A Woman’s Tears: The Anti-Viagra?

For many a man, few things deflate his passion faster than the sight of a woman crying. But tears may do more than visually tell a man it’s not time for romance. A woman’s tears contain substances that reduce men’s sexual arousal, a new study indicates. It’s the first evidence that human tears contain chemical signals.

Tears have largely been considered just a visual signal among people: Studies have shown that people looking at a sad face perceive it as sadder when tears are added. In contrast, some animals seem to use their waterworks to communicate chemically. The tears of male mice, for example, contain a protein that makes females more receptive to mating. But given that people, unlike rodents, don’t preen each other, researchers assumed that we rarely come in close enough contact to perceive chemical cues in tears.

Noam Sobel, a neurobiologist at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel, wasn’t convinced. Human tears shed under duress differ chemically from those shed to clear the eye of irritants, and he wondered whether human tears might also carry messages for the opposite sex.

To find out, he recruited two women who claimed they could cry on demand. He showed them a sad film—a scene from Franco Zeffirelli’s 1979 film The Champ, in which a son cries over the body of his dying father, a boxer—and collected their tears in vials (see video). Within minutes, the vials were handed to 24 men, aged 23 to 32, who took 10 deep breaths over the open receptacles. Researchers also stuck a tear-soaked cotton square under each man’s nose for the duration of the experiment. As a control, Sobel and his team did the same with saline solution, which they trickled down the women’s cheeks to account for perfumes and face creams they might have been wearing.

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