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eroticism is in the air


A characteristic signature of volatile molecules is found in the breath of sexually aroused people: some increase and others decrease as passion is aroused. Present in men and women, they can be detected even when we are at the movies.

More blood flow to the genitals, increased pulse rate, and dilated pupils reveal that a person is sexually aroused. But passion can also be detected in the breath, a study by an international research team led by the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry in Mainz, Germany, has found.

According to the study, a characteristic signature of volatile molecules is found in the breath of sexually aroused people: they exhale less isoprene (the most commonly found hydride in the human body) and carbon dioxide, while the concentration of degradation products of certain neurotransmitters increases.

According to the researchers, this discovery may help better assess sexual arousal and thus contribute to a better understanding of sexual difficulties that may require medical treatment.

simple experiment

For this research, twelve men and twelve women were asked to watch different ten-minute movie clips in random order at the Human Sexuality Research Laboratory, (SexLab), at the University of Porto.

They watched a nature travel documentary, a horror movie, a soccer game, and an erotic movie. While watching the movies, the researchers analyzed the breath of the participants, looking for more than 100 volatile organic compounds, while measuring their level of sexual arousal through the increase in temperature in the genitals.

The researchers observed that, at the beginning of the erotic film, the amount of various volatile organic compounds in the breath of aroused participants increased rapidly, while other compounds decreased at the same rate.

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They also found that these levels of organic compounds varied less when the participants were not sexually aroused.

Significant Variations

Nijing Wang, lead author of the study, explains that the decreased CO2 concentration and isoprene in the breath of sexually aroused people could be because the genitals had more blood flow, while the muscles and lungs had less.

“In men, we find phenol, cresol, and indole. These seem to be typical indicators of sexual arousal,” says Wang.

These substances are formed during the degradation of amino acids such as tryptophan, a precursor substance of the neurotransmitter serotonin, or tyrosine, from which our body forms dopamine and norepinephrine.

These messengers are known to play an important role in erotic feelings and are rapidly formed in the body. Among other things, they put people in a euphoric state of mind during sexual arousal.

breath of happiness

In one test subject, the researchers were even able to detect dopamine, which is also considered a happiness factor, directly in his breath.

“In general, the results of the breath analysis were clearer in men than in women,” says another of the researchers, Giovanni Pugliese.

For example, the researchers did not see the same increase in volatile substances in women as in men. Also, some women were not particularly turned on by erotic movies. “To increase the overall significance, we need to repeat the study with a larger number of subjects,” adds Pugliese.

Sexual difficulties, medical theme

The researchers believe that it is important to study the signature of eroticism in breathing more closely, especially from a medical point of view.

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“The possibility of non-invasively determining a person’s sexual arousal through their breathing would be a great advance for sexual research,” says Pedro Nobre, the director of the Sexlab and a professor at the University of Porto in Portugal.

Until now, these studies have been hampered by the fact that, in most cases, the sensors must be placed directly on the genital area of ​​the test participants, which complicates the arousal process.

According to Nobre, an experienced sex researcher, breath analysis can make it easier to assess sexual arousal and ultimately help in the process of analyzing sexual difficulties.

also in the cinema

The idea for the study came from atmospheric scientist jonathan williams. His team had already been able to show in previous studies that people constantly emit chemical signals into the air through their breath and skin, which can change depending on their emotional state.

For example, in a packed movie theater, they detected characteristic volatile molecules exhaled by viewers during highly exciting scenes.

“With the sexual arousal study, we wanted to test whether other strong emotions also leave a trace in the breath,” says Williams. “To better characterize the chemical signals, we tested this under controlled conditions rather than the complex environment of a movie theater.”

The researchers now intend to investigate the extent to which we also send fleeting chemical signals in conversation, when kissing or during a hug and that our counterpart perceives, consciously or unconsciously.


Breath chemical markers of sexual arousal in humans. N.Wang et al. Scientific Reports, Volume 12, Article number: 6267 (2022). DOI:https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-022-10325-6

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