Anyone who has attempted dating over the past few years and has done a bit of research on the topic has probably come across the term pheromones.
Pheromones are often mentioned as magical, mystical compounds that can immediately attract a partner.
Obviously, many of these claims are far-fetched in an attempt to sell pheromone perfumes. While the science is there, we still have to learn a lot about pheromones. In addition, a chemical signal obviously isn't enough to attract and marry the man of your life.
So what exactly are pheromones and is the hype justified? We're on a mission to find the answers to these questions today.
What Are Pheromones and How Are They Released?
Highly interested in romantic chemistry, I started working on the basics first.
It doesn't get any more basic than answering the question what the heck are pheromones?
Reputable sources suggest that pheromones are chemicals that animals, including humans, produce. They're somewhat similar to hormones. The main difference between the two is that hormones work internally on an organism while pheromones work externally on another being.
This is the reason why pheromones are classified as ectohormones or external hormones.
Pheromones have several very important functions in the animal kingdom. These include:
- Signaling a food trail to other members of the herd or pack
- Signaling danger
- Triggering sexual arousal and attraction
- Marking the territory of one male
- Warning other animals to back off from a specific area
- Strengthening the bond between mom and baby
Most of these don't really affect humans. The one function of pheromones we're all interested in is sexual arousal.
How exactly does it work?
Pheromones are released from various glands. In mammals, these are modified skin glands located in different parts of the body. In some instances, pheromones could be produced by internal organs.
Once released, these chemical signals have to be detected by another creature to produce the desired result.
In humans, the organ responsible for that function is the vomeronasal organ (VNO). Also called Jacobson's organ, VNO is located in the nose and it sends signals directly to the hypothalamus in the brain.
The VNO consists of pits but research suggests that it largely atrophies before birth (regardless of the fact that the VNO appears like a functional organ in fetuses). Thus, researchers have concluded that the human VNO doesn't do an awful lot. When people respond, they're probably drawn to olfactory stimuli rather than pheromones.
The Role of Pheromones in Attraction
Imagine the following scenario. You text someone on DoULike. Both of you seem to be interested so you schedule a real-life date. You spritz on some pheromone perfume to bring the attraction to the next level. Should you anticipate immediate sparks?
Human pheromones were clearly detected by scientific teams in 1986 through the collection of underarm sweat. This research actually began in the 1970s to explain an interesting phenomenon.
The lead researcher Dr. Winifred Cutler and her team found out that women having sex regularly experienced more regular menstruation than those who didn't. Researchers concluded that the male sexual partners of these women brought something to the equation, helping for the stabilization of estrogen levels.
Eventually, researchers concluded that the male pheromones contributed to the previously inexplicable physiological occurrence.
Pheromones in the world of human sexual attraction, however, haven't been explained that well by science.
In fact, the scientific community hasn't reached a consensus about the ability of humans to secrete pheromones at all. While the role of such ectohormones has been clearly studied in mammals, there isn't a lot of evidence when it comes to human sexuality and attraction.
Companies producing pheromone compounds often quote clinical trials to boost sales. Many of these experiments, however, involve very small groups of people, they're not double-blind, placebo-controlled or peer-reviewed.
In 2015, University of Oxford zoologist Tristram Wyatt argued there is no scientific evidence for claiming human compounds released from skin glands are pheromones at all. Subsequent studies of compounds like androstenone and androstenol (two of the pheromones found most often in the composition of pheromone perfumes) found out these aren't effective in measurable way when it comes to promoting attraction.
Evidence is much more convincing of human pheromones that don't play a role in sexual attraction.
Menstrual synchronism, for example, is one actual phenomenon that can be explained through the secretion of chemical compounds.
In fact, researchers believe that such studies and the incredible effect can be used to develop natural fertility solutions for couples that want to conceive and even pheromone-based contraceptive for those who want to practice safe sex.
Based on all of this research, I reached a simple conclusion.
Do pheromones work to help you attract Mr. Right? Probably not! Can they be beneficial in other ways we're still unaware of? Most likely!
How Are Our Habits Affecting Pheromones
Keep in mind that even if we secrete pheromones, contemporary hygiene and personal hygiene habits are having a profound negative effect.
Much like sweat, pheromones are secreted from skin glands.
This means that the more washing you do, the more you're getting rid of the natural chemicals that are signaling important things to the rest of the world.
Should you stop showering, then?
I don't really believe that washing your body less often would do the trick. The way we live today, however, provides some additional information on why pheromones aren't really playing a major role in attraction.
Amplifying Pheromone Levels: Is That Even Possible?
Based on the previous section, it's obvious that one of the ways to amplify pheromone levels is to shower less often. For most people, however, this idea isn't going to deliver optimal results.
I decided to take a look at the pheromone perfumes and products advertised on multiple websites.
There have been several accounts written by people who decided to test out pheromone perfumes (check out this one and this one). While incredibly unscientific, these stories capture the experience of two people who bought into the hype.
Androstenone, androstenol and the other pheromones commonly featured in the composition of pheromone perfumes have only been studied on pigs. There is no evidence from human trials that they contribute to sexual arousal or attraction.
Some researchers believe that pheromone perfumes could have an indirect impact on desire.
Pleasant scents can elicit a pleasant emotional response. This response can eventually contribute to elevated interest in a person and sexual desire. Thus, people are responding to the scent of pheromone perfumes rather than the so-called sex hormones in the bottle.
What's the final verdict?
If you want people to like you, choose a nice perfume and shower more often.
There isn't any convincing and reputable evidence about the effectiveness of pheromones. Could our bodies produce such compounds? Probably. Are we capable of detecting pheromones through our VNO? That's a bit more questionable.
Buying into the hype will have you spending money on products you probably don't need.
