“Blondes” in the National Post!

Posted in media by jenapincott on January 31, 2009

national_postHere’s my interview about BLONDES, published today in Canada’s National Post.

Why do women say chocolate trumps sex?

Posted in news by jenapincott on January 29, 2009

chocolaterex_468x481Ask most people what they lust after and the likely answer is chocolate. Ravishing a candy bar or a cup of hot cocoa, chocoholics claim to have chocasms. Chocolate lust is so intense that informal surveys in Europe and the United States report that about half their female participants prefer chocolate to sex.

One good explanation for this is that chocolate consumption is so often compared to sexual consummation, or a precursor thereof. But here’s the rub: there’s no proof that chocolate will lift the libido. If it has any amorous properties, they’re limited and vary from person to person. As detailed in BLONDES, chocolate contains neurotransmitters that might have a minor effect on the brain, but the scant amount in chocolate is rapidly metabolized. Chocolate is also a minor stimulant due to a caffeine-like property, and it contains the anti-clotting agent flavanol. Yes, it may be good for your heart, but researchers found no difference in sexual arousal between women who eat three servings of daily and none at all.

So why do many women say they’d rather unwrap a candy bar than roll in the sheets? Chocolate never disappoints is a glib answer, but there is something to be said for reliable pick-me-ups. The addition of sugar and fat in chocolate bars can raise your serotonin and dopamine levels, which lift your mood and energy levels. The stuff hits the reward-and-addiction circuits of the brain in the way that sex and other rewarding experiences do.

But why are there more female than male chocoholics? One theory is that serotonin levels are low in premenstrual women, and chocolate is a sweet way to perk ourselves up. (In fact, women’s desire for chocolate does seem to follow menstrual patterns.) But if that were so, wouldn’t any carbohydrate do — why crave chocolate and not candy canes? The answer could be that chocolate is unique. It has an unrivaled texture, aroma, and mouth-feel. It’s silken, sinful, and indulgent. Aided and abetted by (the serotonin-enhancing) milk and butter, it’s also a tactile marvel — it literally melts to your touch. It’s rich, complex, and sensual.

Perhaps the proper question is not how chocolate compares to sex. Ask instead how your lovers could be more like chocolate.

“Blondes” in Neuronarrative!

Posted in media by jenapincott on January 26, 2009

26611495Here’s my interview with Neuronarrative, a wonderful science site that delves into topics that intersect with neuroscience — including psychotherapy, primatology, and, of course, love and sex. I’m in esteemed company. Check out the site’s fascinating interviews with Frans de Waal, Philip Zimbardo, Gary Marcus, Susan Blackmore, and others.

How much does cup size really matter?

Posted in news by jenapincott on January 25, 2009

superstock_1245-2111
Of her mammoth mammaries Dolly Parton once said, “I don’t know if I’m supporting them, or they’re supporting me.” The price of surgical enhancement: about $10,000. But do big-breasted women really attract more male attention ? To answer the question, psychologist Nicolas Gurguen — who has studied the sexual benefits of makeup, dog ownership, and other social cues– has now added cup size to his repertoire.

Gurguen knew that previous studies found that guys rate large breasts as more physically attractive than average breasts. But does that affect men’s behavior in real-life situations? To find the answer, he created a variety of studies involving young women and an assortment of padded bras. In one experiment, young women were instructed to sit in a nightclub for several nights — sometimes unpadded, sometimes lightly padded, and sometimes heavily padded under a snug shirt — while the researchers counted the number of men who approached them. Unsurprisingly, the bigger a woman’s breasts appeared, the more men approached her.

But here’s the nagging question: Does having big breasts simply boost a woman’s confidence, encouraging her to unconsciously display more seductive body language? Could it be the attitude rather than the boobs that actually attracts guys? Addressing this technicality in a second experiment, Gurguen recruited a twenty-year-old flat-chested woman and gave her his stash of trick bras. Put on a bra under a tight shirt, he said, stand on the side of the road like a hitchhiker, and stick out your thumb to catch a ride. Cars sped by quickly; motorists had time to see the woman’s silhouette but not her expression or any other subtle body language. The woman alternated between wearing unpadded (A-cup), lightly padded (B-cup equivalent), and heavily padded (C-cup equivalent) bras. The results? Size, it turns out, really does make a difference. Significantly more male drivers pulled over when the woman was wearing the C-cup bra than the A-cup bra. (Important: Although more cars stopped for the woman with a C-cup than B-cup silhouette, the difference was not statistically significant.) Female drivers, meanwhile, were no more compelled to stop for a bosomy hitchhiker.

Why are men so attracted to breasts? Do they signal receptivity, fertility, nurture? In BLONDES I address the question from a scientific standpoint — there are several fascinating psychological and evolutionary theories, including a new one from neuroscientist Larry Young that I blogged about earlier this week. Breasts are a hot research topic in these troubled times. Perhaps Gurguen will investigate a link between recessions and breast size. To what extent are women really still willing to pump and pad themselves? How much is a little lift really worth?

