Chemistry of Sex, Toothpaste, and Armpits

John Emsley bookI started a book on the chemistry of sex once…didn’t get very far, it was too distracting and working from home with my wife meant one thing led to another too often for us to knuckle down to the online research. TMI? Sorry.

Anyway, my good friend John Emsley who has been pounding the chemistry writing beat a lot longer even than me has just published another fascinating title on the chemistry and chemicals that underpins cosmetics, grooming, health, food, and, of course, sex.

In Better Looking, Better Living, Better Loving takes the novel tack of introducing each chapter with a mock news item about the next big thing in the various areas he covers, explaining how near-future chemistry used to develop the perfect toothpaste might develop and put dentists out of business, for instance, or a deodorant that could biochemically convert armpit odors into attractant pheromones. His news items are certainly tongue-in-cheek, but they do point to the very real ways in which chemistry impacts on almost every aspect of our lives.

Emsley tours plenty of the recent advances in chemistry, taking in the cosmetic factory, the pharmacy, the grooming salon, the diet clinic, the power plant, the domestic cleaning company, and the art gallery along the way. The tour is for anyone wanting to know more about the true impact of chemical products on our everyday lives, not just the nasties of tabloid scare-stories. Indeed, Emsley puts to rest several of the more ludicrous claims made for the effects of certain chemicals on our health and the environment.

He covers whether homeopathic medicines really work (you can probably guess his answer), the myth of date rape drugs, how the toxic chemical acrylamide gets into our food, and whether great
artists were affected by the poisonous pigments they used in their masterpieces.

With his informal, if deadpan, style, Emsley links his incredibly strong chemical knowledge to fun
situations, with a sneaky sideways glance or a roll of the eyes. Anyone suffering from chemophobia should read this. Anyone already singing with the chemical choir should read this. In fact, everyone should read this. Chemicals impact on all our lives, mostly in a positive way, rarely in a negative way (seriously). Emsley will help you understand the arguments on both sides, weigh up the risks and benefits, and make your own decisions about the chemistry of food, cosmetics, health, and, of course, sex.

9 thoughts on “Chemistry of Sex, Toothpaste, and Armpits”

  1. @John There has been a lot of research over the years on this, including work that links MHC (major histocompatibility complex), natural body odour, and attraction, and so genetics. PubMed for searching….

  2. I have been wondering about a service that matches couples on their genetic diversity following a study, ( and I am not making this up) on British women who smelled the shirts of men and picked the one which smelled the most sexy to them. The results pointed out that women picked the men that were the most genetically diverse. Anyone who knows about these studies I would be curious to find out more.

  3. JohnX, I’m all for receiving chemically concocted gifts, a 1787 Chateau Lafite, perhaps, but I’d settle for a bottle of half-decent Pinot Grigio too ;-)

  4. Sara is right. Reading, for example a NYT Review makes one feel as if he/she just read the book. Now I must purchase the book. Mr. Bradley might consider a rewarding gift, say, a bottle of your favorite blended chemical concoction.

  5. Why thank you…isn’t that what a review is destined to do, either suggest that you buy the book (in this case) or not if it’s a negative review. I have to say in the strongest terms that there is certainly nothing boring about chemistry- it underpins almost every aspect of our lives, as I said, from birth to growing up, sex and childbirth to death and beyond (think decay, embalming, life cycles). Of course, some of that chemistry gets given fancy labels like molecular biology, but it is all chemistry nevertheless.

  6. Another coincidence. I’m taking chem this summer and finding many of your articles coincide with what I am learning! I’ve also taken A&P and micro and I find I understand more here than I had expected. Science is so cool!

  7. You’re such a tease! You shared just enough information to make it nearly impossible for me to not go buy the book right now. What a great review. Somehow you’ve made something as boring as chemicals sound sexy and interesting.


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