A pheromone is a chemical that is either secreted or excreted by a member of a species in order to create a social or physical response within other members of that same species. These pheromones are used by many species as a method of remote communication. For example, there are pheromones that will trigger an attack response, a follow response, or even a sexual response. It is pheromones that identify food trails for insects and it is pheromones that an Africanized honey bee will leave on a victim as a signal of where the other bees should attack.
While entomologists may find all of this fascinating, for the rest of the world the interest in pheromones is on their impact between humans. While most advertisements involving pheromones focus on sexual attraction, it is not beyond reason to say that people are interested in pheromones for all of the ways in which they can be used to influence behaviors, feelings, and actions.
From the first studies on pheromones and mammals through modern day findings it was initially thought that pheromones work through the vomeronasal organ. The vomeronasal organ is a chemosensory organ that is found within the nasal septum, at its base. There is some debate about the interaction of the vomeronasal organ in adults, but its mere existence has formed the foundation for much of the human pheromone research. Other researchers have determined that they do not need an operable vomeronasal organ to verify findings that pheromones have an affect on humans. For these researchers, observing the affect is enough to justify their publishing study findings. Understanding how the affects are formed, that is to them, the subject for future studies.
Pheromones In Our Sweat
While much of the scientific community was debating whether pheromones could impact sexual behavior, Dr Winifred Cutler, a behavioral endocrinologist was able to isolate and identify the existence of pheromones in human sweat. She, along with a research team, were able to show that when underarm sweat was separated from the underarm, that pheromones remained.
This finding was important to Cutler because it validated her studies from years earlier that speculated about the affects of human pheromones but could not prove their existence. Her original study revolved around showing the effects of regular sexual activity and menstrual cycle regularity. Her study speculated that it was the pheromone interaction that contributes to this phenomenon and it was not until years late in 1986 when she was able to prove the existence of pheromones within humans.
These studies by Cutler mirrored other studies by a University of Chicago researcher, Martha McClintock. McClintock, like Cutler, made research finding that speculated on the affect of pheromones without being able to prove their existence. McClintock built on her previous research after Cutler using the proof of the existence of pheromones to validate the impact that pheromones had on ovulation. McClintock was able to show that menstrual cycles could be speed up or slowed down depending on the time within their overall cycle they were allowed to sniff pheromones. This led to the understanding of the impact of male sweat, the pheromones in that sweat, and its linkages to regular menstrual cycles.
This is all highly relevant to the effect of pheromones on sexual attraction because feelings of desire and the wanting of sexual activity is affected by the menstrual cycle which in itself is affected by pheromones. Science has made the link.
Secondary Pheromone Studies
Subsequent to the above referenced studies a study published in the Journal of Neuroscience in 2007 connected the smelling of androstadienone, a pheromone found in male sweat, a direct effect on producing and maintaining higher levels of cortisol in women. While increases cortisol levels are not directly associated with attraction of arousal, it does show the interrelationship between the male pheromone and the female response. This response has now been proven to have an impact on the endocrine balance of others, which can lead to enhanced or elevated mood.
This connection between the smell of a pheromone and the hormonal affects on the opposite sex has lead researchers to further validate the connections between pheromones and attraction, intimacy, and arousal. There has been additional research that has made preliminary connections between sexual attraction and the linkages between that attraction within same sex and opposite sex relationships. These finding are preliminary, but because the study was able to isolate variables as distinct as homo and heterosexual attraction the researchers were in fact able to isolate pheromones and prove their impact on attraction between all types of relationships, hetero and homosexual alike.
The Scents of Attraction
It has long been established that scents have an impact on mood and feelings. Sometimes these scents bring back anchored memories from our pasts locked in our subconscious and other times these scents bring about a new response that has not roots in our psyche but simply interacts with our brain in a particular way. Perfume and cologne manufacturers have known this for decades as have aromatherapists If you have ever had a particular scented perfume or cologne that absolutely draws you in or makes you have feelings of sexual desire, then you know the power a scent can have over your mind and body.
This is the same theory behind the science of pheromones. The sense of smell represents 20% of the ways in which we interact with the outside world. While some of us rely on our sense of vision, touch, and hearing; it is the sense of smell that circumvents our conscious mind and directly stimulates feelings within our subconscious. Consider food as an example. Were it not for your sense of smell, most food would taste the same. The smell is a major part of taste. This is how pheromones work. They are a natural by product of individuals and they trigger natural responses. Just as sensual touch and physical attraction can stimulate arousal and intimacy so can the sense of smell. Especially when those smells trigger a reaction that is within our deep down psychological and genetic memory, a scent of a pheromone that triggers a response that is beyond conscious analysis and yet it is a response that our primitive nature has kept with itself for thousands of years. It is this sort of primitive animal attraction that is deeply seated in our subconscious that is brought out with pheromones.