July 06, 2005
Ovulating Women Prefer Smell Of Dominant Men

Natural selection has produced human females who prefer to mate with dominant men when the females are most fertile.

A group of 65 women then smelled the pads and rated the sexiness and masculinity of the scent. Women in the middle week of their menstrual cycle, the point at which fertility is at its peak, tended to prefer the smell of the men who scored highest on the dominance quiz. This preference was not shown by women at other points in their cycle. What's more, the effect was only significant for women in long-term relationships, the researchers report in the journal Biology Letters1. This shows that both menstrual phase and relationship status can have an effect on which men women tend to prefer, says Havlícek.

What other differences are there in men who score high in dominance? I'd love to see hormone levels in men who score higher in dominance characteristics versus men who score lower. Keep in mind that testosterone levels drop in married men and drop even further in married men with children. Are men who "smell dominant" more likely to be single? Or are they more likely to have jobs that put them in positions of responsibility and power over others? Do they have higher average incomes than men who smell less desirable? Or is that dominant smell always there in some men due to genetic reasons regardless of their station in life?

Whatever characteristics make a man dominant also makes him smell like better genetic material.

Researcher Dr Craig Roberts told the BBC News website: "There seems to be some sort of physiological mechanism that directs women to indicators of good genes.

"The offspring of such a coupling would therefore be likely to have better genes."

Some women use their long term mates for child raising while preferring other men as sperm donors.

"A strong association between male odour-sexiness and psychological dominance was only found for non-single women in the fertile phase of their menstrual cycle."

They added: "A mixed-mating strategy may have evolved in females - they prefer genetically superior males for short-term or extra-pair sexual partners while, at the same time, they seek males who are more willing to invest in their offspring as long-term or social partners."

Could that dominant smell be put in a perfume bottle? Perhaps. Or is dominance more detectable by the absence of some other smell? Say, whatever smells comes out when you feel fear?

One problem I see coming up when offspring genetic engineering becomes possible is that people may make all their male offspring so dominant that we end up with a society where men can't cooperate very well because no one wants to take orders. Oh, and fights and murders might become more frequent as well. Hey, technology creates problems. I'm not a utopian about the future.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2005 July 06 09:23 PM  Brain Sexuality

Braddock said at July 7, 2005 5:47 AM:

Judging by the paternity choices in some minority communities (with illegitimacy rates above 50%) you might find the dominant males largely in the prison population. Perfume makers should look into that. It may be possible to reverse the dysgenic trends caused by errant female choice, simply by getting nice guys to wear the scent of bad boys. Very interesting.

Engineer-Poet said at July 7, 2005 7:32 AM:

Another option:  make attractive offers of parole for the up-and-coming criminals contingent upon vasectomy, with cash bonuses.  Of course, they only get this once.

Criminals are not known for either great intelligence or delaying gratification.  If you can prune them out of the gene pool by their own mostly-voluntary choices, it wouldn't matter who the women decided to sleep with.

Jim said at July 7, 2005 2:32 PM:

the nice (i.e. non-dominant) guys must find trustworthy women to love, or get weeded out of the gene pool.

Nick said at July 7, 2005 3:26 PM:

Well, the researchers found preferences between smells. It's a long way from that to mating behaviour. For one thing, you have to get fairly close to someone to smell them, given that human smell ability is pretty atrophied.

Ken said at July 7, 2005 5:44 PM:

"Well, the researchers found preferences between smells. It's a long way from that to mating behaviour. For one thing, you have to get fairly close to someone to smell them, given that human smell ability is pretty atrophied.

You have to get even closer to mate with them, and close proximity for several hours during the mating dance (at the very least) is the norm.

Patrick said at July 8, 2005 1:45 AM:

I think that's Nick's point. If the women is getting close enough to an ex-con (or the husband's boss) to smell him, then she is probably already flirting with him anyway.

However I think there are many situations (public transport, elevators) where there will be perfectly innocent smelling going on. Or at least innocent to start with.

Braddock said at July 8, 2005 4:47 AM:

You guys are (mostly) guys. You do not understand how significant parts of a woman's brain turn off when the biological triggers are pulled. Women may seem unpredictable, but if you take the information that RP has given recently about the female sexual response, their holidays from rationality make a lot more sense. Evolution made her do it.

Randall Parker said at July 8, 2005 10:02 AM:


I've sat next to women in meetings close enough to find out what they smelled like. One ends up leaning over to whisper some comment so as not to introduce the larger meeting. Or one leans over to point out something on a computer monitor. Or one sits very close on a bench on a wall in a crowded restaurant. People do get close to each other for lots of reasons.

