The Influence of Sexual Orientation on Human Olfactory Function

  • Mark J.T. Sergeant
  • Jennifer Louie
  • Charles J. Wysocki


Sexual orientation influences human olfactory function. Following a brief review of the biological basis of homosexuality, this chapter explores exactly how olfactory function varies as a result of sexual orientation. Three separate areas of research are considered: recent studies on the neural processing of social odorants by heterosexuals and homosexuals; the influence of sexual orientation on the production and perception of body odours; and the influence of female sexual orientation on menstrual synchrony.


Sexual Orientation Menstrual Cycle Olfactory Function Homosexual Male Body Odour 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Allen, L.S. and Gorski, R.A. (1992) Sexual orientation and the size of the anterior commissure in the human brain. P. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 89, 7911–7202.Google Scholar
  2. Bailey, J.M., Dunne, M.P. and Martin, N.G. (2000) Genetic and environmental influences on sexual orientation and its correlates in an Australian twin sample. J. Pers. Soc. Psychol. 78, 524–536.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Bensafi, M., Tsutsui, T., Levenson, R.W. and Sobel, N. (2004) Sniffing a human sex-steroid derived compound affects mood and autonomic arousal in a dose-dependent manner. Psychoneuroendocrinol. 29, 1290–1299.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Berglund, H., Savic, I. and Lindström, P. (2006) Brain response to putative pheromones in lesbian women. P. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 103, 8269–8274.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Brand, G. and Millot, J.L. (2001) Sex differences in human olfaction: beyond evidence and enigma. Q. J. Exp. Psychol-B 54, 259–270.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Caruso, S., Grillo, C., Agnellio, C., Maolino, L., Intelisano, G. and Serra, A. (2001) A prospective study evidencing rhinomanometric and olfactometric outcomes in women taking oral contraceptives. Hum. Reprod. 16, 2288–2294.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Chivers, M.L., Rieger, G., Latty, E. and Bailey, J.M. (2004) A Sex Difference in the Specificity of Sexual Arousal. Psychol. Sci. 15, 736–744.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Cochran, S.D., Mays, V.M., Bowen, D., Gage, S., Bybee, D., Roberts, S.J., Goldstein, R.S., Robison, A., Rankow, E.J. and White, J. (2001). Cancer-related risk indicators and preventive screening behaviors among lesbians and bisexual women. Am. J. Public Health 91, 591–597.Google Scholar
  9. Cutler, W.B., Garcia, C.R. and Krieger, A.M. (1980) Sporadic sexual behavior and menstrual cycle length in women. Horm. Behav. 14, 163–172.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Gangestad, S.W., Bailey, J.M. and Martin, N.G. (2000) Taxometric analyses of sexual oriention and gender identity. J. Pers. Soc. Psychol. 78, 1109–1121.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Gangestad, S.W. and Thornhill, R. (1998) Menstrual cycle variation in women’s preference for the scent of symmetrical men. P. Roy. Soc. Lond. B 265, 927–933.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Garcia-Falgueras, A., Junque, C., Gimenez, M., Caldu, X., Segovia, S. and Guillamon, A. (2006) Sex differences in the human olfactory system. Brain Res. 1116, 103–111.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Graham, C.A. and McGrew, W.C. (1980) Menstrual synchrony in female undergraduates living on a co-educational campus. Psychoneuroendocrinol. 5, 245–252.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Hamer, D.H., Hu, S., Magnuson, V.L., Hu, N. and Pattatucci, A.M.L. (1993) A linkage between DNA markers on the X chromosome and male sexual orientation. Science 261, 321–327.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Jacob, S. and McClintock, M.K. (2000) Psychological state and mood effects of steroidal chemosignals in women and men. Horm. Behav. 37, 57–78.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Kendler, K.S., Thornton, L.M., Gilman, S.E. and Kessler, R.C. (2000) Sexual orientation in a U.S. national sample of twin and non-twin sibling pairs. Am. J. Psychiat. 157, 1843–1846.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Kranz, F. and Ishai, A. (2006) Face perception is modulated by sexual preference. Curr. Biol. 16, 63–68.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Kuukasjarvi, S., Eriksson, C.J.P., Koskela, E., Mappes, T., Nissinen, K. and Rantala, M.J. (2004) Attractiveness of women’s body odors over the course of the menstrual cycle: The role of oral contraceptives and receiver sex. Behav. Ecol. 15, 579–584.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. LeVay, S. (1991) A difference in hypothalamic structure between heterosexual and homosexual men. Science 253, 1034–1037.