Wednesday, 23 June 2010

Brains, Food, Smell, and Sex

James V. Kohl: The Mind's Eyes: Human Pheromones, Neuroscience, and Male Sexual Preferences
The across-species genetic conservation of intercellular and extracellular chemical communication enables unicellular and multicellular organisms to functionally distinguish between self and non-self. Non-self olfactory/pheromonal input from the social environment elicits a vertebrate neuroendocrine response. The organization and activation of this neuroendocrine response modulates the concurrent maturation of the mammalian neuroendocrine system, the reproductive system, and the central nervous system during the development of sexual preferences that may be expressed in sexual behavior. Psychophysiological mechanisms for the development of these sexual preferences include focus on unconscious affects that are detailed in reciprocal cause and effect relationships. Olfactory/pheromonal conditioning elicits neuroendocrine effects accompanied by unconscious affects on the development of sexual preferences. Integrating these unconscious affects extends to humans a developmental model of behavior that includes the development of male sexual preferences for other males
How much of sexual orientation - and crystallisation of gender identity - is tied up with, of all things, our sense of smell? How does our olefactory environment affect the plastic regions of the brain?

OK, there's some things about this very dense and difficult to read paper that make it less useful than it could be. It's all about sex. It's all about males. It's all about gay males. The female of the species is not considered, neither are issues of sex identity. There's also this:
Rarely do sex researchers address the ongoing philosophical debate between canonical neo-Darwinism and Biblical creation. Perhaps this is because any debate between scientific theory and religion arises from distinctly different domains of cognitive thought. Does the acceptance of Darwin’s theory represent the glorification of Science pitted against religion, or is it a means by which Science and religion might be integrated? Integration of Science and religion might be achieved by recognizing that the key components of this olfactory/pheromonal model appear to be as irreducibly complex as the basic tenets of evolution and the basic tenets of religion.
Um. If you say so.

Never mind, worth adding to the references, because sense of smell is something intimately connected to the parts of the lymbic nucleus that deal with sex identity (yes, gender identity is the usual term, mine's more accurate though). And we know it's affected by hormone levels, and transsexuals show cross-sexed neuroanatomy here. So a part of the puzzle.

See also Will gender exist 100 years from now, or does it already not exist?


Anne Rose Blayk said...

"Rarely do sex researchers address the ongoing philosophical debate between canonical neo-Darwinism and Biblical creation."

Oh, dear, perhaps this is because there is no "philosophical debate" here -- there's a conflict between the fruitful results of scientific inquiry and claims that when religious "revelations" contradict findings based on observation of the Real World, reality must lose.

"...canonical neo-Darwinism"... implying that belief in evolution is some kind of religiously-motivated belief motivated by the Prophet Darwin -- it is to laugh! And cry, because it's sad that it appears that people who fervently cling to Revelation as their guide to life often can't understand that there are alternatives.

BTW, "irreducible complexity" is one of the giveaways that you're dealing with a religious nut rather than a scientist... "this system is so complex, I can't figure out how it could have evolved -- therefore, it COULD NOT have evolved! QED!"

-- Anne Rose Blayk

Zoe Brain said...

Well, now that you mention it... yes.

Isaac Newton dabbled in Alchemy though. I've tried to treat the rest of the paper on its merits.

Since I'm working on evolutionary computation at the moment for my PhD, and we have some genuinely exciting results... evolution requires no faith, merely experimentation.

I'm currently making a poster for the ANU open day. Working title: "How to save a million dollars (without really trying)".

Bottom line is - that's for one molecule, and a calculation of great interest in the pharmaceutical industry.

They have a hundred thousand they'd like to do this calculation for. This technique would reliably save 99.6% of the cost. Call it nearly a hundred billion dollars.


We've spent the last three months verifying our preliminary results. We're about ready to publish. Two papers have already been accepted by Class A international conferences on our preliminary work.

I think I should get my PhD out of this.

Cynthia Lee said...

Let me add my laymans perspective on this. I have a unique POV on this subject.
I am a bisexual transsexual woman. My spouse is a transsexual androgyne. To perfect hir androgeny my spouse takes testosterone. When my spouse was a 'woman' I had a very specific sexual response to hir scent. Now that she is more male in scent my sexual responce to hir is as if s/he were indeed comepletely male.
Luckily I am bisexual. lol

I can tell you from very personal experiance our scense of smell rules our sex lives.

Nicole said...


You mention in one of your comments on the site that you’ve linked to that about 1 in 3 transsexuals change sexual orientation during transition.

I happen to be of the belief that all people are innately bisexual, or pansexual if that term can be used with any understanding, and I think that any use of terms like “tending more towards that norm for the target gender” is, with much respect, as daft as suggesting that gender is a binary in the first place.

Can I propose that if all people are innately pansexual as I believe, then it makes perfect sense that as transsexuals in this particular point in evolution are forced to introspect so deeply before embarking on a transition, that often this introspection involves a thorough going-over of one’s own sexuality and sexuality in general. If this is so, and it was in my case, then transsexuals more than any other people know the truth about innate sexuality and seeing as they’re in many cases putting everything on the line by transitioning, then they may as well be up-front and honest about their sexuality at the same time.

Hence a lot more transsexuals, perhaps even 1 in 3, know that exclusive heterosexuality, like gender identity, is very much an invention.

Zimbel said...

I thought Newton was an Alchemist, if much of his later work (and virtually all of his work that's still in use) isn't Alchemy. Remember - the Sceptical Chemist wasn't written until he was already an adult, and Stoichiometry wasn't described until after his death.

This describes some of the papers and this site has a bunch of the texts, and tries to describe some of the experiments of his which "worked", and why (in modern terms). They even have a short school program.

Jennifer said...

I wonder what this means for somebody like me with nearly complete anosmia, and kallmanns along with gender identity issues?

Anonymous said...


I'm pretty sure I'm not pansexual. I dated someone who was male-identified at the time, and it just didn't feel as right as dating someone who is female and comfortable with being female.


Anonymous said...

I was never bisexual before. I guess theres maybe some area of the brain which governs attraction with response to hormones. I suppose different sexualities would be a result of anomalous development of these areas making them correspond to the opposite sex or visca versa. New things definitely changed in my perceptions of men since beginning hormones which I didn't have any control over. As a result I became more and more interested in men and less interested in women.

I agree that sex identity is more of a correct term also come to think of it.