WebMD.com Interviews Dr. Cutler for a Live Online Chat discussing Love Cycles: The Science of Intimacy.
Transcribed Interview from WebMD archives, 'Mind Matters' program
By Winnifred Cutler, PhD
Event Date: 08/14/2000.
The opinions expressed herein are those of the guest's alone. If you have questions about your health, you should consult your personal physician. This event is meant for informational purposes only.
Moderator: Welcome to WebMD Live's Mind Matters Auditorium. Today we are discussing Love Cycles: The Science of Intimacy (click for book info) with Winnifred B. Cutler, PhD (click for bio).
Dr. Cutler, a reproductive biologist and the co-discoverer of pheromones in humans (click for more on pheromone discovery) is the president and founder of The Athena Institute. After graduating cum laude from Ursinus College in 1973, Dr. Cutler earned her PhD in Biology from the University of Pennsylvania in 1979 and did postdoctoral work in behavioral endocrinology at Stanford University. She has published over 30 scientific papers and is the author of six books on women's health translated into seven languages.
Dr. Cutler, welcome to WebMD Live.
What are pheromones and how do they work?
Dr. Cutler: Pheromones have a classic definition in biology that goes back to 1959, and here it is: "A chemical substance excreted by an animal which triggers reproductive behavior response from a recipient of the same species." Now, there are all sorts of variations on this classic definition. There's a little bit of species overlap. The behavior could be an actual behavior like flirting, or it could be a behavior like a nerve firing internally. As long as it is in the reproductive behavior system, it qualifies in that classic definition, and it's between animals, not to the self.
There are at least four classes of pheromonal action which have been experimentally demonstrated. The first is the mother-infant communication. Often from breast milk, the infant comes to recognize its own mother as compared to other mothers. An example is in hospitals where three-day-old babies will orient their head toward a brassiere of their own mother when the nurse wafts the brassiere over the baby's head, but will ignore other nursing mothers' brassieres. That's an example. Mothers in the animal world recognize their own infants and will permit their own infant to nurse, and knock off from them other infants who try to nurse.
The second class are territorial repellants. An example of which is the urine marking that male dogs do to repel other males from the females of their interest, and we've all probably seen territorial marking like that. It's a repelling form of pheromone. The third class are those which influence the timing of the reproductive cycle, and in humans, menstrual synchrony where college dorm mates start cycling together is an example of that. And all of these, so far, are reproductive events. Mother-infant, keeping other males away from your own genetic opportunity, and also menstrual synchrony.
The fourth is my focus for the last 25 years of research, that is, the pheromones that work on sexual attraction communication between humans.
Questions were fielded from web visitors to this chatroom:
jingles1_webmd: Why do we feel the way we feel when we fall in love?
Dr. Cutler: I haven't a clue. That is not my area of expertise, but I can tell you how to attract someone toward you. Sexual attraction has many components, one of which is through pheromones. Another of which is through our appearance, or our conduct or our dignity or our intelligence, and, all of these, in composite, make for the possibility of an enormous romantic attraction and challenge.
rounder1_webmd: How much influence/power do pheromones in the fourth class have when it comes to basic attraction, first impressions, etc.?
Dr. Cutler: Probably the predominant one in that, according to the research we've done, they will lure someone to you even more powerfully or at least as powerfully as appearance. Then, once they've come toward you, then starts the interplay of the other dynamics. A man may come toward a woman because he's pheromonally attracted and decide as he's with her, that other things aren't adequate and he goes away. Likewise, a man will be attracted to appearance (more so than women according to research). Moving forward, the rest of what I can talk about will be sex attractant pheromones.
There were sex attractants discovered in pigs originally. I want to distinguish hormones from pheromones. They can be the same chemical element, but a hormone is defined as a molecule which is secreted internally from a gland or a tissue that makes hormones that circulates in the blood stream of that same individual and then acts upon other parts of that individual's neuroendocrine system.
For example, estrogen is a hormone of the ovary that will cause breast formation, the shape and fullness of breasts, and it will affect mental and cognitive function. It will have diverse effects but all on the same person making the hormone. A pheromone, in contrast, is a molecule which is excreted, that is rather than secreted. It acts at a distance from the individual who excretes it and has its actions on another individual, a very important distinction.
Now, I get to the sex attractant properties found in pigs and monkeys in the '70s and '60s. Androstenol, first found in pigs, which in some cases acts as a hormone, but in this case acts as a pheromone, was found in the foaming of the male's mouth. It was observed when that foam, something like a kiss by the male, was placed on the snout of a female, she immediately responded by going into the posture of sexual receptivity. That is, she stood rigidly still, arched her back and deflected her tail and it was a "come hither" signal in response.
