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Smell Ya Later

November 13, 2015

Looking for love? Throw away those personal ads. Cancel your online dating service. You’ve already got what it takes to find a mate. Just take a deep breath…through your nose. (This article was originally published in Uncle John’s Weird Weird World EPIC.)


The Power of Pheromones

The word comes from the Greek words phero, “I carry,” and hormone, “to excite.” So pheromone literally means “I carry excitement.” And they do. Pheromones are chemicals that send signals between members of the same species. In animals and insects, pheromones can command sexual arousal or sexual receptivity. Humans have more of a choice—or at least they think they do. Pheromones are supposedly odorless, but mammals detect them with an organ inside the nose—called the vomeronasal organ (VNO)—a pair of microscopic pits on the skin inside the nostrils. When the VNO picks up a chemical order from pheromones, get out of the way!

The Birds and the Bees (and Cockroaches)

Scientists first stumbled onto nose power when they studied pheromones in animals and insects.

  • Male mice emit pheromones so potent they actually promote the sexual development of nearby female mice.
  • A male moth can detect the pheromones of a female moth from more than a mile away—it has no choice but to fly toward her.
  • Male cockroaches may be the most pheromone-crazy creatures of all. When a glass rod is doused with female cockroach pheromones, the males try to mate with the rod.

Guys in Sweaty T-Shirts

But how does all this apply to us? Human love is deep and spiritual—right? Skeptics claim that the VNO isn’t functional in adult humans; it can’t possibly react to pheromones. Here’s what the research has revealed:

  • Underarm sweat has a pheromone component produced by the chemical androstenol. An experiment showed that exposure to androstenol made females more inclined to have social interactions with males (easy, boys, that’s social interactions).
  • When women were asked to smell unwashed T-shirts worn by different men, they liked the smell of men whose immune systems were different from their own. Since different genes emit different smells, the women may have been sniffing for an evolutionary advantage—acombination of immune-system genes that would be better at fighting off infections.
  • Extracts of skin cells with pheromones contained in open flasks made people (male and female) warmer and friendlier. When the flasks were closed, the camaraderie faded.
  • Pheromone-laced perfume increased women’s sexual attractiveness. Women got more requests for dates and sexual intimacy.
  • A set of female twins—one doused with pheromones, the other with witch hazel—secretly traded places at a singles’ bar. The one wearing the pheromones was approached nearly three times as often as her witch hazel–wearing sister.
  • Men “under the influence” of pheromones found plain women more attractive—and beautiful women less so.

Stop Paying Through the Nose

There are lots of pheromone products on the market, but are they really the love potions they purport to be? Scientists aren’t sure. One thing they agree on is that the nose plays an important part in mating. People who are born blind or deaf engage in normal sexual behavior, but people born with no sense of smell tend to have diminished sexual behavior.


Further research revealed that men were most aroused when they caught a whiff of lavender combined with pumpkin pie. Women went wild over licorice and cucumber. Women were definitely turned off by the scent of cherries and barbecue smoke. What smells turned men off? Well, none, actually. It seems it’s pretty tough to discourage a guy who’s got love on his…nose.


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