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What Are Pheromones?

PheromonesPheromones have been under scientific investigation for many years. The name was first coined by Peter Karlson and Martin Lüscher in 1959, from the Greek words pherein (to transport) and hormone (to stimulate). ( These chemical substances are secreted or excreted by insects and animals and are used to signal alarm, mark territorial boundaries or indicate the sexual availability of a female. It is the last quality which has caused interest in the popular press and a number of manufacturers have claimed that their products contain pheromones which supposedly increase the sexual attractiveness of the human male or female.

Pheromones in Animals and Insects

Ants use pheromones to lay a trail attracting other ants from the colony to a food source and bees use a similar method to indicate the presence of nectar-rich flowers or pollen. Although females are most likely to emit sexual attractant pheromones, males of some insects can secrete aggregation pheromones, which attract large numbers of both sexes of the insect to a site, increasing the potential for selection in the mating process. When attacked by predators, aphids secrete pheromones that can cause other aphids to flee; a similar substance secreted by bees and ants makes other members of the species more aggressive. Dogs use pheromones to mark their territories by urinating on various landmarks and rabbits secrete a pheromone that causes their babies to nurse. (

Pheromones and Humans

PheromonesAlthough visual cues play a major role in sexual attraction between humans, there is evidence that odors also place a part. When humans enter puberty, steroid hormones are produced by the testes and ovaries as well as other glands, and these hormones are excreted from sweat glands in the armpits. It is the steroid hormones that have been described as human pheromones. One of these, androstenol, is the so-called “female sex pheromone.” Researchers have found that when people wear masks impregnated with androstenol, they rate pictures of people, animals and buildings as warmer or more friendly. A study of menstrual cycles among women who lived together found that the women’s cycles tended to synchronize over a period of time. Further research found that the menstrual cycles of women who were exposed to the scent of perspiration from another woman would speed up or slow down depending on whether the sweat was collected before, during or after ovulation. (

Pheromones May Affect Sexual Behavior

Research by Dr. Winnefred Cutler of the Athena Institute has found that underarm sweat from men in their reproductive years could cause women with excessively long or short menstrual cycles to develop cycles of normal length. This change presumably made the women more fertile, which suggests that pheromones can enhance the potential for childbearing. Cutler went on to test synthesized pheromones applied to the skin to see if they resulted in increased sexual attractiveness. PheromonesThree different studies found an increase in sexual behaviors such as the number of formal dates, kissing, petting and sexual intercourse. (

The Use of Pheromones

A human’s neurological system is much more complex than that of an insect, which responds readily to pheromones, and human responses are modified by social training and other behavioral aspects. The most recent research indicates the human pheromones are not aphrodisiacs in the usual sense of the word. The use of a pheromone may increase the probability that male-female attraction will occur, but only within the social context that supports attraction, such as going on a date. Wearing a pheromone perfume to work is unlikely to have much, if any, effect according to some researchers. Others, however, believe that some pheromones may play a part in human sexual behavior and recommend these substances be applied to the skin as a cream, gel or spray. The pheromone should be applied just prior to a date, party or other activity in which men and women may be seeking potential sexual partners.

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