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Research shows a woman's tears kill a man's libido

Scientists have long pondered the mystery of why humans, unlike other species, cry emotional tears. A new study provides a few answers — as well as raising a whole bunch of new questions. Basically, researchers found that men who sniffed drops of women’s emotional tears became less sexually aroused than when they sniffed a saline solution that had been dribbled down women’s cheeks. The sexual arousal was measured in a number of ways, including testosterone levels, skin responses, brain imaging and also self-reporting (i.e. this study wasn’t just a bunch of guys claiming that “teary chicks are a boner killer”).

Because the researchers were unable to find enough men who could cry on demand, they have only studied women’s tears so far, which means we’ll have to wait a while longer before unlocking the secret to John Boehner’s weepiness. In the meantime, scientists are debating what this chemical signal in tears might mean — is it a way for women to counter men’s aggression? Or could the tears be affecting men in some as-yet-unknown way that is having a knock-on effect on the libido?

One (very untested) theory, according to researcher Dr. Noam Sobel, a professor of neurobiology at the Weizmann Institute in Israel, is that women are more teary during their periods, and so this is a convenient way to ward off sex during a time when it wouldn’t do much good, reproductively speaking. (“Oh, please,” said Martha McClintock, a professor of psychology at the University of Chicago who reported 40 years ago that women who lived together tended to get their periods at the same time. “Do we know that women cry more often during menstruation?”)

Whatever the meaning, Dr. Sobel has a little sex advice (seriously) for any women out there who might be considering the practical applications of this research: “I would [not] recommend to any woman to cry to send a message,” he said. “It would be much better to just say no.”

But here’s a practical tip you can take away from this, ladies: We know you may feel all warm and tingly and so connected to your partner after weeping over a film like The Notebook, but don’t expect your boyfriend’s penis to cooperate if you made him sit through the film with you.

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photo by David Blackwell