Sunday, June 22, 2008

"Don't Ask, Don't Smell"

by Emily Stephens

Love Potion 69? Weapon of Ass Destruction? Have you heard of the “gay bomb”? It’s a weapon—or rather the theory of a potential nonlethal weapon—that has gay activist groups and anyone with half a brain up in arms. News of an United States Air Force “Gay Bomb” began circulating way back in 1994, when the Sunshine Project (a now-disbanded Berkeley watchdog group who tracked government spending) obtained a 3-page proposal written by the Air Force Wright Laboratory in Ohio for future non-lethal chemical weapons.

According to the proposal, “One distasteful but completely non-lethal example would be strong aphrodisiacs, especially if the chemical also caused homosexual behavior.” Wright Laboratory asked for $7.5 million to fund research and development of the project. It also proposed other non-lethal weapon ideas such as a sweating bomb, a flatulence bomb, and spraying the enemy with bee pheromones and releasing beehives into the combat area. The gay bomb certainly takes the cake, however. “The notion was virtue of either breathing or having their skin exposed to this chemical...soldiers would become gay,” explained Edward Hammond of the Sunshine Project.

Department of Defense claims to have dismissed the idea at a very early stage, but Hammond doesn't believe them. “The truth of the matter is, it would have never come to my attention if it was dismissed at the time it was proposed. In fact, the Pentagon has used it repeatedly and subsequently in an effort to promote non-lethal weapons, and they submitted it to the highest scientific review body in the country for them to consider.” Nonetheless, government officials insisted again in June 2007 that no funding was awarded to the project.

It’s hard not to be fascinated by non-lethal weapons. Imagine fighting a war where nobody dies. But a gay bomb? Really? There are so many inherent problems and assumptions within this formula, it is actually terrifying to think something like this might be possible. After all, it would mean human beings, like mindless drones, are incapable of controlling their actions. And, personal agency, or free will, is totally out the window. It also assumes that gays make ineffective soldiers at best. “Throughout history we have had so many brave men and women who are gay and lesbian serving the military with distinction,” said
Geoff Kors of Equality California. “So, it’s just offensive that they think by turning people gay that the other military would be incapable of doing their job.”

Is there any medical truth behind the “gay bomb”?

Two compounds long suspected of being pheramones were tested: a testosterone derivative produced in men's sweat and an estrogen-like compound in women's urine. The estrogen-like compound activated smell-related regions in women and the hypothalamus in men. Basically, the hypothalamus governs sexual behavior and the pituitary gland’s release of hormones. Conversely, the male sweat compound activated the hypothalamus in women and the smell-related regions in men. However, when the study was repeated with homosexual men, it was discovered that gay men responded the same way as women—as if the hypothalamus’s response was determined by
sexual orientation. A similar study was performed with lesbian women where they partly shared activation of the anterior hypothalamus with heterosexual men.

Scent can influence how our brain fires, but can it control how we act? Perfumes and body spray advertisers would like us to think so. Many aphrodisiac substances contain human sexual pheromones in order to stimulate the opposite sex. “Copulins” were patented in the 1970s as
products that release human pheromones following questionable research on
rhesus monkeys. However, no data has ever supported that pheromones cause “rapid behavioral changes, such as attraction and/or copulation.” [1,2]

How Wright Laboratory planned on overcoming the small hurdle of forcing a rapid behavioral change is unclear. Their efforts were not ignored, however. The lab won the 2007
Ig Nobel Peace Prize for the “gay bomb.” Ig Nobel Prizes, a parody of the Nobel Prizes, are given away at Harvard University around the time the recipients of the genuine Nobel Prizes are announced. Ten achievements are awarded each year that "first make people laugh, and then make them think." Needless to say, the gay bomb made for a perfect nominee. By the way, no one from the DoD bothered to attend the ceremony or accept the Ig Nobel prize.

What's this mean for our military's future? I guess I should start working on my proposal for pillow fights, whoopie cushions, and water balloon grenades: Operation You Gotta Be Kidding. Do you think the DoD will give me $7.5 million?

1. Wyatt, Tristram D. (2003). Pheromones and Animal Behaviour: Communication by Smell and Taste. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p. 298 Quoting Preti & Weski (1999) "No peer reviewed data supporting the presences of...human...pheromones that cause rapid behavioral changes, such as attraction and/or copulation have been documented."

2. Bear, Mark F.; Barry W. Connors, Michael A. Paradiso (2006). Neuroscience: Exploring the Brain. p. 264 ...there has not yet been any hard evidence for human pheromones that might [change] sexual attraction (for members of either sex) [naturally].

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