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Martins, Y., Preti, G., Crabtree, C.R., Runyan, T., Vainius, A.A. and Wysocki, C.J. (2005) Preference for human body odors is influenced by gender and sexual orientation. Psych. Sci. 16, 694–701.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Matteo, S. and Rissman, E.F. (1984). Increased sexual activity during the midcycle portion of the human menstrual cycle. Horm. Behav. 18, 249–255.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. McClintock, M.K. (1971) Menstrual synchrony and suppression. Nature 229, 244–245.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Muehlenhard, C.L. (2000) Categories and sexuality. J. Sex Res. 37, 101–107.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Mustanski, B.S., DuPree, M.G., Nievergelt, C.M., Bocklandt, S., Schork, N.J. and Hamer, D. (2005) A genomewide scan of male sexual orientation. Hum. Genet. 116, 272–278.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Ponseti, J., Bosinski, H.A., Wolff, S., Peller, M., Jansen, O., Mehdorn, H.M., Büchel, C. and Siebner, H.R (2006) A functional endophenotype for sexual orientation in humans. NeuroImage 33, 825–833.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Preti, G., Cutler, W.B., Garcia, C-R., Huggins, G.R. and Lawley, H.J. (1986) Human axillary secretions influence women’s menstrual cycles: the role of donor extract of female. Horm. Behav. 20, 474–482.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Rahman, Q. and Wilson, G.D. (2003a) Born gay? The psychobiology of human sexual orientation. Pers. Indiv. Differ. 34, 1337–1382.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Rahman, Q. and Wilson, G.D. (2003b) Large sexual orientation related differences in performance on mental rotation and judgment of line orientation. Neuropsychol. 17, 25–31.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Savic, I., Berglund, H., Gulyas, B. and Roland, P. (2001) Smelling of odourous sex hormone-like compounds causes sex-differentiated hypothalamic activation in humans. Neuron 31, 661–668.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Savic, I., Berglund, H. and Lindström, P. (2005) Brain response to putative pheromones in homosexual men. P. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 102, 7356–7361.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Schank, J.C. (2001) Menstrual-cycle synchrony: problems and new directions for research. J. Comp. Psychol. 115, 3–15.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Sobel, N., Prabhakaran, V., Hartley, C.A., Desmond, J.E., Glover, G.H., Sullivan, E.V. and Gabrieli, J.D.E. (1999) Blind smell: brain activation induced by an undetected air-borne chemical. Brain 122, 209–217.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Stern, K. and McClintock, M.K. (1998) Regulation of ovulation by human pheromones. Nature 392, 177–179.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Strassmann, B.I. (1997) The biology of menstruation in homo sapiens: total lifetime menses, fecundity, and nonsynchrony in a natural fertility population. Curr. Anthropol., 38 123–129.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Swaab, D.F. and Hofman, M.A. (1990) An enlarged suprachiasmatic nucleus in homosexual men. Brain Res. 537, 141–148.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Trevathan, W.R., Burleson, M.H. and Gregory, W.L. (1993) No evidence for menstrual synchrony in lesbian couples. Psychoneuroendocrinol. 18, 425–435.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Veith, J.L., Buck, M., Getzlaf, S., Van Dalfsen, P. and Slade, S. (1983) Exposure to men influences occurrence of ovulation in women. Physiol. Behav. 31, 313–315.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Wedekind, C. and Füri, S. (1997) Body odour preferences in men and women: do they aim for specific MHC combinations or simply heterozygosity? P. Roy. Soc. Lond. B 264, 1471–1479.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Weller, A. and Weller, L. (1992) Menstrual synchrony in female couples. Psychoneuroendocrinol. 17, 171–177.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Weller, L. and Weller, A. (1997) Menstrual variability and the measurement of menstrual synchrony. Psychoneuroendocrinol. 22, 115–128.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Whitam, F.L. and Zent, M. (1984) A cross-cultural assessment of early cross-gender behaviour and familial factors in male homosexuality. Arch. Sex Behav. 13, 427–439.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Wilson, H.C., Hildebrandt Kiefhaber, S. and Gravel, V. (1991) Two studies of menstrual synchrony: negative results. Psychoneuroendocrinol. 17, 565–569.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Wyatt, T.D. (2003) Pheromones and Animal Behavior: Communication by Smell and Taste. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media,LLC 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  • Mark J.T. Sergeant
    • 1
  • Jennifer Louie
  • Charles J. Wysocki
  1. 1.Division of PsychologyNottingham Trent UniversityPhiladelphiaUSA

Personalised recommendations