If Freudian thinking, which has contributed so much to our conceptual ideas regarding human behavior, had given attention to the importance of olfaction, it is likely that we would have long since developed more physiologically grounded concepts of sexual behavior, subject to rational psychiatric therapeutic intervention.
The sexual basis of neurosis might then have included a chemosensory focus, (i.e., olfaction), and human behavioral studies would have included major chapters focusing on the role of smell in the practice of psychoanalysis.
There is no doubt that the VNO is present in the developing human embryo where its role might be to transmit luteinizing hormone releasing hormone (LHRH) which is involved in sexual maturity, to the forebrain.
However, the existence of a functional VNO in the adult is still questionable to many, although the anatomic crypt-like structures are still present.
The question is, are VNO structures in the adult innervated, as they are in other mammals, and sensitive to pheromonal stimulation?
“I don’t know why there’s a controversy about it,” says Avery Gilbert, Ph.D., a sensory psychologist, of the continuing debate around pheromones and pheromonal communication. Dr. Gilbert believes that Jacobson’s organ is fully functioning in adults. In the absence of a vomeronasal organ, he says pheromonal communication is still possible.
“You don’t have to have a VNO. In animal studies it’s been shown that blocking the VNO doesn’t necessarily disrupt pheromonal communication.” We should be aware he says that people who have had nasal plastic surgery (a nose job), may have had it removed unintentionally.
Pheromones are Transmitted Person to Person
If anything, Dr. Gilbert believes that pheromones are transmitted, somehow, from person to person generated through sexual odors emitted by our skin into the air we breathe. “There are a lot of good examples (of pheromonal communication) we have from studies with rats and other rodents, observations that suggest a priming effect: a scent given off by one rat results in the other rat being physiologically more ready for ovulation.”
A pregnant female rat responds alternatively to a strange male rat, whose odor can induce a spontaneous abortion leading to a renewed ovulation, resulting in the general advantage to the strange male rat that can now introduce his sperm into a formerly closed gene pool.
In the case of human menstrual synchrony as seen in Martha McClintock’s work with women who share a close environment, it implies that there is some kind of cue — something is transported through the air — through breath, skin, sweat, or urine that results in observations that women living or working together have menstrual synchrony, which is a good example of human “pheromonal signaling.”
How Pheromone Communication Occurs
As to whether pheromonal communication occurs if only there is an anatomical functioning VNO, there are those like Dr. Gilbert who, again, are not entirely convinced that this is an absolute physiologic necessity. “Let’s say the volatiles (in smell) from one person is reaching another person through (breathing from) an open mouth.
By inhaling (a sample of the air that surrounds us), there may be a number of things present Including diesel fumes, food, the smell of someone’s antiperspirant.
Perhaps some pheromones are also present and you’re going to get an olfactory experience as well as pheromonal stimulation, but will you be able to tell the two apart?”
What’s important to note here, however, is that we can be conditioned behaviorally by our response to smells.
Human Behavior Evolved
The idea behind sociobiology is that human behavior evolved from that lower order animals, including insects. one of the best books on this subject: is The Moramnimal by Robert white, (Pantheon Press, 1 994), which uses Darwin s evolutionary theory to explain how we evolved our behavioral and domestic structures.
Outgrowth of Evolutionary Process
What Wright and other sociobiologists point out is that our present social condition, both good and bad, is the outgrowth of an evolutionary process that resulted from adaptations to our living together as social animals. These adaptations affected our genetic history and natural selection, making us what we are.
This selective process has despite political correctness distinguished women from men, not only physically, but In terms of behaviors that underlie our desire for each other, our fidelity, parenting, and our family structures.
In relation to our own western cross-cultural history, notes Wright, we humans “are oblivious to our deepest motivations” and our religious, largely christian-based view of ourselves, frequently expresses a “horror of sex. What characterizes religious interpretation of the best In human values is a stress on “self denial, abstinence, taming the beast within.”
While this is important to our cultural survival, along with “altruism, compassion, empathy, love, conscience, the sense of Justice,” one has to ask how we developed these values over the two to four million years of human presence on earth.
Differences in Sexual Behavior
Differences in sexual behavior between men and women reveals that “Men want as many sex-providing childmaking machines as they can comfortably afford, and women want to maximize the resources available to their children.
As a sociobiologist, wright sees this in terms of “mental modules” or as we term them, brain “schemata,” inborn behavior where “love of offspring” (the “male parental investment”) affects the female choice of mate along with “attraction to muscles” or, “status.”
However, human pheromonal or odor attraction is speculative, but the evidence we feel supports sexual odor influences as a factor in defining the patterns of male and female behavior.