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by Christopher Bayliss

©Ballis, 2019

Pheromones are big business. Cosmetics and pharmaceutical companies have been ripping people off for years flogging this stuff. Did I say flogging? Oops, that was last night. Today, it is smelly stuff. And something smells when companies are selling little bottles of stuff for ten, twenty, thirty, a hundred and, even, thousands of dollars when all the evidence calls it fakery. Even two dollars for a little vial from a vending machine in a pub toilet is a rip off. As a side note, if you are buying vials of attractant in a pub toilet, you may want to take a good, hard look at yourself.

Pheromones do exist. Plants emit odours to attract or repel insects. A dog urinating on a lamp post tells other dogs it claims the territory. Bees secret a pheromone to alert the rest of the hive when there is danger. Cats spray for similar reasons.

Do humans emit chemicals to attract other humans?

Let us be clear here. We are talking chemicals to affect the response of other people, not smells like BO or halitosis or the smell of nice soap.

Common smells that are not pheromones play a part in everyday life. It may be that some folks mistake these smells for pheromones. These are smells that help us wade through everyday life, smells we learn by habit or training. The ability to recognise a flower or when to know the weather is changing, how to recognise danger from a putrid smell, the smell of oil, or the scalp of a baby. These are smells that jog our memory, not chemicals that are altering our mental state.

Some people have an erotic response to the scent of rubber or leather or many other items. This is a learned response; we can be sure a dead cow’s skin is not emitting a romance-inducing chemical.

People do have individual smells. It is how an infant can recognise its mother over other people, by recognition of a familiar scent. A study conducted over the last couple of years in the UK suggests people, in part, choose mates according to smell at a subconscious level. They are not having their brains affected by chemicals, they are reacting to an aroma they find nice.

Aromas are strong memory cues. Like music, they can bring back positive and negative reactions.

Would-be pheromones were assessed clinically in a 2016 study by the University of Western Australia. Male perspiration and female urine, products that are possible carriers of male and female pheromones, were introduced to test subjects along with photographs of likely mates over a period of several days. A neutral control scent was also included in the testing. There was no positive correlation between natural odours and attraction.

Have we humans ever reacted to pheromones? Probably, yes but you must go back thousands of generations. There is a remnant of a secondary olfactory receiver in the human sinus, the vomeronasal organ. It is vestigial or non-functional, a leftover from past needs as is the appendix in the torso. As such, we do not know exactly what it did back in cavemen days.

Do we excrete pheromones? As mammals, it may be that we do. Androstadienone, androstanol, androsterone and estratetraenol are steroids found in the human body that are candidates, but no study has ever isolated them as human sex pheromones.

All this said, why is there such a fuss over human sex pheromones? Cold, hard cash. As written near the top of this article, people will pay hundreds of dollars for a scent that will improve their hope of gaining a mate or, even, a playmate. Some manufacturers claim to be selling pheromones, others claim to have compounds that imitate pheromones to make the wearer more desirable. They are selling pleasant smells. If the wearer is lucky, they will get within sniffing range of an attractive person who is available. At no time are secreted chemicals altering the mind. Save your dollars.