Booster Shots

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Mating, dating and sex (why we wrote the story)

May 16, 2008 |  5:05 pm

Sex250 Remember "Science of the orgasm"? It's OK to admit it -- you're far from alone. That February story about the nervous system's role in orgasms set an online readership record for the Health section. Prurient interest didn't seem to be driving the numbers, not completely anyway. The story featured researchers discussing the spinal cord, vagus nerve network and other parts of the nervous system not normally regarded as erotic. Rather, readers seemed genuinely curious about the "why" of it all.

They were almost as curious about love. "This is your brain on love" -- about why people fall in love and what makes it last -- was the second-most popular Health story in the last 12 months among online readers. Its highlights included explanations of the limbic system's role and the relevance of the brain chemicals dopamine, norepinephrine and serotonin.

Now the Health section proves that monitoring online readership pays off. (We will not, however, be offering slide shows from the Westminster dog show. Well, maybe just this once...) Beginning this week, we'll offer a monthly column called The Mating Game. The first installment examines the research behind ScientificMatch.com, a website that promises to winnow your mate options based on genetic compatibility. The basics of attraction, the site's operators contend, are largely based on three genes termed (in non-come-hither fashion) the major histocompatability complex. Those three genes, in essence, might determine the appeal of a potential partner's smell.

Researchers have been studying the whys and hows of mate selection for years, but talk of the mating and dating world has largely amounted to ignore-the-cold-hard-facts-at-all-costs relationship advice or how-to-win-the-person-of-my-dreams wishful (and tiresome) thinking.

We're not going in either of those directions. For relationship advice, ask pretty much anyone (except me -- whatever the question, I assure you, I don't know the answer). For sex advice, check out the absolutely riveting Savage Love over at L.A. Weekly.

But for the science of it all, check out The Mating Game. And maybe the occasional Booster Shots posting.

-- Tami Dennis

Photo: Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times

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