Social chemosignals from breastfeeding women increase sexual motivation

Natasha A. Spencer, Martha K. McClintock, Sarah A. Sellergren, Susan Bullivant, Suma Jacob, Julie A. Mennella

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

34 Scopus citations


Human pheromones, a type of social chemosignal, modulate endocrine function by regulating the timing of ovulation. In animals, pheromones not only regulate ovulation but also female reproductive motivation and behavior. There is no extant evidence that humans produce social chemosignals that affect human sexual motivation or reproductive behavior as occurs in other mammals. Here, we demonstrate that natural compounds collected from lactating women and their breastfeeding infants increased the sexual motivation of other women, measured as sexual desire and fantasies. Moreover, the manifestation of increased sexual motivation was different in women with a regular sexual partner. Those with a partner experienced enhanced sexual desire, whereas those without one had more sexual fantasies. These results are consistent with previous pheromonal effects on endocrine function, and warrant further study of these social chemosignals as candidates for pheromonal processes, including their effects on other aspects of motivation and behavior.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)362-370
Number of pages9
JournalHormones and Behavior
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 1 2004


  • Breastfeeding
  • Chemosignals
  • Lactation
  • Pheromone
  • Reproduction
  • Sexual motivation


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