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.
During a recent meeting on Microsoft Teams, I couldn't seem to get a single word out.
When I tried to chime in, I kept getting interrupted. At one point two individuals talked right over me and over each other. When I thought it was finally my turn, someone else parachuted in from out of nowhere. When I raised and waved my hand as if I was in grade school to be called on (yes, I had my camera on) we swiftly moved on to the next topic. And then, completely frustrated, I stayed on mute for the remainder of the meeting. I even momentarily shut off my camera to devour the rest of my heavily bruised, brown banana. (No one needed to see that.)
This wasn't the first time I had struggled to find my voice. Since elementary school, I always preferring the back seat unless the teacher assigned me a seat in the front. In high school, I did piles of extra credit or mini-reports to offset my 0% in class participation. In college, I went into each lecture nauseous and with wasted prayers — wishing and hoping that I wouldn't be cold-called on by the professor.
By the time I got to Corporate America, it was clear that if I wanted to lead, I needed to pull my chair up (and sometimes bring my own), sit right at the table front and center, and ask for others to make space for me. From then on, I found my voice and never stop using it.
But now, all of a sudden, in this forced social experiment of mass remote working, I was having trouble being heard… again. None of the coaching I had given myself and other women on finding your voice seemed to work when my voice was being projected across a conference call and not a conference room.
I couldn't read any body language. I couldn't see if others were about to jump in and I should wait or if it was my time to speak. They couldn't see if I had something to say. For our Microsoft teams setting, you can only see a few faces on your screen, the rest are icons at the bottom of the window with a static picture or even just their name. And, even then, I couldn't see some people simply because they wouldn't turn their cameras on.
If I did get a chance to speak and cracked a funny joke, well, I didn't hear any laughing. Most people were on mute. Or maybe the joke wasn't that funny?
At one point, I could hear some heavy breathing and the unwrapping of (what I could only assume was) a candy bar. I imagined it was a Nestle Crunch Bar as my tummy rumbled in response to the crinkling of unwrapped candy. (There is a right and a wrong time to mute, people.)
At another point, I did see one face nodding at me blankly.
They say that remote working will be good for women. They say it will level the playing field. They say it will be more inclusive. But it won't be for me and others if I don't speak up now.
- Start with turning your camera on and encouraging others to do the same. I was recently in a two-person meeting. My camera was on, but the other person wouldn't turn theirs on. In that case, ten minutes in, I turned my camera off. You can't stare at my fuzzy eyebrows and my pile of laundry in the background if I can't do the same to you. When you have a willing participant, you'd be surprised by how helpful it can be to make actual eye contact with someone, even on a computer (and despite the fuzzy eyebrows).
- Use the chatbox. Enter in your questions. Enter in your comments. Dialogue back and forth. Type in a joke. I did that recently and someone entered back a laughing face — reaffirming that I was, indeed, funny.
- Designate a facilitator for the meeting: someone leading, coaching, and guiding. On my most recent call, a leader went around ensuring everyone was able to contribute fairly. She also ensured she asked for feedback on a specific topic and helped move the discussion around so no one person took up all the airtime.
- Unmute yourself. Please don't just sit there on mute for the entire meeting. Jump in and speak up. You will be interrupted. You will interrupt others. But don't get frustrated or discouraged — this is what work is now — just keep showing up and contributing.
- Smile, and smile big. Nod your head in agreement. Laugh. Give a thumbs up; give two! Wave. Make a heart with your hands. Signal to others on the call who are contributing that you support and value them. They will do the same in return when your turn comes to contribute.
It's too easy to keep your camera turned off. It's too easy to stay on mute. It's too easy to disappear. But now is not the time to disappear. Now is the time to stay engaged and networked within our organizations and communities.
So please don't put yourself on mute.
Well, actually, please do put yourself on mute so I don't have to hear your heavy breathing, candy bar crunching, or tinkling bathroom break.
But after that, please take yourself off mute so you can reclaim your seat (and your voice) at the table.