Les Hommes Préfèrent Vraiment les Blondes

Posted in news by jenapincott on January 23, 2009

blondesSomewhat unbelievably, there was an academic conference last weekend called “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes,” and it was hosted by no less prestigious an institution than the Sorbonne in Paris. Judging by the conference program, the organizers have set out to make sure the blonde maintains her good standing. Among the agenda items are discussions about film (with special attention to M. Monroe), painting (Botticelli and Titian’s Venus, Aphrodite, angels, and so on). The organizer Marie-Camille Bouchindomme is quoted as saying, “Blondness awakens desire, probably because of the ambivalence it carries, from innocence to perversion….Blonde women seem to invite transgression, and thus eroticism in men that darker hair does not….Blonde hair is an attribute of Venus, the goddess of carnal love, whose hair is sometimes the final rampart against her modesty.”

My favorite responses in the comment box below the conference announcement:

I cannot believe there is to be a conference. Save your money boys and listen here. Men are attracted to blondes because they look safer and more childlike ….Any other problems needing solving? Can we get started on world peace now?
– bm, melbourne australia,

Having been many colours – the answer is yes – blondes do seem too be prefered. But you attract different kinds of men it seemed to me, depending on which colour you are. If you would like a lot of attention, go blond. In fact, even women treat you kindlier too, although they (men and women) can assume you are a little dappy, that suits me fine as you can get away with so much. Even my husband hates me dark – he says it gives me too much attitude.
– Emily Kelly, Marlow, UK,

I’m a natural blonde and a lot of men do prefer blondes…unfortunately, I mean all the creepy men. If it didn’t look ridiculous on me, I would much rather have brown hair to be rid of some of the weirdos. Blonde hair isn’t all it’s cracked up to be; I always have to deal with people thinking I’m ditzy and stupid and asking if my hair color is real.
– Romy, Charleston, SC,

A new theory on why men love breasts?

Posted in news by jenapincott on January 19, 2009

31269245hc0Why do men love breasts? In BLONDES I describe the most interesting and promising theories — from the Freudian (breasts remind men of Mom) to the evolutionary (breasts resemble buttocks and prehuman ancestors mounted from behind), and the reproductive (breasts are an indicator of age and big breasts are a marker of high estrogen levels). These are some of the most likely reasons why breasts are beloved even in cultures that don’t eroticize them any more than the face.

A new spin on the male fascination with breasts came up this week in John Tierney’s interview with neuroscientist Larry Young on love blockers. According to Young, “more frequent sex and more attention to breasts could help build long-term bonds through a ‘cocktail of ancient neuropeptides,’ like the oxytocin released during foreplay or orgasm.” The same oxytocin circuit, he notes, is activated when a woman nurses her infant.

The article doesn’t connect all the dots, but the suggestion is as follows: The hormone oxytocin is released when breastfeeding, making the mother feel good and helping her bond with baby. Sucking and caressing a woman’s breasts during foreplay may also trigger oxytocin release. When oxytocin hits the brain, women become more trusting and attached. Men evolved to pay attention to breasts as a means of attracting and retaining lovers.

The “boobs help bonding” theory may not be the strongest explanation of why men love breasts, but it’s worth introducing to the debate. That said, I strongly suspect that there are many women out there for whom a lover’s suckling does nothing — and there are many breast-ogling guys who know nothing of foreplay.

Women zero in on partner’s scent only

Posted in news by jenapincott on January 17, 2009

87armpitWhat a month. First, sex with her partner makes a woman less attracted to other guys. Then speculation about mind control properties in semen. And now research on how love affects women’s sensitivity to men’s body odor.

According to a new study led by Johan Lundstrom at the Monell Chemical Senses Center, love inhibits women’s ability to identify the body odors of their male friends. Twenty women, all deeply in love, were asked to smell the body odor of same-sex friends, male friends, and their partners. Although they were able to easily identify their partner’s scent, the women had difficulty placing the scent of their male friends. And only the scent of male friends eluded them. When asked to identify the sweat of their female friends, the women were much more accurate. It’s as if falling in love disables a woman’s sensory mechanism to all men but her beloved. Not only does love blind us, it apparently makes us partial amnosiacs. (Read BLONDES for more on sex and smell.)

How does this happen? According to the researchers, women’s sensitivity to men’s odor is hormonally modulated. “Romantic love,” they say, “deflects attention away from potential new partners…[and is] likely mediated by circulating neuropeptides.” Love leads us by the nose. Body odors help us bond.

It’s all very interesting, and I’d love to see more in-depth research. The women weren’t tested for their sensitivity to their male friends’ body odors before they fell in love. Yes, they could identify their female friends’ body odors more easily than those of their male friends, implying a sexual mechanism — but that might be because women are more physically intimate, spending more time in one another’s rooms, playing with one another’s hair, and so on. And how exactly does it work — does something in a man’s sweat trigger a hormone that flips some smell-related switch? Does it make a difference if a woman is having protected sex or is on the Pill? Is this another case of mind control? And importantly: could it work on men, too?

