The Science Behind Sexual Attraction

hormone science butterflies

hormone science butterfliesYou're a calm, level-headed guy. You're normally confident, self-assured. Then your friend introduces you to a woman from their office. She's drop-dead gorgeous. All of a sudden:

You've got butterflies in your stomach.
You somehow have forgotten how to form a coherent sentence.
Your face is flushed and your palms are sweaty.
You feel like you're 14 again and at your first awkward dance.

What the heck just happened? Why do we feel like such idiots when we're with someone we're sexually attracted to?

The answer?  The science of hormones!


There are several hormones that come out to play when we're sexually attracted to someone. They all have a physical effect on our body — often resulting in our “cool factor” significantly declining. Without further ado, here they are:

  • Adrenaline – Adrenaline is released when we first see someone attractive. This fight-or-flight hormone causes oxygen-enriched blood to course through your body. Your body is preparing form some major action (good or bad). It's adrenaline that gives you that heart-pounding sensation and makes your palms sweat. Adrenaline also signals your body to release of dopamine and endorphins.
  • Dopamine – Dopmaine is the pleasure hormone. It's the reason we become addicted to things and behaviors, as we crave the dopamine pleasure rush. It's the dopamine high drug addicts are continually reaching for. This feel good hormone is released when we're attracted to someone. Nature's way of trying to make us crave a relationship with that person – cementing it in hormones. When you're feeling a little giddy, a little silly around someone or can't wait to see them again — that's dopamine at play.
  • Estrogen – Although your body may not be producing estrogen when you're attracted to someone, you can bet it plays a factor in who you're attracted to. Estrogen production and a woman's estrogen cycle are linked, and men are sensitive to this. A study published by the American Psychological Association found that when men smelled the shirt of a woman who was ovulating, their bodies responded with a significant increase in the production of testosterone.
  • Serotonin – Can't get that gorgeous girl out of your head? Does she keep popping up in your thoughts randomly throughout the day? Guess what — that's serotonin, or actually the lack of serotonin. You're experiencing the same effect of a serotonin drop that people with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) experience. Think you're obsessing over someone? Chances are, you kind of are, and it's all because your body isn't producing enough serotonin — again, nature's way of bringing and keeping two people together.
  • Testosterone – Testosterone production not only indicates whether or not you're attracted to someone, but also can affect whether they're attracted to you. When you're sexually attracted to a person, your body increases it's production of testosterone. To complement this increase, women are naturally attracted to high levels of testosterone. A study published by the National Institute of Health found women thought men were more attractive and more masculine when they had higher levels of testosterone.

Now, of course, you can't blame every fumbled response or awkward moment on hormones, some of those are your own doing. However, the hormonal quagmire that becomes your brain when you're around someone you're attracted to certainly isn't helping.