Shifting from androstenol in pigs, monkeys were studied at Emory University in the '70s by Richard Michael, a psychiatrist working there, and they studied female presentation, that is, the female posturing for sexual attention. They discovered that normal sexual come-on was abolished when the female was hysterectomized and ovaries removed, but that sexual presentation was restored by pheromonal application of intact female pheromones to the rear ends of hysterectomized animals. So, both pigs and monkeys were shown to communicate sexual receptivity with pheromones. And, in monkeys, the source of the pheromones was vaginal secretions which Richard Michael named "copulins".
rounder1_webmd: Is there such a thing as the 'right' pheromones, or does it depend on the chemistry of the person you are trying to attract?
Dr. Cutler: I believe that there is a basic substrate in humans which I believe Athena Institute has discovered, which when applied in a perfume (any fragrance) to the skin, works with the individual person's chemistry to emit a signature pheromone. I believe because of both our scientific published data, which you can refer to on our web site, www.athenainstitute.com, and also from the anecdotal comments of thousands of individuals who have re-ordered our product, that it did not matter in which fragrance or to which fragrance they added our male or our female pheromone. Once it worked for an individual, it seemed to work in any fragrance they chose to wear on a given day.
Moderator: What exactly is in this pheromone?
Dr. Cutler: Let me go back a bit to tell you about what happened when the animal pheromones were tested in humans. It was the logical next step in the '70s and '80s for pheromone literature. Monkey pheromones were tested on 62 married couples. The authors, Dr. Naomi Morris at the University of Illinois and her group, showed no increase in sexual activity or frequency. They had borrowed the pheromones from Dr. Michael but there didn't seem to be benefit there.
Similarly, from the pig pheromone, several tests on men in college dorms, etc., have shown that the pig's pheromone is a repellant in humans. I think it's a riot because a number of perfume companies were putting androstenol into their fragrances. They liked the idea of pheromones in perfume, but they got the wrong one.
The Athena Pheromone 10:13, (and I named that because my birthday is 10/13), was my created synthesized formula that I believed to be the chemical copy of the sex attractant of sexually active, attractive, fertile young women.
Similarly, the Athena pheromone 10X for men was the synthesized ( I synthesize it in a lab and people add it to cologne or after shave) what I believed to be the sex attractant substrate pheromone of sexually active, attractive, virile, youthful men. The two formulas are trade secrets...
And new research is under way right now in post-menopausal women. Dr. Susan Rako, the psychiatrist in the Boston area who wrote The Hormone of Desire (www.susanrako.com), is just underway to launch a double-blind study for post-menopausal women (click for more on menopause) to test whether the anecdotal claims we hear from women who keep buying our product will withstand a double-blind, placebo-controlled scrutiny.
We've chosen to study post-menopausal women because so many report feeling invisible. In fact, this month's Health magazine has a whole article on women and the loss of sexual attraction as menopause approaches. And we at Athena have anecdotally been hearing from many women that it was restored with pheromone (click for more product info)- they stopped being invisible.
rounder1_webmd: Is there any correlation between physical traits (blondes vs. redheads, blue vs. brown eyes, Italian vs. Irish) and pheromone 'quality'?
Dr. Cutler: There have been no studies that I know of to address that question, but I have learned that the formula that we use seems to be adapted by all races, but I can't speak to the quality. I have no way to measure that yet. We did, at one time, wonder about that since we understand, for example, that Japanese people often find meat-eating westerners to smell bad. We understand that in Japan the old man's smell has now succumbed to a treatment. Succumbed may not be the right word, but some application of an overlay eliminates that old man's smell. The question is rational, but I'm not sure how to approach it.
Moderator: In your book, Love Cycles, you assert that a woman's emotional and overall health benefits from "regular, weekly sex." Can you explain that statement and relate it to your pheromone research?
Dr. Cutler: It's a very big question and, yes, I can. Love Cycles: The Science of Intimacy is one of the books I wrote. And, in it, I reviewed in successive chapters the composite body of research that show how men and women each have sexual cycles, women's in their fertile years being monthly, men's more tied to the annual rhythm of the earth through its motion around the sun. They have an annual cycle and women have a monthly cycle.
The studies I first did in the early and mid '70s showed that women who had regular weekly (think of it like a paycheck -- never missing a week) sex, were more fertile, they circulated about twice as much estrogen as those who were celibate or sporadic in behavior. They aged more slowly. They had less hot flashes as they approached menopause.
And, the hormonal event of regular sex served to build stronger bones, a better cardio-vascular system, better cognitive function, lower incidence of urinary stress incontinence, less vaginal atrophy at menopause, and less cystitis. In sum, regular weekly (when she's not menstruating), as an important caveat here, sex is very good for the health of women provided the man is not abusive.
We also did research to show that during menstruation, abstaining from sex permitted better health, less endometriosis and less likely to have the kind of bleeding pattern that leads to a prescription for hysterectomy. These are complex subjects each with a chapter of their own in Love Cycles: The Science of Intimacy.