Los Caballeros realmente las prefieren rubias?

Posted in book reviews by jenapincott on January 15, 2009

51hucamu-ql_sl500_ 142_15521_87619_xxlToday’s Spanish license is the tenth foreign rights deal for Do Gentlemen Really Prefer Blondes? It’ll be such a thrill to see the book in so many incarnations. Shown here: sassy British Warholian and German Monroean covers.

[Many thanks to Ducker for the proper Spanish translation]

POLL: Love blockers –would you take them?

Posted in news, Polls and Surveys by jenapincott on January 14, 2009


Is this the end of love as we know it — exasperating, unpredictable, uncontrollable, and full of rogue potential? Does the future offer sex without emotional mayhem? Fuss-free breakups?

“Love is dead.” “Anti-love drug may be ticket to bliss.” Such are today’s headlines trumpeting the research of neuroscientist Larry Young. Dr Young and his team at Yerkes Research Center are best known for their studies on the love lives of more-or-less monogamous prairie voles. (In BLONDES I describe their fascinating views on the genetic and hormonal basis of bonding and what it might mean for humans. On a related topic, check out my cheating gene post.) The first question inspired by this research is “Can a drug make you fall in love?” The flip side of this coin is just as rich: “Can a drug prevent you from falling in love?”

For now it’s all speculation, but many researchers, including Dr Young, believe the latter is possible. (Fewer care to speculate on the former. Given how difficult love is to define, it’s easier to say you can prevent it than invoke it.) The gist of the idea is that a drug could short-circuit the biochemical pathways that flood the “emotional bonding regions” of the brain with neurohormones such as oxytocin and vasopressin. Just as morning-after pills work by preventing fertilized eggs from implanting, so the “anti-love drug” — oxytocin or vasopressin blockers — would prevent emotional seeds from taking root. Female voles who are given anti-love drugs can mate with a male dozens of times and fail to exhibit any of their usual bonding tendencies, no matter how affectionate the males.

What good is an anti-love drug? The possibilities abound. A few nasal puffs and a woman may more easily have “sex like a man,” feeling pleasure but free of the morning-after anxiety of whether he’s “all that into her.” People in addictive, abusive relationships could just pick up and carry on. Couples may have open marriages without emotional messiness. There may be fewer midlife crises involving trophy wives and umbrella boys. Sex would be only sex. The anti-love drug could be a temporary fix of sanity.

But would you dare take it — even on a short-term basis? At risk of throwing the poll above, my vote is no. What sort of human beings would we be without a range and depth of emotional experience? The angst and anguish of lost love. The self-mending. Even the melancholic savor. What would we learn about ourselves without it? Even in the twenty-first century I’d say it’s better to love and lose than never to love at all.

Women’s scent has mind control properties

Posted in news by jenapincott on January 10, 2009

bxp68578I was shocked by the overwhelming response (nearly 60,000 views!) to my post, “Semen has mind control properties.” Many readers said they think it’s a fascinating idea — that there are proteins and/or hormones in semen that subtly affect a woman’s sexual behavior. But what “secret weapons” do women have to “control” men?

I have a few responses, which are detailed in my book.

1. Women are (generally) the choosier sex. From an evolutionary standpoint, we’re pickier about our sexual partners because we have more at stake in the event of a pregnancy. Everywhere around the world, even in the most egalitarian countries, women desire fewer lovers than men do. Although women make trade-offs depending on their circumstances, we’re more about quality (even for flings). This by default gives women a sort of upper hand.

Now the sexier stuff:

2. Chemicals released during sex affect men, too. When he orgasms, his body releases vasopressin, a neurohormone associated with bonding (and drowsiness — it’s one reason why men fall into contented postcoital slumbers). This means that sexual intimacy may make a guy more attached to his lover. How likely is this? Intriguingly, a lot may have to do with his particular vasopressin receptor genes.

3. A woman’s scent may have mind control properties. Guys tend to prefer a woman’s body odor around the time she’s most likely to conceive (as described in BLONDES). On a subconscious level, men have been found to behave differently around this time of a woman’s cycle. According to studies such as this one at UCLA, women report that their partners are more jealous, loving, possessive, and attentive when women have high levels of luteinzing hormone in their system, a sign of imminent ovulation. In the famous stripper study, johns were also much more generous — paying up to twice as much — when the strippers were fertile. Scientists speculate that men are unwittingly responding to estrogen-related properties in women’s sweat and other bodily fluids. Men, meanwhile, are oblivious to why they’re acting so servile.

Bottom line is that there are no doubt many hormonal signals that give either men or women the reproductive upper hand. We’re all either sperm-zombied or pussy-whipped — that’s what some readers have quipped. But a sweeter way of looking at it is that these neurohormones also help give rise to love and long-term attachment. Not to say that chemistry could or should ever define love, but it does help explain some bonds.

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