Nathan S. said at July 8, 2005 11:43 AM:

That is interesting. I recall reading about a study that found that, when ovulating, women tended to be more attracted than normal to men with deep voices. May well be the same effect.

Engineer-Poet said at July 8, 2005 1:14 PM:

There's another possible angle to this:  the dominant-guy-attraction inhibitor.  There are lots of women who complain that they always wind up dating assholes.  If it's that scent that's grabbing them by the limbic system, one way to stop themselves from falling for Mr. Wrong over and over is to take something (maybe a nasal spray) to block those receptors.


  • Something which makes the dominance chemical activate the scent receptors for dung, or hydrogen sulfide.  (The assholes would stink.)
  • Something which activates the "sexy man" receptors on command, to reinforce a relationship.

Jeffrey Gordon said at July 8, 2005 3:54 PM:

Given that we are just primates with big brains this study is not surprising at all. However, this is exactly why over time societies have developed mechanisms to thwart these genetic tendencies e.g. marriage, monogamous marriage, extreme penalties for adultery, etc. Some of these have been severely weakened in the modern world which is probably good for female reproductive success. Perhaps non-dominant males (which is probably most males) should question their support for such weakening of old societal prohibitions. Such support may be to their reproductive detriment.

As an aside, I consider one weakness of the study to be:

Researchers in Prague asked 48 men to assess how dominant they felt.

Jeffrey Gordon

P.S. Since I consider myself to be a dominant male, I hope the study to be correct...

Tree said at July 9, 2005 11:37 AM:

I am also interested to know about the hormone levels of these self-reported "dominant" males. From what I've read over the last few years, dominant males not only have higher testosterone, but also higher levels of stress hormones such as prolactin and cortisol. Hormone levels in men vary strongly in response to social situations, so I'd guess that it was men with greater responsibility and leadership duties who produce a good stink, rather than men with a particular genetic inheritance. I've found that the socially dominant men tend to be more charming towards women, while the less dominant males seem to think that women are more influenced by bullying, or perhaps the less dominiant males just react with fear to bright, dominant women. Maybe it's not that dominant males smell better, but that less socially competent men carry a fear stink with them, which women react against. Still, if taking your courage into your hands and taking responsibility for your life just to produce a nice smell is too much trouble, you can always buy pheromones online: http://www.athenainstitute.com/10x.html.

James Bowery said at July 9, 2005 6:50 PM:

A few points to note:

Single combat between males, something that occurrs throughout terrestrial vertebrates, has typically been outlawed in lock-step with Christianization among northern European tribes. For example, in Iceland, it these two events took place within a decade of each other. Although supposedly a form of socially imposed monogamy, Christianization is typically associated with creation of an elite class among whom single combat between males and mistresses continued to be sanctioned. I strongly suspect this hypcrisy is what drove the Norse to become Viking raiders of Gemanic lands and it may have been what drove the Germanic tribes to become Gothic raiders of Rome. Monogamy imposed by ecologies that require high paternal investment (such as lands where winters cause hard freezes to occur) can be subverted by the advent of civilization -- which creates urban environments with high caloric concentrations dur to grain stores and trade-route bottlenecks.

During the counter-culture revolution there was a general turning against the "backward" ways of southern cultures where men were routinely acquitted of murder if the person they murdered was their wife's paramour. This at the same time as women were becoming less dependent on their husbands and more exposed to other men in their increasnigly public lives. This undoubtedly created enormous incentives to further undermine marriage bonds, which drove women increasingly to the public exposure that further centralized male fertility.

It has long been the case that a man who signs paternity papers for a child is saddled with child support even if later the child is proven to be the result of cuckoldry.

Increasingly men are put in a position where they are unable to find stable relationships with fertile women who do not already have children sired by other men. There is no cuckoldry involved here of course -- but there is a degree of coercion favoring men who would have previously been paramours. The politically correct quasi-religious attitudes that "genes don't matter" pervading Western society make it unacceptable to rationally compensate for this selection bias.

Finally sperm banks are increasingly used - and there are systemic biases on the demographics of the donors which will have evolutionary consequences as well.

All this starts to make Islam's open allowance for up to 4 wives seem rational -- or at least it is less unstable evolutionarily. The selection pressures building in the West for deception, both of the self and others -- seems to be attacking the very foundation of what makes humans human.

Lei said at July 10, 2005 6:13 AM:

Perhaps the most controversial part of the study is the claim that women find the smell of sweaty cotton pads enticing. "Some raters found particular body odours sexy; others simply found them 'not repellent'," Havlícek admits. "But laboratory conditions are rather unnatural, and the smells would be judged more positively in more relevant, that is, intimate, conditions."

