Sexy Science

GIVEN the theme of this column, I felt it appropriate that I mention the release this week of burlesque stri pper Dita Von Teese's film, The Science of Sexy, which launches her new range of underwear.

In the mock sci-fi film Dita is a mousey scientist and, while she's sitting in the lab looking down a microscope, she discovers the gene for sexy. A sumptuous bra materialises before her eyes, her lab coat falls away and she transforms into an alluring Teese with a cleavage to die for.

It doesn't much resemble the goings-on in any science lab I've been in, but does raise the question why some women like to display their bosoms? Well, that's obvious – it's because men find that sexy and it makes women feel sexy. OK, then, why do men find that sexy? Why are men suckers for big boobs?

In case you need confirmation that men are obsessed with women's chests, Kelly Suschinsky, of the University of Saskatchewan in Canada, and her colleagues showed a lot of men various images of women and checked which bits they looked at using an infra-red eye tracker. By far the most attention was given to the head and breasts. And it makes sense really, because breasts are a good indicator of fertility, the quality that men have evolved to home in on and value in potential mates. A study led by Grazyna Jasienska of Jagiellonian University in Poland showed that larger-breasted women have higher levels of oestrogen, one of the hormones responsible for fertility in women. Basically, this means that if a man has sex with a well-stacked woman, he might have more chance of impregnating her.

But on the authority of a few male pals of mine, plus an ex-lapdancer, who really ought to know, men vary in their preferences for breast size. Not all guys go for the whopping mugumbos and, for some, pertness is more important than size, which makes sense because this is linked to age and fitness.

French first lady, Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, has the guys agog with their tongues hanging out, but, as we all got to see from her nude picture released to the papers just ahead of the recent French presidential visit to the UK, she's not, as they say, bien fournie au balcon. However, as Bruni-Sarkozy demonstrates, there are other attractive feminine qualities that indicate high oestrogen levels; big eyes, fine facial features and a small waist compared with hip size.

A study by Miriam Law Smith, of St Andrews University, showed that women with high levels of circulating oestrogen have more feminine, attractive faces, and the Polish study demonstrated a link between high oestrogen and a small waist-to-hip ratio (WHR). Jasienska says that WHR might be a better indicator of fertility than breast size, since it is linked with high progesterone levels as well, which is the hormone that maintains pregnancy.

Not only that, but women with a small waist, along with ample butt and thighs, may well be better at nourishing their unborn baby. Lower-body fat is high in omega-3 fatty acids and these get mobilised during pregnancy for foetal brain development, while fat around the waist is a risk factor for diseases such as diabetes and obesity.

So, why did the guys in the infrared eye tracker experiment spend so much time looking at the women's breasts – why didn't they spend more time looking at waists and hips? In fact, the Canadian researchers found that the subjects looked mainly at the images of women with smaller WHRs. So it seemed they selected their target on the basis of this, and then homed in on the finer details of face and boobs.

Of course, breasts are nice, as are other parts of women's bodies. The job of sexy underwear is to help us to emphasise the important bits. And in The Science of Sexy Dita Von Teese certainly knows how to make the most of her assets.