Smelling good is a surefire way to attract new mates, but are pheromones the real secret to becoming sexually irresistible?
Pheromone products are a popular sexual aid, with the touted chemicals often incorporated into scented things like cologne, hair gel, bath bombs, and even incense. Some claim to be odorless, alcohol-based liquids chock-full of secret chemical signals that promise to thrill the opposite sex. Or the same sex – since you can find a healthy selection of pheromone products marketed toward gay men, too. Lesbians, though, are apparently out of luck for now.
What are pheromones?
You’ve probably already seen the claims: “Your stealth dating weapon!” “Boost your confidence and attract that special someone!” And, most seductively: “scientifically proven to get you laid!” They’re advertised as an all-natural, subtle yet compelling aphrodisiac, but what exactly are pheromones? And how do they work – if they work at all?
Biologically speaking, pheromones are chemical signals emitted by animals for the purpose of communication and/or influencing behavior. The word itself is a mash-up of “hormone” and the Greek word “to carry.” So essentially, pheromones are compounds that act like hormones but are “carried” outside the body. They can be used to mark territory, signal danger, or lay a trail to food. “Sex” pheromones, on the other hand, are used to attract mates and signal availability.
The birds and the bees.
Most identifiable sex pheromones are used by insect species, which is why they’re often utilized for pest control. Just set up a trap, bait it with pheromones, and watch pests fly to their demise instead of gobbling up your precious agricultural investment.
Sex pheromones in vertebrates, however, are a touchier topic. According to the latest research, wild boars and sows use them to signal their sexual availability, as do mice. The anal glands of ferrets, minks, and skunks (yes, skunks) are also thought to carry compounds that sometimes function as sexual signals. Thus, the first sexual pheromone product on the market might actually be one of those old-fashioned perfumes made with genuine musk scraped from the anal gland of the civet cat. Sexy, right?
The myth behind scented pheromones.
Many tend to think that pheromones are always scent-based, which is not so. Some pheromones have an odor, but others do not, which is why your magic pheromone sex aid can market itself as “effective, yet odorless!” Part of the reason this myth developed is because one of the organs that may be used to detect pheromones in mammals – known as the vomeronasal organ (VNO) or Jacobson’s organ – is usually located at the base of the nostrils, or between the nose and mouth.
Do pheromones work in humans?
The VNO in humans appears to be vestigial at best, and some adults seem to lack it completely. So much for the magic of pheromones, eh? But wait! All is not lost.
It’s clear that in some cases humans can detect chemical signals that have real, measurable effects. Most famously, women’s menstrual cycles seem to sync up due to subconscious olfactory cues. The chemical “cause” of this effect is still unknown, but there’s no doubt that the phenomenon is real and reproducible. Other studies have hinted that women are more receptive to various pheromones during ovulation. So, is it that much of a stretch to believe you could subtly signal your sexual availability via chemical cues? Or, even better, gently encourage someone else to loosen up thanks to a well-placed dab or two of a pheromone-based product?
Don’t knock it till you try it.
The chemical you’ll find in most pheromone products is known as androstenone, the first proved mammalian pheromone to be isolated in the lab. It definitely has an odor, although descriptions of it range from “sweet” and “woody,” to “urine-like.” It’s found primarily in the sweat and saliva of wild boars, and in that species, it’s definitely used as a sexual signal that causes sows in heat to prepare themselves for mating. Androstenone is found in human sweat, too, so it’s considered the leading candidate for a true human sexual hormone. Unfortunately, while it seems that most, if not all people can detect the scent of androstenone, its behavioral effects remain undiscovered.
One way pheromones may work in humans (and other mammals) is as a relaxant. Some scientific studies show that women exposed to androstenone report feeling calmer and more receptive. (The effect is even stronger in dogs, with androstenone now being marketed to mellow out anxious barkers.) We all know that sometimes getting in the mood relies on alleviating tension more than anything else. This is why the shoulder massage is such an effective, if overused, “get-to-know-you-better” maneuver. It’s also why a cocktail or two can help lubricate a hot date. Can a dab of pheromone cologne have the same effect? The jury is still out, but it can’t hurt to try.
So, do they work?
While pheromones may have some small-scale benefits, don’t expect attractive lads and ladies to start throwing themselves at your feet and ripping their clothes off. Pheromone effects, if they exist, are subtle – or else they wouldn’t be so difficult to pinpoint scientifically. But even if all they do is raise your confidence level, in the end, it can’t hurt anything but your wallet to try. Like the finest perfumes, quality pheromone products can get pricey. Furthermore, you never know what’s really in that little glass bottle. If you can’t see it, taste it, or smell it, it’s easy to peddle something as a pheromone-laced love bomb when really it’s just rubbing alcohol. Buyer beware!
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