Rather, focus on learning what you want from a partner, improving your communication skills and getting out there more. Have fun with dating and don't look for a secret potion that will make the magic happen. I definitely believe it takes a bit more than a chemical reaction to get the butterflies in your stomach.
For decades, women have been unknowingly suffering from PSD and intergenerational trauma, but now Dr. Valerie Rein wants women to reclaim their power through mind, body and healing tools.
As women, no matter how many accomplishments we have or how successful we look on the outside, we all occasionally hear that nagging internal voice telling us to do more. We criticize ourselves more than anyone else and then throw ourselves into the never-ending cycle of self-care, all in effort to save ourselves from crashing into this invisible internal wall. According to psychologist, entrepreneur and author, Dr. Valerie Rein, these feelings are not your fault and there is nothing wrong with you— but chances are you definitely suffering from Patriarchy Stress Disorder.
Patriarchy Stress Disorder (PSD) is defined as the collective inherited trauma of oppression that forms an invisible inner barrier to women's happiness and fulfillment. The term was coined by Rein who discovered a missing link between trauma and the effects that patriarchal power structures have had on certain groups of people all throughout history up until the present day. Her life experience, in addition to research, have led Rein to develop a deeper understanding of the ways in which men and women are experiencing symptoms of trauma and stress that have been genetically passed down from previously oppressed generations.
What makes the discovery of this disorder significant is that it provides women with an answer to the stresses and trauma we feel but cannot explain or overcome. After being admitted to the ER with stroke-like symptoms one afternoon, when Rein noticed the left side of her body and face going numb, she was baffled to learn from her doctors that the results of her tests revealed that her stroke-like symptoms were caused by stress. Rein was then left to figure out what exactly she did for her clients in order for them to be able to step into the fullness of themselves that she was unable to do for herself. "What started seeping through the tears was the realization that I checked all the boxes that society told me I needed to feel happy and fulfilled, but I didn't feel happy or fulfilled and I didn't feel unhappy either. I didn't feel much of anything at all, not even stress," she stated.
Photo Courtesy of Dr. Valerie Rein
This raised the question for Rein as to what sort of hidden traumas women are suppressing without having any awareness of its presence. In her evaluation of her healing methodology, Rein realized that she was using mind, body and trauma healing tools with her clients because, while they had never experienced a traumatic event, they were showing the tell-tale symptoms of trauma which are described as a disconnect from parts of ourselves, body and emotions. In addition to her personal evaluation, research at the time had revealed that traumatic experiences are, in fact, passed down genetically throughout generations. This was Rein's lightbulb moment. The answer to a very real problem that she, and all women, have been experiencing is intergenerational trauma as a result of oppression formed under the patriarchy.
Although Rein's discovery would undoubtably change the way women experience and understand stress, it was crucial that she first broaden the definition of trauma not with the intention of catering to PSD, but to better identify the ways in which trauma presents itself in the current generation. When studying psychology from the books and diagnostic manuals written exclusively by white men, trauma was narrowly defined as a life-threatening experience. By that definition, not many people fit the bill despite showing trauma-like symptoms such as disconnections from parts of their body, emotions and self-expression. However, as the field of psychology has expanded, more voices have been joining the conversations and expanding the definition of trauma based on their lived experience. "I have broadened the definition to say that any experience that makes us feel unsafe psychically or emotionally can be traumatic," stated Rein. By redefining trauma, people across the gender spectrum are able to find validation in their experiences and begin their journey to healing these traumas not just for ourselves, but for future generations.
While PSD is not experienced by one particular gender, as women who have been one of the most historically disadvantaged and oppressed groups, we have inherited survival instructions that express themselves differently for different women. For some women, this means their nervous systems freeze when faced with something that has been historically dangerous for women such as stepping into their power, speaking out, being visible or making a lot of money. Then there are women who go into fight or flight mode. Although they are able to stand in the spotlight, they pay a high price for it when their nervous system begins to work in a constant state of hyper vigilance in order to keep them safe. These women often find themselves having trouble with anxiety, intimacy, sleeping or relaxing without a glass of wine or a pill. Because of this, adrenaline fatigue has become an epidemic among high achieving women that is resulting in heightened levels of stress and anxiety.
"For the first time, it makes sense that we are not broken or making this up, and we have gained this understanding by looking through the lens of a shared trauma. All of these things have been either forbidden or impossible for women. A woman's power has always been a punishable offense throughout history," stated Rein.
Although the idea of having a disorder may be scary to some and even potentially contribute to a victim mentality, Rein wants people to be empowered by PSD and to see it as a diagnosis meant to validate your experience by giving it a name, making it real and giving you a means to heal yourself. "There are still experiences in our lives that are triggering PSD and the more layers we heal, the more power we claim, the more resilience we have and more ability we have in staying plugged into our power and happiness. These triggers affect us less and less the more we heal," emphasized Rein. While the task of breaking intergenerational transmission of trauma seems intimidating, the author has flipped the negative approach to the healing journey from a game of survival to the game of how good can it get.
In her new book, Patriarchy Stress Disorder: The Invisible Barrier to Women's Happiness and Fulfillment, Rein details an easy system for healing that includes the necessary tools she has sourced over 20 years on her healing exploration with the pioneers of mind, body and trauma resolution. Her 5-step system serves to help "Jailbreakers" escape the inner prison of PSD and other hidden trauma through the process of Waking Up in Prison, Meeting the Prison Guards, Turning the Prison Guards into Body Guards, Digging the Tunnel to Freedom and Savoring Freedom. Readers can also find free tools on Rein's website to help aid in their healing journey and exploration.
"I think of the book coming out as the birth of a movement. Healing is not women against men– it's women, men and people across the gender spectrum, coming together in a shared understanding that we all have trauma and we can all heal."