Physical attraction may be as old as time, but new studies are beginning to uncover the science behind sex appeal.
Unexpected factors—like smell, facial symmetry, voice pitch, financial stability and kissing prowess—just might have more to do with your choice of mate than anyone ever expected. Discover the evolutionary explanations.
A spritz on the wrist. A dab behind the ears. Many men and women spend a lot of time—and money—searching for a signature scent that attracts the opposite sex. Little do they know, these lotions and potions actually mask the natural odors scientists say potential mates find most appealing.
Karl Grammer and Elizabeth Oberzaucher, researchers who study how the human scent influences sexual attraction, found that when women are ovulating, they produce pheromones called copulins. Copulins have a distinct smell, which Elizabeth describes as "butter gone off."
When a man gets a whiff of copulins, his testosterone levels rise. As a result, he secretes androstenone, an odor that repels women who aren't ovulating.
Sex therapist Dr. Laura Berman says science and evolution plays a larger role in attraction than people might think. "We are capable of discerning 10,000 different scents consciously," she says. "But then there's a whole realm of unconscious scents that we're not even aware that we're smelling."
In one recent study, Dr. Berman says researchers had women smell men's T-shirts. The women were most attracted to the shirts of men whose major histocompatability complexes (MHC) differed from theirs. MHC is a collection of genes that are related to immune systems. "We unconsciously want to mate with someone who has a different immune system than ours," Dr. Berman says. "That helps with the survival of our offspring."
If you're like most women, you haven't considered the pitch of your voice since middle school choir practice...but maybe you should.
In one experiment, Dr. Gordon Gallup, a professor at the State University of New York at Albany, asked 10 men to rate the attractiveness of 10 female voices. Some audio clips came from the same women at different times during their menstrual cycles. During ovulation, women produce more estrogen, which raises the pitch of their voices.
Across the board, the men said they preferred the higher-pitched voices, an unconscious indication of fertility. "When females are midcycle, when they're the most fertile, the most likely to conceive, their voices are rated as being significantly more attractive," he says.
It's hard to pinpoint what distinguishes a gorgeous face from an average one, but some researchers are getting pretty close.
Psychologist Dr. Lisa DeBruine of the University of Aberdeen in Scotland says she's found that female faces become more attractive to men when the women are ovulating. "We think that the women might look healthier, have a bit of a healthier glow when they are ovulating," Dr. DeBruine says.
Symmetry is another factor that determines a face's attractiveness. Dr. Kendra Schmid, an assistant professor of biostatistics at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, says there is a equation for the "perfect" face. She uses 29 different measurements to determine someone's appeal on a scale of 1 to 10.
Find out how to measure facial perfection.
Dr. Schmid says the ratio of the length of the face to the width of the face should be 1.6, also known as the "golden ratio."
Whose face is the most "perfect," according to Dr. Schmid's measurements? No big surprise here! "Brad Pitt's is the highest [celebrity] that I've ever used the [formula] on," she says. "He was a 9.3."
Most people rate about 4 to 6. "There's never been anyone who was a perfect 10," Dr. Schmid says. "If you're out there, we're looking for you!"
Anyone who's ever wondered if an older man's companion is his daughter or his date knows attraction isn't all biological. Sometimes, it's logical.
During one study, researchers asked women to look at the face of a man whom she knows nothing about and rate his attractiveness on a scale of 1 to 10. Then, they showed women the same face, but this time, the photo was paired with a corresponding income.
The results? When a man makes a lot of money, a woman will rate him higher on an attractiveness scale than she would rate that same man if he had a smaller income.
Dr. Berman says this doesn't prove that women are gold diggers. "It goes back again to evolution. When we were having babies who were very dependent on us, we couldn't hunt and take care of ourselves, so we were looking for the man who had the most social status, who was the best hunter, who was going to bring home the biggest chunk of meat for our babies," she says. "It's the same thing today."
If you're trying to consciously assess the future of a relationship, Dr. Berman says there's one surefire way—a kiss. "You really learn a lot from a kiss," she says. "You're seeing if you like the way he smells. All your senses are engaged, and you get a sense of his sensuality, his connection, whether he's a take-charge kind of guy or more of a stepping back kind."
In fact, Dr. Berman says 66 percent of women say they would dump a guy after a bad first kiss.
When it comes to relationships, Dr. Berman says kissing frequency is a direct indicator of happiness. "It turns out that couples who kiss and cuddle regularly are eight times less likely to be stressed and depressed than couples who don't get that," she says. "You have to have a minimum of a 10-second kiss every day."
Printed from Oprah.com on Saturday, March 8, 2014
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