trickled down the same women’s faces. A pad containing tears or a salt solution was then attached to each man’s upper lip as he rated the sadness and sexual attractiveness of images of women’s faces.

For 17 of 24 participants, female faces generally looked less sexually alluring after a man had just whiffed tears than after he’d sniffed a salt solution. Neither substance had a perceptible odor.

Another 50 men who sniffed women’s tears displayed physiological signs of reduced sexual arousal, such as a slow breathing rate and low salivary levels of the male sex hormone testosterone, relative to levels after sniffing a salt solution.

Finally, 16 men who sniffed women’s tears while watching a sad movie in a brain-scan machine displayed markedly lower blood-flow rates — a sign of reduced brain-cell activity — in areas that had previously reacted strongly to an erotic, R-rated movie. No sex-related brain drain appeared when these men sniffed a salt solution while watching a sad movie in a scanner.

There’s no way to know whether women evolved libido-squelching tears because they confer a survival or reproductive advantage of some kind.

Men able to cry at a sad film in a lab are hard to find, so studies of men’s tears will proceed slowly. For now, women are belles of the bawl.


So, if you want a woman to be receptive to you (you already know this), and, if you want to be aroused by her, don’t make her cry.


The above is one recent study on pheromones and how they act in humans. Other studies you may have read about involve the premise that women who live together or who are close friends synchronize their menstrual cycles.

The research on this subject is controversial. For one, different women have different length menstrual cycles, so unless pheromones can change the length of a cycle synchronization is impossible. A study reported in Nature in 1998 showed that women’s sweat could change the duration of menstrul cycles in other women, but this study did not say that the nature of the changes could cause synchronization. Other studies show that cycle synchronization does not happen.

The bottom line on this is that it is clear that pheromones do work between humans, but the nature of these interactions are not well understood.


I wrote a long story about a talented guitarist and his scientist girlfriend, each eighteen at the start of the story, and how they become separated by a misunderstanding. I trace their separate paths and lovers through about ten years.

The woman is God given gorgeous. Her face, in particular, makes people do double-takes when they see her. The attention she gets from men is tiresome to her, and her main focus in life is science. She becomes a virologist and is exceedingly successful, academically and then commercially, but she longs for her old boyfriend who loved her for herself, not for what she looks like or her status.

At one point the woman, Julie, has a brilliant idea, and she goes to talk about it with someone she knows, the uncle of her current boyfriend–not a serious relationship–they get together only occasionally for sex.

Before discussing her brilliant idea, she talks about another idea, just for fun. It is a theory about how pheromones caused her to become so beautiful. Before I wrote this I passed the idea by a microbiologist I know, and he said that the idea was “unproven but entirely plausible.”

Following is Julie’s idea:


Emily Deschanel, Dr. Temperance Brennan of Fox TV's Bones, a woman with a classically beautiful face

“A lot of guys think I’m unusually attractive.”

Othman [Julie’s boyfriend’s uncle] nodded again, acknowledging the obvious.

“I’m really a mutt,” she said. “On my mother’s side one set of my great-grandparents were Irish and Sicilian. The other set were northeastern European Jews. On my father’s side all my great-grandparents originated from settlers of New England, the northeastern part of the US. Among them were English, Scottish, French Canadian, and Abenaki Native Americans.

“It’s well known that average features are considered to be more beautiful than unusual features, so the mixing of people helps, with that,” Julie continued. “An example is what some people call mixed race children who are thought to be especially attractive. Really, I’m just extremely average.”

“Othman chuckled. “That’s a good line,” he said.

“I know a lot of men and women who are of mixed ancestry, and there’s nothing special about most of them, so what is it about me? Why am I blessed—or cursed, I think, sometimes—with looks that are so appealing, when others aren’t? Is it just luck of the draw?”

“What do you think?” Othman asked.

“I don’t know. That’s why I say this idea is just for fun. But let’s assume there is a reason. What might it be?”

“Genetics is out of my field,” Othman said.

“Let’s back up to something simple—yeast. Most types of yeast reproduce asexually, by budding, but some yeasts reproduce sexually. In those there are two types of yeast cells. You can think of them as male and female, but they’re called a and α [alpha], and only an a and an α cell can reproduce. To find each other, a and α yeast cells produce and sense each other’s pheromones, and other of their pheromones initiate DNA replication and a host of other changes that allow reproduction.”

Julie could see that Othman was listening, but his eyes were wandering over her body, and she knew he had a lapse of politeness and was thinking more about human reproduction than that of yeast.

“It is well understood that pheromones can cause the expression of genes,” Julie continued. “The right pheromone will cause genes to create proteins that change an organism. This is true for yeast, and we also know that pheromones cause changes in mammals. For example, dogs smell each other, and the right smells can cause the…” Julie was about to say production of chemicals that initiate sexual arousal, but instead she said “production of chemicals that alter behavior.

“It isn’t conclusively proven that humans respond to pheromones, though some experiments purport to show that smells causes women to synchronize their menstrual cycles. Nevertheless, it seems entirely plausible that pheromones do cause responses in humans by affecting gene expression.”

Othman continued to listen attentively. So far what he heard seemed to be basic biology.

“My theory…”

Here comes the meat, Othman thought.

“…is that if a mix of genes is available, then pheromones can cause specific genes in the mix to express themselves to benefit the individual carrying those genes. Here’s an example. Assume that a child is conceived by parents who have a mixture of genes, from different cultures, that affect facial features. During gestation, if the mother lives among one of those cultures then pheromones from the people around her might cause the fetus to express certain of those genes and repress others so that the child develops features that that culture finds pleasing, such as widely set eyes or an upturned nose. The child, when he or she grows up, would then be more likely to attract a higher status mate, which would benefit his or her children.

“My parents are strictly religious, and they grew up in Boston in a church community of people from many different cultures. The church, for all its dogma, wasn’t Christian, Muslim, Hindu, or anything you would recognize. It took in elements of any faith its parishioners brought. It was welcoming, and I appreciate that about it. And, if one has a genetic makeup that is a mix of genes from different cultures, as I do, and if she is gestated within a church community of many different cultures, as I was, then the pheromones of the people of all those cultures might cause many beauty genes to be expressed.” Julie raised her hands, palms up, smiled, and said, “Voila.”

Othman laughed. “Ernst said you’re a character. That is an interesting theory—unproven but, as you said, entirely plausible.”

  1. sextisfaction
    February 15, 2011 at 3:07 am

    only applicable to decent men but not to rapists

    • February 15, 2011 at 10:21 am

      To one extent or another we are all affected by human biological mechanisms, such as pheromones, but I agree that pheromones are not the only agent at work. Psychological and perhaps other physical agents come into play. Nature and nurture both count.

  2. kellythegreat
    February 16, 2011 at 1:42 am

    Did they really need to study tears to figure out that men are turned off by crying women, and that crying women are not receptive to sexual advances?

  3. papillonchouette
    February 18, 2011 at 5:10 pm

    I do think it works both ways… men who cry also turn women off 🙂 (at least in my case)

  4. February 19, 2011 at 8:34 am

    I agree, crying turns me off, sexually. If the crying is related to something I’ve done I usually feel guilty, even if logically I don’t think I’m at fault. And it’s interesting to hear that this works the same for women. As mentioned in the article, the researchers found it difficult to find crying men to test.

    What about make-up sex. After the crying is done is there a rebound that makes us feel extra lusty when we make up?

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