As we were doing research over the years, we learned that there was something about regular exposure to a loving partner that had extraordinary effects on the health and well being of the individual. That led us to look for what was it? Was it orgasm? The answer is no. It was irrelevant whether an orgasm was produced with each sexual encounter. Although, I believe with proper education a woman ought to be experiencing an orgasm every time she gets sexual enough to experience sexual intercourse, because she will know how her body works and she will know how to engage in a relationship with a partner who cares to learn. And she will feel free and comfortable to teach him her unique sexual physiology.
But, diverging from that subject, it was the sequential understanding of the beauty of the biology of the reproductive system that made it obvious that regular exposure to a committed partner really enhanced the well being of an individual. And, that there was something coming from, there was some chemistry between individuals that we could not see but that was having an effect and that led to the search for human pheromones in the early 1980s.
I was looking for what it was that a partner provided that a woman, left to her own mechanical devices, could not provide for herself, and it was his pheromones. And that discovery, published in 1986 (click here), which people can read about on our web site if they choose, led me to study data and make another discovery which I found more exciting.
That was, that pheromones regularly applied to someone who isn't getting love makes the recipient more attractive, and you might think of that as something like this. We've all heard stories of how once you find someone to love and are in a loving romantic relationship, now other people of the opposite sex are attracted to you. It's causing you to make your own pheromones and everyone's responding to them. What we did at Athena Institute is see if we could synthesize a chemical copy of that substance. In a woman this substance has a different formula than a man.
Moderator: Have you had a lot of success with this potion?
Dr. Cutler: More so than I ever could have in my wildest dreams imagined. And it has enabled us to start giving money away for more scientific research. This is something we're very excited about. In fact, we just launched our first research grant for $175,000 to the University of Texas to Dr. Cindy Meston who will study women who have claims of sexual deficits after hysterectomy surgeries. And this is all part of the continuum of the mission of the Athena Institute.
Moderator: Does a hysterectomy affect sexual attraction?
Dr. Cutler: Yes, it appears to. In the monkey, it clearly does. Hysterectomy abolishes the female's ability, in spite of her sexual posturing, to elicit any male interest until monkey pheromones from intact females are smeared onto her rear end. Then, she's attractive again.
In humans, Dr. Clark Bundren, a gynecologist and reproductive endocrinologist at the University of Oklahoma in Tulsa tested our Athena 10:13 pheromone on women after hysterectomy who claimed they were no longer attractive to their partners; that is, their partners were no longer paying sexual attention to them. In spite of hormone replacement therapy they were taking, they had this complaint. He tested our pheromones a few years ago and concluded they worked, but he stopped his study and just told women to call Athena and buy the product.
That's why we're now launching a study. We want to get the double-blind placebo-controlled rigorous study under way. We have been offering scholars in academic institutions who want to test rigorously our pheromones on selected populations the opportunity to do so, and several studies are under way.
rounder1_webmd: You say that other people seem to become attracted to individuals in a 'loving romantic relationship'. What about a loving celibate relationship?
Dr. Cutler: It doesn't do it. That was one of the things we discovered. I think the design of the universe is to reproduce. And there certainly is a place in sustaining the life of the group for elegant, celibate persons. But when it comes to attracting another person to you, that is a chemistry process. That self was not sufficient. It had to be from another. It seemed to be the design of the universe. The chemistry process is interactive, not self.
Moderator: You spoke in Searching For Courtship that a time of celibacy was good to attract a higher quality of mate?
Dr. Cutler: Yes, I'll go to the Bible and say, "To everything there is a season and a time to every purpose under the heaven, a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing." There are times in our lives where we need to be alone, to recover, to restore, to develop ourselves, to find our courage which now allows us to attract a more courageous, developed partner.
Moderator: Based on your discoveries about love cycles, what are most Americans doing wrong with regard to their sexual practices?
Dr. Cutler: I don't think I'm qualified to summarize what most Americans are doing, but I can speak to what I think is a great way to live. And that begins with monogamy, restraint, respectful attention to others, and to making a contribution to the well being of others.
And I think that when you carry that attitude into relationships, there is reciprocity that sets in motion ever more loving relationships. And it takes time to grow relationships. And so, as in Love Cycles: The Science of Intimacy and in Searching for Courtship, I do focus on allowing time for this most important aspect of living, that is, the time for loving and to trying to bring that loving quality into the full scope of one's day.
Pheromones help, but they're not the whole picture. They increase your options because they increase the number of people who are interested in being attentive to you. And, that is the most common comment we've had from women who have used our product, is it makes men pay attention to them. Suddenly, men are interested in what they have to say and what they're thinking, while men tell us women are willing to listen to them. Men speak about it in a different way. They'll say things like, "It gives you a few more minutes to talk to a woman you're pursuing before she rejects you."
