Sex + Dating

Why You Should Never Buy Bottled Pheromones

Anthony Humphreys/Thrillist

Are you the type of person who can’t be in the same room as a woman who reeks of vanilla perfume? Or perhaps you instantly flock to the guy who smells like he just walked out of the forest after days of chopping wood and wearing head-to-toe flannel? While first attraction can be caused by plenty of factors (i.e., beer goggles), you might have heard that pheromones play a role. Here's what you need to know about these semi-mythical love chemicals.

What are pheromones?  

Even though there are plenty of fragrance companies trying to sell sexual attraction in a bottle, there's not much known about pheromones in humans. "[Pheromones] were identified in the late 1950s and they are associated with an organ called the vomeronasal organ (VNO) found in dogs, cats, etc., but not in humans after birth," says Dr. Erika Schwartz, a New York-based expert in biohormones. "Without the presence of this organ you cannot be affected by pheromones, although much debate surrounds them."

In non-human animals, pheromones are chemicals that, when received by an animal in the same species, are used to communicate and produce a behavior. Think of them a bit like hormones that work externally -- queen bees, for example, can control entire colonies thanks in part to their pheromones. 

Do humans have them?

Scientists haven't been able to identify a single human pheromone, and even if they did, it might be a moot point. "Humans may have them, but we don't know how they can affect other humans, because the only organ identified to be able to create a response to them is not found in humans," Schwartz said. So... yeah. Not looking good for pheromones.

Speculation about the existence of pheromones has mostly been fueled by the very real but very mysterious changes in behavior female fertility causes, but what element of another person's scent is actually driving the attraction is unknown. One school of thought is that humans have unique odor prints, due to a major histocompatibility complex (MHC), which is a set of proteins that regulate a person's immune system. Some scientists say this could even affect a person's mate choice (and likelihood of infidelity), since people may sniff out and be attracted to someone whose immune system is the opposite of their own, thus making the immune system of offspring more diverse. Those people with partners who have similar MHCs are more likely to stray, in search of that oh-so-sexy immunological diversity. 

But still, not exactly pheromones.

Don't hold your breath for a pheromone spray that works

Although there’s evidence that supports the belief that humans respond to scents emitted by others, it's still unclear just how this process works. And since humans don't even have the organ known to stimulate and respond to pheromones in other animals (as Dr. Schwartz pointed out), it's probably safe to cancel your order for a bulk shipment of love juice.

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Julie Peirano is a freelance writer who blames her attraction to mountain men on pheromones. Follow her: @juliepeirano.