The pungent science of pheromones and human attraction
People often talk about how “love is in the air.” Research shows this might be true—literally! When you enter a room, your body releases sexual chemicals that tell others about you. What scents are you putting out?
“Pheromone, rush over me like an ocean,” crooned the musician Prince on his 1994 album Come. “Pheromone, controlling my every motion.” As one of rock’s greatest sex symbols, His Royal Badness knew a thing or two about sex and attraction. But are pheromones really all they’re cracked up to be?
When you see dogs sniffing each other or a cat rubbing against her scratching post, you’re witnessing the power of pheromones. These natural chemicals carry information and prompt various social responses within specific species, and they’re produced by all animals.
That includes you and me.
Human pheromones were first discovered in the 1980s by researchers analyzing underarm sweat. Sexy, I know. But there’s an MO to the BO.
Pheromones are found in your sweat and other secretions, and some studies suggest they’re picked up by the vomeronasal organ in your nose. Your nose sends those smelly messages to your brain, and some studies suggest this may affect your mood and behaviour.
For example, an ovulating woman is thought to “smell” more attractive and pleasurable to a nearby heterosexual man, according to recent research. Do you bat for the other team? Similar results were seen among gay men.
Pheromones may also carry other types of messages. For instance, pheromones are thought to help infants and mothers identify each other. Other types of pheromones share information about someone’s mood.
So, while not all pheromones are specifically sexual, they can play a role in our attraction by telling us more about the other person. And that’s where things get interesting.
The truth is out there. While many researchers point to pheromones’ active roles in our relationships, some experts question their effectiveness and even their very existence. More research continues to be done.
Because pheromones carry many messages about someone, there’s a recurring hypothesis that it’s not just about purely sexual attraction. Those pheromones may be carrying messages about the other person’s suitability as a mate.
Some think that pheromones tell you about a person’s immune system. Several researchers hypothesize that our brains may interpret a strong immune system as attractive. Other pheromones may give us clues about someone’s DNA. You might be drawn to the other person if their DNA is sufficiently different from yours, implying your potential offspring would be healthier.
“Pheromones are an attraction primer,” explains Deanna Cobden, a relationship expert and certified dating coach in Vancouver. “It’s this thing that tells you that you might have chemistry together and you might be able to make healthy babies together, which of course helps with attraction.”
Michael Holick, chief of endocrinology at Boston University’s School of Medicine, agrees. According to an interview with the university, Holick says attraction is likely 50 percent pheromones and other chemicals, and 50 percent emotion. The chemicals come first, although most of us never truly notice. After that comes endorphins and other brain chemicals, as well as your intention to make that relationship a reality.
If pheromones spark that initial eye contact across the room, what follows is far more important.
From pheromone-infused perfumes to patches that you stick to your skin, sex shops and dating sites are full of ads promising the next sexual revolution. Don’t fall for these gimmicks. Researchers have been unable to isolate specific human pheromone compounds, and there’s not enough research backing these products’ claims.
Pheromones may be powerful, but we’re not helpless. In fact, quite the opposite.
“Intention is huge,” says Cobden. She cautions that pheromones aren’t a magic trick. They don’t promise you’ll have a relationship beyond the initial attraction.
“There’s the initial science side and then there’s your intention and energy,” says Cobden. “Pheromones might tell you that you have some sort of compatibility. It can get your foot in the door. But if you don’t have the skills or the right mindset to grow that relationship and come to it from an emotionally intelligent, healthy, happy place, you’re not going to have a successful relationship.”
Instead of focusing on what chemicals your body puts out into the air, Cobden recommends being conscious of what you put out into your energy field.
“Survey after survey and study after study show that confidence is the sexiest, most attractive quality anybody can have,” she points out. “And that’s really what you have to develop. It’s a confidence in who you are and how you show up every day.
“You are 100 percent responsible for your life, and you get to choose whether you pursue an attraction or not,” says Cobden. “Love is a decision. Love is something that you participate in. It’s not passive. Real love is what happens after ‘falling’ in love. It’s the choices you make every day to choose each other.”
So, as we wait for more research on pheromones and exactly how these chemicals affect our behaviours and our moods, only one question remains: Who do you choose?
This Valentine’s Day, use these natural remedies to give Cupid a run for his money.
There’s limited but emerging data that shows how some herbal remedies may improve libido and sexual health, including maca, tribulus, ginkgo, and ginseng. Remember to always check with your health care practitioner before trying a new supplement to ensure it’s right for you.
Vitamin D deficiency is associated with sexual dysfunction, in part due to how it affects your testosterone and estrogen levels. According to 2013 data, a third of Canadians may not get enough vitamin D, so you may want to get your levels checked!
Ashwagandha, used in Indian alternative medicine, has long been used to improve erectile dysfunction and performance anxiety in men, as well as decrease cortisol levels.