Dec. 9, 2011 at 8:32 AM ET
Would-be lovers wondering whether to go forward with a new relationship might heed the advice of Russian scientists: Take a deep whiff.
Sniffing a potential partner’s scent could tell whether Mr. Right has a sexually transmitted disease, according to a small study that found that gonorrhea-infected men smelled “putrid” to a bevy of young ladies.
“Our research revealed that infection disease reduces odor attractiveness in humans …” wrote Mikhail Moshkin, a professor at the Institute of Cytology and Genetics in Novosibirsk, Russia, and the lead author of research published in the most recent issue of the Journal of Sexual Medicine.
The off-putting scent may be subtle, more a chemical warning than a blast of body odor, but it definitely has an effect, according to the experiment conducted by Moshkin and his colleagues.
The researchers had long observed that certain animals, such as mice and rats, were not as attracted to the scents of other critters when they were infected with disease. They wondered whether humans, too, would be turned off by the scent of an infected person, particularly one harboring an STD.
So they invited 34 strapping Russian guys, ages 17 to 25, to donate samples of armpit sweat and spit for the cause of science. The group included 13 young men with gonorrhea, 16 who were healthy and five who had had the disease but were successfully treated.
Then they found 18 female students aged 17 to 20 from Kemerovo State University in Russia who were willing to serve as sweat-sniffers.
They obtained sweat samples by dressing the men in tight-fitting T-shirts with cotton pads sewn into the armpits. After an hour of sweating, men bagged their shirts and the pads were placed in glass vials for the women to sniff.
The results couldn’t have been more obvious. The women ranked the infected men less than half as high as healthy or recovered guys on a “pleasantness score” that assessed scent.
And when they were asked to characterize the scent, the gals said that nearly 50 percent of the infected men’s sweat smelled “putrid." (To be fair, the gals also said that 30 percent of sweat from healthy men and less than 40 percent of sweat from treated men smelled putrid, but these are guys -- and it was significantly higher for the gonorrhea group.)
The take-away message, the researchers found, was that it appears that humans, like other animals, might use scent to sniff out appropriate mates.
“We can conclude that unpleasant body odor of infected persons can reduce the probability of a dangerous partnership,” the scientists say.
Heeding olfactory cures might not signal the right partner, but they could warn against the wrong one – unless, of course, the guy uses deodorant.