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.
Women have come a long way in redefining beauty to be more inclusive of different body types, skin colors and hair styles, but society's beauty standards still remain as high as we have always known them to be. In the workplace, professionalism is directly linked to the appearance of both men and women, but for women, the expectations and requirements needed to fit the part are far stricter. Unlike men, there exists a direct correlation between beauty and respect that women are forced to acknowledge, and in turn comply with, in order to succeed.
Before stepping foot into the workforce, women who choose to opt out of conventional beauty and grooming regiments are immediately at a disadvantage. A recent Forbes article analyzing the attractiveness bias at work cited a comprehensive academic review for its study on the benefits attractive adults receive in the labor market. A summary of the review stated, "'Physically attractive individuals are more likely to be interviewed for jobs and hired, they are more likely to advance rapidly in their careers through frequent promotions, and they earn higher wages than unattractive individuals.'" With attractiveness and success so tightly woven together, women often find themselves adhering to beauty standards they don't agree with in order to secure their careers.
Complying with modern beauty standards may be what gets your foot in the door in the corporate world, but once you're in, you are expected to maintain your appearance or risk being perceived as unprofessional. While it may not seem like a big deal, this double standard has become a hurdle for businesswomen who are forced to fit this mold in order to earn respect that men receive regardless of their grooming habits. Liz Elting, Founder and CEO of the Elizabeth Elting Foundation, is all too familiar with conforming to the beauty culture in order to command respect, and has fought throughout the course of her entrepreneurial journey to override this gender bias.
As an internationally-recognized women's advocate, Elting has made it her mission to help women succeed on their own, but she admits that little progress can be made until women reclaim their power and change the narrative surrounding beauty and success. In 2016, sociologists Jaclyn Wong and Andrew Penner conducted a study on the positive association between physical attractiveness and income. Their results concluded that "attractive individuals earn roughly 20 percent more than people of average attractiveness," not including controlling for grooming. The data also proves that grooming accounts entirely for the attractiveness premium for women as opposed to only half for men. With empirical proof that financial success in directly linked to women's' appearance, Elting's desire to have women regain control and put an end to beauty standards in the workplace is necessary now more than ever.
Although the concepts of beauty and attractiveness are subjective, the consensus as to what is deemed beautiful, for women, is heavily dependent upon how much effort she makes towards looking her best. According to Elting, men do not need to strive to maintain their appearance in order to earn respect like women do, because while we appreciate a sharp-dressed man in an Armani suit who exudes power and influence, that same man can show up to at a casual office in a t-shirt and jeans and still be perceived in the same light, whereas women will not. "Men don't have to demonstrate that they're allowed to be in public the way women do. It's a running joke; show up to work without makeup, and everyone asks if you're sick or have insomnia," says Elting. The pressure to look our best in order to be treated better has also seeped into other areas of women's lives in which we sometimes feel pressured to make ourselves up in situations where it isn't required such as running out to the supermarket.
So, how do women begin the process of overriding this bias? Based on personal experience, Elting believes that women must step up and be forceful. With sexism so rampant in workplace, respect for women is sometimes hard to come across and even harder to earn. "I was frequently assumed to be my co-founder's secretary or assistant instead of the person who owned the other half of the company. And even in business meetings where everyone knew that, I would still be asked to be the one to take notes or get coffee," she recalls. In effort to change this dynamic, Elting was left to claim her authority through self-assertion and powering over her peers when her contributions were being ignored. What she was then faced with was the alternate stereotype of the bitchy executive. She admits that teetering between the caregiver role or the bitch boss on a power trip is frustrating and offensive that these are the two options businesswomen are left with.
Despite the challenges that come with standing your ground, women need to reclaim their power for themselves and each other. "I decided early on that I wanted to focus on being respected rather than being liked. As a boss, as a CEO, and in my personal life, I stuck my feet in the ground, said what I wanted to say, and demanded what I needed – to hell with what people think," said Elting. In order for women to opt out of ridiculous beauty standards, we have to own all the negative responses that come with it and let it make us stronger– and we don't have to do it alone. For men who support our fight, much can be achieved by pushing back and policing themselves and each other when women are being disrespected. It isn't about chivalry, but respecting women's right to advocate for ourselves and take up space.
For Elting, her hope is to see makeup and grooming standards become an optional choice each individual makes rather than a rule imposed on us as a form of control. While she states she would never tell anyone to stop wearing makeup or dressing in a way that makes them feel confident, the slumping shoulders of a woman resigned to being belittled looks far worse than going without under-eye concealer. Her advice to women is, "If you want to navigate beauty culture as an entrepreneur, the best thing you can be is strong in the face of it. It's exactly the thing they don't want you to do. That means not being afraid to be a bossy, bitchy, abrasive, difficult woman – because that's what a leader is."