Investigating human pheromone products
// Beni Spieler

In our age of crazy ideas and new technology, somebody was bound to try and sell sex in a can … and they have. Well, it’s not so much a can, but a small vial filled to the brim with lovely little things called pheromones. All you have to do is spray them on exposed parts of your body, and your attractiveness levels (allegedly) go through the roof.

In nature

A pheromone is a secreted chemical that is able to alter the behavior of another member of the same species. Pheromones are most commonly observed in insects, as they use them in the most diverse manner, and even communicate with them. Ants use trail pheromones to guide others of their species to a food source they’ve found by spraying the chemicals out in a trail, and bees use pheromones to communicate and to classify themselves within the hive. Aggregation pheromones are used to attract many members of a species to a single point for mass-defense, attack, or sexual purposes.

Mammals use pheromones as well, but to a lesser extent than insects. A commonly witnessed example can be found in dog and cat urination, which marks the perimeter of their territory and indicates other information. Humans, on the other hand, don’t use pheromones in the same way as other mammals, or insects.

Though many people claim that the smell of sweat can be very attractive, and even cause arousal, there have been no conclusive studies to associate this phenomenon with pheromones. It is widely speculated that humans produce them, and maybe even detect them on an unconscious level, but studies done on human pheromones have been inconclusive for the most part.

In stores

There are a massive amount of companies currently selling pheromone products. There are sprays to attract both women and men; even unisex sprays that attract both genders have been manufactured. Most of the products contain androgens, which are also hormones. In men, androgens create the typically male sexual characteristics: body hair, deepened voice, and mature genitals. Women also have androgens in their bodies, although in much smaller quantities, and they're responsible for energy levels and sexual arousal.

“The sprays come in perfumed, and mild-scent form,” explains Jenna Wieden, who works at Honey Gifts, an erotic gift store in Vancouver that sells pheromones. “Most people seem to prefer the perfumed version, since the smell is usually stronger and more pleasant,” she says.

The effects of the sprays themselves are sometimes touted as being direct aphrodisiacs, but are better known to bloom certain thoughts in the mind of the opposite sex; affecting the target subconsciously, but not turning them into drooling sex slaves.

“The sprays are probably better for improving relations between two people who are already in a relationship than for attracting random strangers,” Wieden explains.

Where brands and price are concerned, you can find sprays that cost anywhere from $20 for a single vial to $320 for a set. The Internet is bursting with pheromone review forums weighing the differences between the brands and their effects.

In use

Though many people may use pheromones in order to improve their love life, very few are willing to admit it publicly. Whether out of embarrassment or the desire for secrecy in regards to their attraction strategies, finding people publicly willing to admit they use pheromones isn’t as easy as the huge market implies.

A previous user of pheromones, under the pseudonym of Mark Jones, was willing to describe his experience using pheromone scents long-term. “At first I kinda did it as a joke. The reason I wanted to try the pheromones was purely out of curiosity and for amusement,” explains Jones. “But I noticed that women deffs [sic] reacted differently around me; it wasn't like they were crawling all over me, but I got a lot of attention.”

The effects of the sprays, considered to be viable by some and a confidence booster by others, seem to be somewhat subtle: “I noticed that while I was wearing the pheromone, women reacted quite positively to it, yet younger girls, about 18 and younger, found it somewhat disturbing, as if they were bothered by the scent or something like that,” explains Jones. “I observed that the more mature the female I encountered, the more positive the reactions were.”

He notes that keeping the pheromones a secret is integral to using them: “As soon as anyone knows you're wearing it, the effects lose all potency, because it is supposed to be a subtle little spray to arouse the senses,” Jones explains. “Once they know your game plan you have already lost.”

According to some retailers, pheromones are bought most commonly by waitresses and other people working with the public or in sales, as the subtle effects on perception can help sway interactions. Jones used them while working in the restaurant industry, and claims that the pheromones helped him to secure a promotion.

“I can recall several times at work I used the pheromones while talking to my female superiors, and eventually they succumbed to the effects on their subconscious mind, I was able to obtain certain favors,” says Jones. “I will admit that at the time I was working in that restaurant, I wanted badly to obtain a more desirable position then the dish-washing title I currently had. I figured that if I could use both my wit and charm, and the help of natural pheromones, I could get ahead.”

In practice

“The human body contains the organ necessary to create pheromones,” says Dr. Paul McMillian, a Capilano biology instructor. “But the adult brain of a human doesn’t contain the necessary nerve bundles or receptors to actually detect pheromones in the same way that many other mammals do.”

One case where pheromones seem to play a part would be when women’s menstrual cycles synchronize; though recent studies have called to question whether this is the case or not.

Many have speculated that humans emit pheromones that cause sexual attraction, hence the sprays: “I think it could be chalked up to smell preference,” Dr. McMillian says. “Though I’d be interested in finding out if the pheromone sprays work or not.”

The idea that commercial products can alter the output of a person’s pheromones shines the spotlight on an interesting conundrum that Caitlin Costello brings up in her essay, Sexual or Sexist? Replication of Human Pheromones.

“If the popularity of pheromone-based commercial products continues, they may develop to the point where they accurately imitate the effects of natural human pheromones, possibly even able to influence the behavior of those other than the users of the products,” Costello writes. “A deeper threat, however, comes from the implications that pheromone research might have on existing gender roles and relations, since women seem to be more sensitive to pheromonal messages.”

Research allowing, patents pending, men may one day be able to put on a perfume that make women pounce on them like a TV ad for Axe. “Given the complexities of the way humans transmit chemical signals, these scenarios probably lie outside of the realm of possibility, but the prospect of men gaining even a small amount of greater sexual control over women is nonetheless frightening,” Costello concludes.

With praise, condemnation and doubt coming from all sides, pheromones have perched themselves on a precarious social branch that lies somewhere between science and fantasy. Powerful placebos or fantastic aphrodisiac? Only time and maybe a bit of personal experimentation will tell.

//Beni Spieler, writer
//Graphics by Katie So

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