Moderator: Is that the basis of Searching For Courtship?
Dr. Cutler: It's only useful to attract numbers if you know what to do when you find someone. It's not the basis, but one of the components. So, if you want to attract someone who loves you, it helps to have a number of candidates. Then it helps to conduct yourself in a way that, when you find the right candidate, that it is the quality of person you'd want to be with. And everybody is somebody's gem.
So if this person doesn't have the qualities you like, you should be releasing him or her so that someone else can find that gem, but that's another subject. Pheromones will bring you into exposure to that. And Love Cycles: The Science of Intimacy focuses on the sensuality cycles of how to fit together a man and a woman, so both get from that fitting an extraordinary growth and an enhanced life experience. All of which, in the big picture, allows them to reproduce and make the species continue on Earth.
That seems to me, as a biologist, to be the fundamental design and all life moves in the rhythm of continuing it, and to the degree that they do, pheromones seem to play the critical role in the continuation of species through sexual attraction.
Moderator: You claim that sporadic sex can have negative health consequences. Why?
Dr. Cutler: Our data showed that women who engaged in sporadic sex (they'll have a hot weekend and then 10 days without sex) showed estrogen levels like that of an old woman when they were young. It disrupted the endocrine rhythm of their bodies.
And they showed the endocrine pattern reflective of developing osteoporosis when they were young and aging rapidly. Our bodies appear to be designed for regular steady loving, not for feast and famine. And, just like in bulimia in which there is feast and famine, and it's very destructive and can lead to death, feast or famine in sexual conduct can be destructive to the body and not healthy.
And our data actually show that the bigger the feasts, the more disruptive when the feast wasn't sustained by regular feeding, or regular loving. But women probably know that. Somewhere we all know that, but our science showed it. I think that's all science does is begin to explore the mysteries of what is already there. Poets have already explored those mysteries and so have mystics. I try to do it as a scientist, but I love poetry.
Moderator: What happens when you have sex regularly, but with many different people?
Dr. Cutler: You're susceptible to a lot of venereal disease. Not recommended because people who are having sex with a lot of different people, according to data, aren't having a lot of sex for very long. And, they generally have sporadic exposure because it takes so much energy for so little return. Another problem with that is women's bodies are extraordinarily complex, and it takes time for a man to understand the rhythm of a woman's body. We're not all the same. And, if you're having a lot of exposure to a lot of partners, you're never going to develop that rhythm. There won't be time to develop that.
Moderator: How did you become interested in this subject?
Dr. Cutler: When I started graduate school in 1974 at Penn, there were very few powers a woman had. For example, in the biology department, there was one woman faculty member and 49 men at Penn's biology department. And I saw it wasn't likely that as a scientist I would have access to the machinery of science, but that I would have access to trying to figure out what behavior could a woman engage in that would enhance her health and well-being. I chose reproductive behaviors because I was very interested in the subject of sex. And there were textbooks teaching how women's bodies worked to gynecologists that I personally knew were teaching doctors the wrong information.
So my goal was to try to figure out, in a world in which women had very little power, how could they have the most power, and I concluded it would be through their conduct. And so, I began to study patterns of sexual conduct to see what outcomes happened and one thing just led to another. And the things that I was learning, even as I was learning them to contribute to others, were contributing to the quality of my own life. So, I kept going with it. And, now I'm studying aging in women and what we can do to enjoy our aging, and that is what pheromones seem to offer.
Moderator: Where is your research taking you now and in the next five years?
Dr. Cutler: I try to go a year at a time, and right now we're focusing on what happens as older people use pheromones and find themselves attracting people like they did years ago. I'm looking at hysterectomy, as I explained, and we're writing a paper on sexual response in women looking at clitoral, vaginal, and cervical sites as the genitally responsive areas in a woman and the implications of that for the fit between a man and a woman. So, those are some of the things we're looking at right now.
And, our mission as an institute is in making a contribution to the health care of women, and the development of a product for men was a serendipitous one when men asked us, 'what about us?' when they saw that a woman's pheromone was being used by their sisters and wives. We decided it might be a lucrative area to develop one for men. And it was, and now the men's purchases are funding research on women's health, which only seems fair. Athena is now the publisher (originally Random House/Villard) and people can order directly from Athena Institute for the fastest response, or if you rather you can find it at other online outlets. Our web site is www.athenainstitute.com. The title of the book discussing this is Love Cycles: The Science of Intimacy.
Moderator: Dr. Cutler, thank you for joining us. WebMD members, please join us every Monday at 1 p.m. Eastern here in the Mind Matters Auditorium for our live weekly event.
The opinions expressed herein are those of the guest's alone. If you have questions about your health, you should consult your personal physician. This event is meant for informational purposes only.
END OF EXCERPT / INTERVIEW DR. CUTLER
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