As the lone female voice here, I wouldn't be surprised if these women had a weak sense of smell. What kind of controls did they have? I'd probably find them all repellant!

Females are expected to pair up with the males most likely to invest in parental care, but any affair is likely to be conducted with successful males who, although they may not be good dads, provide good genes.

What's the definition of "success" and "good dad"? My husband is a high level exec in a MNC who isn't much of a kids person but I think he's still a good dad. AND he doesn't smell. Sounds like I have the best of both worlds.

Robert Silvetz said at July 10, 2005 11:42 AM:

Well, I asked into my female surrounds all about men au naturel and smells. I find it fascinating that there exists a subgroup for which male smell is extraordinarily important. I find it fascinating that ALL the women who said it was extremely important to them date men that would be classically described as alpha dominant.

Of course sample is non-random, blah, blah, blah , caveat ad nauseam. But interesting nonetheless.

Tree said at July 11, 2005 3:29 PM:

Lei said:
As the lone female voice here, I wouldn't be surprised if these women had a weak sense of smell. What kind of controls did they have? I'd probably find them all repellant!

When did you start to think that you were the lone female?

I found the paper. I checked the stats. They used this scale to determine dominance:

"DOMINANCE (Narcissism [Nar]) [.82] + keyed Try to surpass others' accomplishments.
Try to outdo others.
Am quick to correct others.
Impose my will on others.
Demand explanations from others.
Want to control the conversation.
Am not afraid of providing criticism.
Challenge others' points of view.
Lay down the law to others.
Put people under pressure.
– keyed Hate to seem pushy."

They got .2 correlation (1 being perfect correlation) for a group of 65 women, 30 of whom they =guessed= might be ovulating, based on the day of their menstrual cyle.

Vague personality test, a weak correlation, and no technical data such as blood hormone levels to determine if any of the females were actually ovulating.

It's an interesting area for further study, but I wouldn't start formulating Bad Boy Inhibitor Perfume. (Are you guys that terrified of independent women? )

Tree, a girl with strong preference for sweet smelling alpha males

Engineer-Poet said at July 11, 2005 11:25 PM:

I figured that women who kept falling for dominant jerk types would formulate that perfume.  After all, they'd be their own best customers.

WarriorSelf said at September 21, 2006 10:42 AM:

It's obvious that we dominant men always get attracted to dominant highly sexy women.
We really like them as they turn us on swiftly. Only they can match the intensity of our desires.
We feel like fu*king them really hard and make them cry out of deepest self-fulfilment. They are queens of our hearts. No doubt about it.
Any such sexy darlings available here?

docmerlin said at May 22, 2008 2:14 AM:

" I strongly suspect this hypcrisy is what drove the Norse to become Viking raiders of Gemanic lands and it may have been what drove the Germanic tribes to become Gothic raiders of Rome. " -- Speaking of christianization.

Neither the Vikings nor the Gothic raiders were Christian.

nzsmostwanted said at June 17, 2009 4:48 PM:

Is it true the smell women detect quicker than any other is Musk,as their noses are highly sensitive to it? Make your own pheromones,but alas,it reportedly only has a shelf-life of 3 days.Maybe you can fridge/freeze it.Don't know.Armpit odor is allegedly a turn on, perhaps in small doses,as too much becomes nauseating and they complain you stink.Hmmm,have an idea, but need to research more,I thinks.So subliminals and NLP,Psychic seduction REALLY work?
Am testing all and will put results up on my blog site.

nzsmostwanted said at June 17, 2009 4:56 PM:

Hmmm...Not too sure about the Dominant male thing.I believe through experience though that women do like dominant men especially in bed,but don't believe they get hot over a roughly dressed,unkempt,dirty clothed guy.Say like someone who dresses tough trying to portray the 'Homey' look.Maybe they see this guy as a 'wannabe' or 'fake'.Not being 'himself'.As women,I believe,are basically sensual creatures and dress and smell accordingly.They are attention seekers,and have that unique mindset.One totally different to men.That's why men cannot understand them.

nzsmostwanted said at June 17, 2009 5:01 PM:

Women are visual AND sensual.If I can create an atmosphere that turns them on, without them realizing it, and it heightens their need for sexual satisfaction and they cannot leave my presence without acting on that need;WOW!!
Working on it...

nzsmostwanted said at June 17, 2009 5:10 PM:

Anyone know of an online chat site where you can register, but don't have to pay to chat and pick up women,(in NZ)? So I can test my theory.

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