Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Baby, I love your MHC smell

It all comes down to the pill. Finally, a study has shed some light on why I wind up with the women I do. Apparently body odor is critical in selection of a long-term partner. Listen to your genes, friends. They know all. The body sends out aromatic scents that indicate genetic compatibility. Specifically Major histocompatibility complex (MHC) genes.

It turns out opposites really do attract. The best partners are those that have different MHC smells than you. But this new study shows that when women are on the pill they prefer guys with matching MHC odors. Past studies have shown that couples with dissimilar MHC genes are more satisfied and more likely to be faithful to their mate. Couples with matching MHC scents, historically, show less satisfaction and more infidelity.

"Not only could MHC-similarity in couples lead to fertility problems," said lead researcher Stewart Craig Roberts, an evolutionary psychologist at the University of Newcastle in England, "but it could ultimately lead to the breakdown of relationships when women stop using the contraceptive pill, as odor perception plays a significant role in maintaining attraction to partners."

So why does the pill change the woman's natural attraction for dissimilar MHC? Roberts suggests that since the pill imitates a hormonally pregnant state then subconsciously she is not seeking out a mate. The pill tricks her into thinking she is not looking for a mate, even though she could be.

"The pill is in effect mirroring a natural shift but at an inappropriate time," Roberts said.

So, what's the affect on you and me? It's both annoying and liberating to now know that so much of relational success is predetermined by MHC levels and what reactions they trigger in your brain. Of course we have no idea what MCH "scent" we are, and therefore what the opposite would be. But maybe you just have to trust your gut. If you find someone who trips your switches, trust your nose and run with it. Besides, what's love got to do with it?

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