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What Turns You On? 10 Fascinating Facts About Sexual Attraction

Your brain is reacting to stimuli and sending out signals that you may not even be aware of.
 
 
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"Turn-ons: The color green and sports cars. Turn-offs: Women drivers.” 

Those were the  stated turn-ons and turn-offs for Linda Gamble, Playboy’s Playmate of the Year, 1961. Oh, how we love turn-ons and turn-offs -- as much a must-read as the centerfold was a must-see. It was fun to wonder how you would answer the question, and to wonder what constitutes a turn-on or a turn-off, anyway? People’s likes and dislikes are marvelously capricious, but when it comes to actual sexual turn-ons or attractions, your brain is reacting to stimuli and sending out signals that you might not be aware of, shaping your reactions and choices. From certain sounds to actual physical changes that could alter your sexual self in bizarre ways, here are 10 ways your brain might be controlling the on/off switch for your attractions.

1. Get your motor running.

“You and that car. It was like  Love Story. You got it and you loved it and it died.”

That’s what my friend Bob said about the used Mercedes I bought for a song in the '90s, a car that spent more time with the mechanic than with me. The car’s engine had a distinctive sound, and to this day when I hear one like it my entire system perks up.

That’s why I’m not terrifically surprised by the stereotype-confirming study by Hiscox (no joke), a British insurance company reporting that the testosterone in women’s saliva rises when they hear the sound of a sports car. ( Testosterone is an important hormone for female sexual arousal, although most of us associate it with men,  who produce 20 times more of it.) 

Keith Barry of Wired reported in 2008 that psychologist David Moxon had men and women listen to the sounds of four cars -- a Ferrari, a Lamborghini, a Maserati, and an economical compact, a Volkswagon Polo -- and then tested their saliva afterward. Testosterone went up in both men and women after listening to the sports cars, “but the amount women had was off the charts,” Barry wrote. Even women who weren’t into cars had the same reaction.

By contrast, after listening to the Polo testosterone in all groups dropped. 

What? Vroom-vroom is sexier than a down-to-earth consideration of fuel economy? Make of it what you will. I’m going to take a moment to listen to this Mercedes engine and dream of what might have been. 

2. Right on the left.

We probably listen to the sound of sports cars with both ears, but when it comes to whispering sweet somethings it might be advantageous to lovers to try to get around to one ear specifically: the left one. A study from Sam Houston University found that the left ear is better at picking up emotional words than the right. Sixty-two men and women listened to some emotional words (“loving”) and some neutral words (“combine”) read in a voice devoid of emotion, with the words presented to the left or right ear. In an  abstract on MITCogNet, study authors T.C. Sim and Carolyn Martinez write, “When emotion stimuli appeared on the left ear, the accuracy of recall was higher, with a mean of 64.43% and 58.15% for the right ear. Our study shows that in the face of competing verbal information, emotional words compete more strongly when they are presented through the left ear.”

An NIH abstract on the study notes that the “findings are consistent with the role of the right hemisphere in the perception of emotional information.” 

So, “I love you,” might have stronger impact whispered in the left ear. Anyone else trying to remember which side of the bed you sleep on and wondering how to sneakily switch places? 

 
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