Lady-Tears Are Total Bonerkillers

Scientists have found that women's tears reduce men's arousal. They're not sure why — but we have some thoughts.

According to Pam Belluck the Times, researchers in this amusing-sounding study recruited women who were "easy criers," then harvested their tears during screenings of sad movies. As a control, they also poured saline solution down the women's faces. Then they bottled both, and instructed men to sniff them. Those who sniffed real tears were less aroused by the sexy movie 9 1/2 Weeks than those who only got a whiff of saline.

This situation — smelling bottled tears before watching fake sex on film — is obviously pretty far removed from actual human interaction. Nonetheless, researchers say their experiments show tears may be a form of "chemical signaling" — sending, in Belluck's words, "a message of 'not tonight, dear.'" But they're not sure why a lady's weeping would have a bonerkilling effect.

Study co-author Dr. Noam Sobel thinks maybe since ladies cry a lot on their periods, and this a time when they're not that fertile, maybe it's a way of delaying sex til baby-making prospects are better. But this seems pretty convoluted, and other scientists point out that not every woman cries a lot during That Time of the Month anyway. Belluck says "some experts suggested the tears could have evolved to reduce men's aggression toward women who are weakened by emotional stress" — but so far scientists haven't studied tears' effect on aggression per se. And setting aside dangerous or coercive situations, couldn't the desexifying properties of tears just be a way of letting dudes know that if we're sobbing, we probably don't want sex right now? Many guys probably get this message already from our anguished faces, but then there's that dude who thinks the best way to cheer us up is to try to have sex with us — perhaps the special smell of tears helps him wise up before he gets a fertility-damaging kick to the balls.

That said, some women like sex as an antidote to sorrow — remember the scene in High Fidelity when Laura wants to have sex with Rob after her dad's funeral? If that's you, you may need to rely on a communication technique that's even more effective than "chemical signaing" — words.

In Women's Tears, A Chemical That Says, ‘Not Tonight, Dear' [NYT]