The Sweet Smell of Success Is Actually Lily of the Valley

Human sperm are funny things. See, you're laughing already. Well, you are if you're younger than twelve years old or a guy, anyway. Sperm are those teeny tiny tadpole-like cells which somehow manage to swim upstream against all odds, desperately hoping to find an egg to invade. Kind of like a single-minded mongoose that just happens to be able to get you pregnant. Not to imply that male mongooses have fertility problems. Far be it for me to say something like that about any creature that has sharp teeth which are at crotch height when they sit up. But back to sperm. Yes, they really are funny things. They're highly motivated, singular and plural at the same time, and love the smell of lily of the valley. Then again, who doesn't?

The idea that sperm might be attracted to certain smells has been around since, oh, a couple of weeks ago when some researchers published a paper in the journal Science (motto: "Caution: May cause drowsiness"). It started when they discovered that there are receptors in a sperm's membranes which are very similar to the sensory nerves of the nose. [Insert pre-adolescent joke here.] I think I speak for most of us when I say I don't want to know what led them down that path of thinking, though I suspect it started after they squandered their previous grant money trying to discover if dandruff has taste buds.

Once they figured out that sperm not only had tails but also rudimentary noses, the scientists set out to discover what smells sperm might like. No, they didn't perform the experiments the way you're thinking they did, so get that smirk off your face. They put the sperm in thin glass tubes and noticed that when they liked a smell -- the sperm, not the researchers -- their little tails started beating faster, propelling them towards the source. Scientists are such teases.

It turns out the sperm were attracted by three scents and repelled by one. The three they liked were baking bread, roasting chicken, and magic markers. Oddly, these are also the three most popular flavors of Jelly Belly. Just kidding. Actually the most popular flavors of Jelly Belly are Buttered Popcorn, Very Cherry, and Five-Day Old Tuna Casserole. Sperm, on the other hand, are attracted to synthetic compounds that perfume makers use to imitate the scent of lily of the valley.

It's true. Sperm, like men, aren't concerned with reality, just perception. The surprising thing isn't so much that the sperm were attracted to artificiality -- after all, they're manufactured by males who as a gender think silicone, Wonderbras, and Miss Clairol Sunny Blonde should have received Nobel Prizes -- but rather that they have decidedly feminine taste in smells. If it had turned out that sperm were attracted to the smell of Budweiser, car exhaust, or their own armpits, no one would think twice about it. But this is like finding out that Adam Sandler is going to be the next James Bond. Some things just should not be allowed to exist in nature.

The scientists haven't figured out what it is about a woman's egg that attracts male sperm but hope it doesn't turn out that they manufacture artificial lily of the valley chemicals. They have figured out, however, that this discovery might lead to a way to boost fertility. As it is you can already buy a host of sperm alluring lily of the valley-scented items including bath gel, body lotion, soap, and powder, so it's only a matter of time before you see Summer's Eve Lily of the Valley ("Now with Sperm Attractants!") on your grocer's shelf. They also say this discovery could lead to a new form of contraception. After all, if undecanal, the compound that caused the sperm to hold their noses and swim away as fast as they could repels them, it would be the perfect ingredient for a new line of spray contraceptives such as N'oh Baby!, Sperm-B-Gone, and Deep Woodie Off.

These products might not even be necessary if we continue using disposable diapers. It's true. According to a study in the Archives of Diseases in Childhood (motto: "Take two aspirin and subscribe in the morning.") male fertility has decreased over the past 25 years and they blame disposable diapers. It seems the plastic-lined diapers hold in more than just what they're intended to hold in -- they also retain heat. This increases the temperature of the testicles -- boy model only, of course -- which in turn affects their development, resulting in a reduced number of healthy sperm later in life. It's sad to think of all those sperm which may not be around to enjoy the alluring smell of artificial lily of the valley just because parents are too lazy to do laundry.

One thing the scientists haven't looked into is what smells eggs like. After all, it takes two to tango -- if you know what I mean, *wink*wink* -- and all the artificial lily of the valley smell in the world won't do much good if the sperm shows up smelling like used motor oil, yesterday's sweat socks, or Old Spice Tangy Corn Nuts scent. Is it me, or do I smell a big pile of grant money looking for a mate?

More Mad Dog can be found online at: His compilation of humorous travel columns, "If It's Such a Small World Then Why Have I Been Sitting on This Airplane For Twelve Hours?" is available from Xlibris Corporation.

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