While reading the book Why Men want Sex and Women need Love by Allan and Barbara Pease, I was struck by a passage late in the book about the impact of oral contraceptives on a woman’s choice of mate, and its subsequent impact on public health.
Apparently women are biologically programmed to select mates with a different set of genes.
This inherent drive results in a stronger immune system in the next generation.
The woman’s sense of smell leads her to sniff out a mate with a different major histocompatibility complex (MHC) — a gene family that “makes molecules that enable the immune system to recognize invaders.”
The more different the MHC of the parents, the stronger the immune system of the child.
A Swiss biologist named Claude Wedekind did an experiment in 1995.
He took several men’s sweaty T-shirts. The men had worn the T-shirts for a couple of days and nights and not used any cologne or deodorant. Wedekind put them in individual boxes in the lab. Then women were asked to sniff out the odour they found more attractive. They each chose the one of a man with MHC that was most different to their own.
By contrast, in a similar study in 2006, women who were on oral contraceptives chose the T-shirt of a man who had virtually the same MHC — meaning the next generation would not have the diverse genetic building blocks for the strongest immune system.
This information might be quite relevant as we consider the present health condition of the generations of people born after the introduction and widespread use of the birth control pill. Apparently the hormones in the pill alter a woman’s sense of smell, making her choose the opposite partner to her natural instinct.
In the past 50 years, the three A’s of health issues have mushroomed — they being asthma, allergies and autism. While these are not defined solely as immune disorders, all three have immune response issues. The oral contraceptive pill has become widespread and little consideration has been given to its potential impact in regard to immune system health of subsequent generations, or to the natural bonding the instinctive scent responses would provide to the partners.
A number of formerly rare auto-immune disorders have also grown.
Also cited in the Peases’ book are various references to studies related to hormonal fluctuations and divorce — and some references similar to this one — that tampering with our sense of smell disables our body’s natural ability to seek and find the most biologically compatible mate.
If we take this a step further, what is happening as we chemically manipulate the sensory environment of our homes, offices and cars with the vast array of scented candles, air fresheners, toxic cleaning solutions masked by chemical perfumes, scented deodorants, antiperspirants, chemically based perfumes, etc.?
If you watch television these days or read magazines, you would think we were the stinkiest people on the planet with the number of air freshener products and personal deodorants/perfumes being pushed. What if they are helping destroy our health and social fabric?
Good clean sweat was once the biochemical zinger that got the mating juices going. It not only got people together, but kept them that way. It was the spark of that ‘sexual chemistry’ — but now, for many of us, those senses are impaired either by internal contraceptives or external synthetic chemical odour masks.
Can it be that this is part of the reason why our general public health is declining, immune disorders are rising; that divorce and incompatibility are not just emotional concepts, but are actually based deep in our biology and founded upon our sense of smell?
If so, the implications are so significant it would bear further scientific investigation and a reduction, if not a suspension, of the use of oral contraceptives and the exponential proliferation of the chemical-scent industries.
Michelle Stirling-Anosh is a Ponoka freelance columnist.