Whatever has happened to libido? Lately it seems to be much sought after. Pill manufacturers and porn producers rake in billions of dollars catering to those looking for a “turn on” or “enhancement.” Time was – and not that long ago – that men were able to get it on, women were able to conceive, and babies were produced one after another. It may just be that no one talked about arousal difficulties back then. But maybe things actually worked better than they do now.

In women, some libido loss has been attributed to hormonal imbalance. Low libido is reportedly a major side-effect of the high estrogen birth control pill. Pills containing both estrogen and progesterone have been shown to double the incidence of depressive symptoms. It’s hard to be perky when you’re depressed. Millions of women taking these pills not only suffer themselves but urinate measurable quantities of these hormones into the public water supply. But, according to George Harden, a board member of the Society of Catholic Social Scientists, “If you’re killing mosquitoes to save people from the West Nile virus, you can count on environmentalists to lay down in front of the vapor truck, claiming some potential side-effect that might result from the spray. But if birth control deforms fish – backed by the proof of an EPA study – and threatens the drinking supply, mum will be the word.”

If the water supply is resulting in femininization of frogs in some locales, and the trout in Colorado’s Boulder Creek, resulting in “girl fish, boy fish, and ‘it’ fish”, it is not unlikely that it will have an effect of the male of the human species.

Estrogen abounds! It also fattens up our beef and pork. Since 1989 Europe has banned the importation of beef from the US and Canada because of steroidal additives. The ubiquitous soybean contains its own variety of plant estrogen. We might reasonably conclude that both men and women are getting amounts of estrogen from both water and foodstuffs that are sexually dampening. Testosterone has been labeled the “libido hormone” and estrogen might well be called the “anti-libido hormone.”

There are side-effects of birth control pills other than depression and decreased libido, including cancer risk and lowered resistance to infection. But there may be something else that is very much amiss–pheromones!

Pheromones have been recognized since 1956 when a chemical was isolated from female silkworm moths that could attract male moths from far afield, and cause them to dance their sexual “flutter dance.” Over 1000 pheromones have been identified worldwide, especially in insects, and are used commercially to trap undesired bugs or hamper their reproduction. In 1959 German scientists coined the word pheromone, derived from the Greek words pherin, to carry, and horman, to excite.

Probably the most familiar example of pheromones in mammals is seen in dogs. If you’ve ever had a female dog in heat you know there’s a problem–eager males at every door, pushing to get into the house when you want to go out. Big dogs and little dogs, any breed, familiar dogs, dogs from God knows where! Somehow the word has gotten out. There is obviously some kind of “bitch in heat” essence wafting on the ether and it can bring in studs from miles away.

Moving up the biological ladder to primates, in 1971 it was discovered by Richard Michael and colleagues at Emory University in Atlanta that female rhesus monkeys that had their ovaries removed failed to attract male attention even when they displayed the “come hither” of a presenting rump. If their rumps were smeared with fluid from the rumps of females with intact ovaries their smell was once again attractive to males.

The book that really put me on the libido trail was The Decline of Males by Lionel Tiger (1999, St. Martin’s Press). Dr. Tiger, Professor of Anthropology at Rutgers University, and author of nine books, did an experiment in 1972 with stump tail macaque monkeys in which he and his colleagues injected five of the females with a three-month dosage of DepoProvera. Prior to the experiment they had established that the male of the group had certain favorites among the females and a normal sexual pattern. However, once the females received the contraceptive the male inspected their genitalia and groomed them but no longer had intercourse with them. Instead he chose other non-medicated females. Once the medication wore off he went back to his old favorites.

Later, when ALL the females were medicated with DepoProvera the male behaved “in a turbulent and confused manner.” He approached females, stroked and sniffed, but no matter what he did there was no longer the usual episode of intercourse. When drugs dissipated, “it was back to nature and true love.”

There are companies that specialize in producing perfume/pheromone concoctions reputed to give any man or woman the “come hither” aura. Whether they work or not I can’t tell you–it would be an interesting research project. (I’m sure the companies have lots of anecdotal testimonies.)

What I can tell you is that women popping a daily contraceptive pill no longer have a monthly fertile time accompanied by increased libido. If they are at all like monkeys they will no longer be emitting the male-enticing “scent of a woman.” They may emphasize their cleavage and be coy and seductive but the discerning male will know it is all window-dressing without a real functioning woman within.

On the other hand the men don’t have a clue as to what is wrong. Why don’t their women turn them on? There may truly be some male deficiency, what with all the estrogens they are exposed to. But besides being feminized by estrogen intake, perhaps he, like the macaque monkey, isn’t receiving the pheromone message that there is a fertile and eager female at the ready, looking for a male who is also ready.

Reproductive health in both sexes is the result of a finely tuned balance of the sexual hormones. We have, on the one hand, women who have been dosed to suppress ovulation by mimicking pregnancy, and, on the other hand, we have feminized our men.

Unlike hormones, which act within the body, pheromones act socially between bodies. Scientific research has demonstrated the action of some pheromones between humans but there is still much to be learned about them.

As Professor Tiger so neatly puts it: “Wouldn’t the existence of a large group of women prepared for sexual encounters but chemically pregnant have an effect on men’s efficacy and elan?” Let’s hear it for efficacy and elan! Suppose, just suppose, that in our eagerness to enjoy sex ad lib, without its natural consequences, we are at the same time turning off the very fountain of our libido! Wouldn’t that be a hoot? Have we done ourselves in? Are we hoist on our own petard?