Q: Since I've started working out with a female friend, it seems that my strength varies during the month. She's just an acquaintance, so I'm embarrassed to ask when she menstruates. Could her period have something to do with my incredible strength gains a few days per month? If so, I think I'll try to find a menstruating woman to train with every day!
A: You're on to something, but you're planning on training with women during the wrong time of their monthly cycles. In studies done with married couples, it seems that the levels of testosterone in the men are lowest during their wives' menses. That's obviously an evolutionary signal to the man that the woman is not fertile at that time, so there's less desire to have sex. And as all seasoned bodybuilders know, lower levels of testosterone equate to less strength.
On the other hand, a study performed by Astrid Juette of the Ludwig Boltzmann Institute shows that testosterone levels of men drastically increase during a woman's ovulation period. Juette orginally performed this study to determine whether men can smell a woman's maximum fertility (the time of ovulation). In contrast to her expectations, there did not seem to be any significant difference in ratings of the three scent groups she tested (menses, ovulatory and premenstrual); however, the testosterone levels of the men who smelled the ovulatory scent increased to nearly 150 percent of starting levels. Although the men could not consciously determine the women's fertility, it appears that the subliminal smell tapped into their subconscious and caused an evolutionary reaction. Their subdued animalistic natures were aroused, and their bodies prepared to reproduce. So for a more intense workout in the gym, be sure to have an ovulating woman as your training partner'or at least bring her recently worn panties with you.
As a side note, certain other scents can definitely cause sexual arousal in men and women. Aromatherapy, the practice of using certain scents to elicit different responses in our bodies, is widely used nowadays to combat impotence and lack of libido. The essential oils of jasmine and sandalwood are just two of the scents touted as aphrodisiacs. When Chicago neurologist Alan Hirch rated male responses to various smells by measuring changes in penile blood flow (firmness of erections), he found that the foods highest on the rating list included cinnamon buns, roast meat and cheese pizza! (Interestingly, those are the favorite foods of many men.) In some cases, the average increase of penile blood flow was 40 percent. Hmm. That might be a good reason to add 'food games' to one's sexual repertoire. If you ever feel as if your favorite extremity isn't coming to attention as often as you'd like, try taking a whiff of those 'erotic' foods.
Editor's note: Laura Moore is a science writer for IRONMAN and Penthouse magazines and www.ocnow.com. She's the host of the radio show 'The Health Nuts,' which airs in the southeastern United States. Address your sex-fitness-related questions to her by visiting www.thefitdiva.homestead.com.