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Pheromones 101: All of Your Questions Answered

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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.

3 min read
Lifestyle

Help! My Friend Is a No Show

Email armchairpsychologist@swaaymedia.com to get the advice you need!

Help! My Friend Is a No Show

Dear Armchair Psychologist,

I have a friend who doesn't reply to my messages about meeting for dinner, etc. Although, last week I ran into her at a local restaurant of mine, it has always been awkward to be friends with her. Should I continue our friendship or discontinue it? We've been friends for a total four years and nothing has changed. I don't feel as comfortable with her as my other close friends, and I don't think I'll ever be able to reach that comfort zone in pure friendship.

-Sadsies

Dear Sadsies,

I am sorry to hear you've been neglected by your friend. You may already have the answer to your question, since you're evaluating the non-existing bond between yourself and your friend. However, I'll gladly affirm to you that a friendship that isn't reciprocated is not a good friendship.



I have had a similar situation with a friend whom I'd grown up with but who was also consistently a very negative person, a true Debby Downer. One day, I just had enough of her criticism and vitriol. I stopped making excuses for her and dumped her. It was a great decision and I haven't looked back. With that in mind, it could be possible that something has changed in your friend's life, but it's insignificant if she isn't responding to you. It's time to dump her and spend your energy where it's appreciated. Don't dwell on this friend. History is not enough to create a lasting bond, it only means just that—you and your friend have history—so let her be history!



- The Armchair Psychologist

Need more armchair psychologist in your life? Check out the last installment or emailarmchairpsychologist@swaaymedia.com to get some advice of your own!