Science/Tech

Sweat, Saliva, and Smells: How Sexual Desire Overpowers Disgust

Sex can make you a happier person
Image Flickr/ Robert McDon

Let's face it: no matter how attractive you or your partner is, sex is kind of gross. It's filled with liquids and smells that we as humans otherwise generally avoid.

And yet, for most of us, we enjoy it - and even actively seek it out.

"This results in the intriguing question of how people succeed in having pleasurable sex at all," Charmaine Borg and Peter de Jong write. Their study attempted to get to the bottom of that question, and found that lust simply overpowers the feeling of disgust - at least in women.

Researchers divided 90 female participants into three groups. One group, the sexually aroused group, watched videos containing "female-friendly erotica." The second group, the positively aroused, watched videos that showed high-intensity activities like sky-diving. The third group watched a video about a train ride, which hopefully did not arouse anyone.

Then researchers asked all of the participants to perform activities that would normally be disgusting to them. There were 16 activities that the women were asked to perform, which included the act of drinking from a cup that they thought included an insect (the insect was fake), wiping their hands with what appeared to be a used tissue, eating a cookie placed next to a worm, and putting their fingers in a tray of used condoms.

They found that the women in the sexually aroused group were more likely to complete the disgusting tasks, and completed more of them than their counterparts. Researchers do not believe that arousal distracted the women, because the positively aroused women, who had watched videos of activities like mountain-climbing, were less likely to fulfill the tasks than the sexually aroused women.

Researchers believe that the same response occurs in men as well. In fact, the study quotes psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud: "A man, who will kiss a pretty girl's mouth passionately, may perhaps be disgusted by the idea of using her tooth-brush."

The study was published in PLoS One.

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