Immunology of Sexuality and Variations
Alan J. Robinson
robin073 at maroon.tc.umn.edu
Thu Jan 25 17:08:53 EST 1996
On Tue, 23 Jan 1996 14:35:00 -0700,
Teresa Binstock <binstoct at essex.UCHSC.edu> wrote:
> IMMUNOLOGICAL COMPONENTS TO HUMAN SEXUALITY AND VARIATIONS
There are many sex-related differences in humans in areas such as
olfaction, brain structure, and susceptibility to disease. I assume
that you have looked at the book "The Scent of Eros" by James Vaughn
Kohl and Robert T Francoeur.
Even though some of these differences have been known since the time
of the Ancient Greeks, they are still rather poorly understood.
However, this is changing rapidly with the explosion of knowledge
about the brain and the immune system. I don't know though of any
single review article which fully synthesizes this knowledge in the
area of sex-related differences in the immune system.
The increased understanding of the brain and the immune system has led
to the realization that the body has an integrated set of defense and
repair mechanisms (infection, trauma, neoplasia, psychological
stress etc.), which can themselves malfunction and cause disease, as
in the case of autoimmune disorders. Many of these disorders are much
more common in women.
As far as the influence of olfaction on human body function, the
general trend of evolution has been to progressively downplay
olfaction and increase visual capabilities. (Some insects have
extraordinary olfactory capabilites.) Thus even though menstrual
cycles can be synchronized in humans, presumably by olfaction, this is
more likely to be an evolutionary vestige and not critical to human
functioning. The primary residual function of olfaction in humans
appears to be to warn of bacterial putrefaction.
Similarly, olfaction does not appear to play a large role in human
sexual desire (male-oriented pornography is almost entirely visual).
The fact that humans stand upright, so their noses aren't at the same
level as the genitals, makes them quite different from most other
animals - dogs, for example.
There are major aspects of immune function and dysfunction which
appear to be markedly different in males and females. This probably
has more to do with the close coupling of the physiological axes
that are involved with reproduction (e.g. LHRH-LH) with the HPA axis
and the autonomic nervous system than with specific patterns of
antigens arising from X and Y chromosomes. The immune system in
females must also be designed not to reject the immunologically
different sperm and fetus, by a mechanism which is still not
There is considerable speculation that homosexuality arises from a
developmental variation in the fetal brain that is the result of
maternal (and or fetal) hormonal and immunological dysregulation.
But it is still just speculation.
A good review of some of these recent scientific developments is in
the 1994 book "Brain Control of Responses to Trauma", edited by Nancy
Rothwell and Frank Berkenbosch. It covers more than its title
implies. More generally, this material is covered under such names as
neurimmunology, psychoneuroimmunology, neuroimmunomodulation, and
The independent scholar, Marjie Profet, has also published some
interesting speculations on human sexuality and the immune
system in the Quarterly Review of Biology. (I'm writing this from
memory - I'm not sure I got those names exactly correct.)
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