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Is it your name or your odour that makes you sexy?

By Chris Cobb, CanWest News Service

Many serious researchers have been spending a lot of time and money during the past few years trying to discover the secrets of physical attraction.

Last year, we had a Massachusetts Institute of Technology study that suggested a person's name contributed to his, or her, sexiness. Women, they said, are more attracted to guys who have "front vowels" in their names. The MIT people said guys with names such as Edgar, Christopher, Martin and Daniel would qualify. Christopher? Why certainly. But Edgar?

Well, let's not go there.

Guys, on the other hand, were more attracted to women with back vowel sounds in their names: Jordan, Rachel or Kylie. Jade, Rita or Gloria would have the edge, according to the MIT researchers, who posted a series of photographs on a website and solicited views as to who looked the most attractive.

They periodically changed the names under the photos, and as the names changed, so did viewers' opinions.

Two new studies have been focusing on body scent, or body odour in less polite company, and using sophisticated brain scans on homosexuals and heterosexuals while simultaneously wafting sweat of numerous volunteers under their noses.

The sweat came from the bodies of a cross-section of sexual orientations. Bottom line: Natural body odour, or pheromones, play on our subconscious and are key in determining who we find attractive, but like natural gas, they have no smell. At least, in well-washed persons they don't.

Gays who volunteered to take part in the experiments were especially adept at sniffing out the scent of other men and, according to brain-scan results, were stimulated by those same odours that send heterosexual women all a twitter. Which sort of makes sense, doesn't it?

Two institutes, Philadelphia's Monell Chemical Senses Center and the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, have been working simultaneously on these sniff tests and have come to similar conclusions.

The Monell team gathered 82 heterosexual and homosexual men and asked them to sniff the armpit sweat of 24 donors representing all basic sexual denominations. There is no word on how much they were paid to do this, but it couldn't possibly have been enough.

So the study showed that gay men like the smell of other men in general, but according to their brain scans, were able to detect, and were especially stimulated by, the armpit odour of other gays. It is hardly surprising, then, that the smell of gay men was the least liked by heterosexual men, women and lesbians.

Lead Monell researcher Dr. Charles Wysocki said of his team's study: "Our findings support the contention that gender preference has a biological component that is reflected in both the production of different body odours and in the perception of and response to body odours."

In other words, we like each other's smells.

The Swedish study suggests we are even closer in this regard to the animal than previously thought. It's a bit more complicated than sniffing sweat, but essentially, the Swedes tested 36 heterosexual and homosexual men and got them to sniff all kinds of common odours, such as lavender, and slipped in two suspected pheromones derived from testosterone and estrogen.

The testosterone derivative, called AND, sparked definite biological interest in the women and gay men; the estrogen derivative activated something called the hypothalamus in heterosexual men.

Previous animal studies suggest that the hypothalamus plays a major role in sexual behaviour.

There's a complication, however. Dr. Nick Neave, a biological psychologist at Northumbria University, told a British interviewer that pheromones play a key role in sexual attraction among animals, which detect them through a nasal organ called the omeronasal. If we humans have one of those up our noses, nobody has yet been able to find it.

The studies leave a couple of points to ponder: Does it mean humans will eventually junk scented deodorants, antiperspirants, after-shave and anything else that masks natural body odour?

And second, should there be a study into why people would willingly take part in a study that involved sniffing underarm sweat?