Pleasantness of the Odor of Androstenone as a Function of Sexual Intercourse Experience in Women and Men

Abstract

Androstenone (5α-androst-16-en-3-one) and other androstenes, body odor components occurring in apocrine secretions, may play a role in human chemosignaling. We hypothesized that the odor of androstenone may gain hedonic value from sexual intercourse experiences via associative learning. Young adults (N = 397, 61.5% women, age 21–24 years, randomly sampled regarding sexual experience) rated the intensity and pleasantness of the odors of androstenone, cinnamon, chocolate, isovaleric acid, lemon, and turpentine. Among women who were able to perceive androstenone, the odor was rated as more pleasant (less unpleasant) by those who had had experienced sexual intercourse with at least one partner (n = 175) than by those who reported never having experienced intercourse (n = 12, p = .006). The difference was specific to women. The results suggest that, among women, sexual experience may modify the pleasantness of the odor of androstenone.

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Acknowledgments

This study was supported by Kone Foundation (K.S. & A.K.) and Monell Chemical Senses Center (A.K.). Data collection from twins was supported by National Institutes of Health grant AA-12502 (R.J.R.), Academy of Finland grants 100499 & 205585 (J.K.) and 206327 (H.T.), the Academy of Finland Centre of Excellence in Complex Disease Genetics (J.K.), and the DIOGENES, project supported by the European Union (Contract no. FP6-513946). A.K. thanks Dr. Charles Wysocki for helpful discussions and constructive comments on the manuscript and Liang-Dar (Daniel) Hwang, MSc., for assistance in calculation of the empirical p values.

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Correspondence to Antti Knaapila.

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Knaapila, A., Tuorila, H., Vuoksimaa, E. et al. Pleasantness of the Odor of Androstenone as a Function of Sexual Intercourse Experience in Women and Men. Arch Sex Behav 41, 1403–1408 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10508-011-9804-7

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Keywords

  • Androstenes
  • Associative learning
  • Body odor
  • Evaluative conditioning
  • Olfaction
  • Smell