Pheromones are our constant companions. We are surrounded by a shadow self because of the chemically volatile nature of our pheromone molecules, which allows them to travel freely through the air, and because we shed thousands of pheromone-containing skin cells every day. When our pheromone cloud bumps up against another person’s pheromone cloud, one of two things can happen: Our clouds want to mingle and form a bigger, even better, cloud, or they want to ﬂoat away into their respective skies. Think about a passionate encounter or relationship you once had or are now in. Write down your first impressions of the situation and describe, if you can, your physiological (body) reactions.
Did the meeting take place at a party, over dinner, at the office water cooler? How did the events unfold? How did you feel around the other person? Did you feel instantly connected to the person standing in front of you? Did your heart start to beat faster?
Did sweat drip from your palms? Maybe you blushed persistently or couldn’t get to sleep that night. As you were pulled by the magnet of sexual chemistry, your vomeronasal organ and hypothalamus were in the director’s chair orchestrating a complicated production staged inside your [V body. A whiff of the person’s pheromones snapped your VNO into action. The organ sent the pheromone signal promptly to your hypothalamus, eliciting some kind of response: Stay near this person or, better yet, get closet or fall in love (or last) with A, this person! or, Turn and ran.
Andreas Capellanus wrote in his twelfth—century treatise The ‘ Art of Courtly Love that love “gets its name (amor) from the word for hook (amus), which means ‘to capture’ or ‘be captured,’ for if he who is in love is captured in the chains of desire and wishes % to capture someone else with his hook.” ﬂy
As the hooks of attraction, pheromones can be subtle at times, 3» outspoken at others. An instant reaction to someone may be pi‘; powerful enough to attach you for life in an erotic bond cemented by good chemistry. Or your encounter might take longer to come to a boil, starting with a slow simmer and building with applied heat. Pheromones can also clash like the opposing ends of two magnets: No matter what you do, say, or think, the connection refuses to be made.
The Case for Smelly T-Shirts
In a laboratory in Switzerland, a woman pokes her nose int V a box. She sniffs, then sniffs again. She moves to box after box, inhaling. Is she testing the latest brand of perfume destined for the cosmetics counter? In a way, she is. The woman is breathing in the thick aroma of men’s sweaty, unwashed T-shirts saturated with odor (and odorless pheromones) released from the: men’s underarm apocrine glands.
They had definite attractions to some and strong repulsions to others. As he was reviewing the results of the T—shirt study, Wedekind made yet another noteworthy discovery. Some of the women were not drawn to the odors of their genetically optimal matches, but instead to odors of men with genes similar to their own. These women had one thing in common: They were all taking birth control pills.
This is a fascinating, and even disturbing, thought. The synthetic pheromones in the Pill trick the female body into thinking it is pregnant by preventing ovulation. A “pregnant” woman is not likely to be out searching for a mate, but she may be drawn instinctively to men with similar genetic codes. Why? Wedekind thinks it may be because men with similar genes resemble the woman’s family, her protectors, her than those who can support her while she carries her child to term.
Is it possible that women who take birth control pills are not capable of choosing their best mates? Doctors already know that couples who lose children to miscarriages often have similar MHC readings instead of the genetically preferable dissimilar MHC lineup. And the children of MHC-similar couples sometimes have lower-than-average birth weights. Conceiving a child can also be more difficult and take longer for MHC-similar couples.
Can dissimilar MHCs and their inherent pheromonal components truly bond a couple? Pheromones are the instigators of romance and love, but they will not guarantee a lifelong union because successful relationships rely on the interplay of many factors.
Cuddle up to His Armpit
Forget his chiseled chin, well-defined arm muscles, and impossibly green eyes. The sexiest part of a man may very well be his armpits.
With their abundance of pheromone-producing apocrine
It’s all part of an experiment conducted by zoologist Claus Wedekind, Ph.D., of the University of Bern in Switzerland, to monitor the reactions of forty-nine female volunteers to garments worn by forty-four males. Before handing his cotton T- shirt over to science, each man had slept in it for two consecutive nights and had avoided deodorants, Colognes, scented soaps and lotions, spicy foods (which can affect the aroma of sweat), alcohol, and sex.
The women selected for the experiment were all in the middle of their menstrual cycles, that time of the month when a woman’s sense of smell is particularly keen—some say one hundred times as sharp as normal. And, for two weeks before the experiment, the women’s noses were treated with a special nasal spray designed to coat and protect the fragile mucous membranes of the nasal walls, so that their sniffing abilities would not be inhibited by any external factors or injuries.
The armpits play a key role in sex, love, and lust. The link between the apocrines, human pheromone communication, and human sexuality has caught the attention of scientists investigating how pheromones might be able to affect our physiological processes.
One scientist with a fascination for the human armpit is Dr. Winnifred Cutler. Cutler earned her doctorate in biology from the University of Pennsylvania and did postdoctoral work in behavioral endocrinology at Stanford University. She also founded and operates the Athena Institute for Women’s Wellness, Inc., in Chester Springs, Pennsylvania. Cutler writes in her book Love.
Cycles that frequent sexual contact with a man “seems to promote fertile-type reproductive cycles in women.” It took some time for Cutler to determine how this might be possible, but she eventually arrived at a theory: male pheromones.
Cutler’s idea that male pheromones might affect the meestrual cycle (and therefore lead to fertile reproductive cycles) was already known to occur in animals. In a study conducted by Dr. Martha McClintock (whose discovery of menstrual synchrony among human females), it was shown that the body odors and pheromones of male rats could enhance the fertility of female rats in the vicinity.
Working with organic chemist Dr. George Preti at the Monell Chemical Senses Center, Cutler designed an experiment to find out if so-called male “essences” (secretions from the armpit that contain pheromones and sweat) would have an effect on female endocrine (hormonal) and reproductive cycles.
To summarize the experiment, Cutler gathered armpit perspiration from male volunteers who wore cotton collection pads under their arms.
She extracted what she thought were the key ingredients from the secretions and froze these essences. She then selected female participants for the study, choosing only women whose menstrual cycles had been historically irregular; that is, they did not follow the typical pattern of onset approximately every twenty-nine days, plus or minus about three days. Also, each woman recruited for the experiment had not been engaging in frequent (several times a week) sex with a man.
To test his theories, Wedekind placed each sweaty Shirt inside a box with a hole cut in the side and asked the women to indicate their preferences by scoring each shirt based on the categories of “intensity of smell,” “pleasantness,” and “sexiness.”
The results caused a stir. The experiments revealed that the women were the most attracted to the odors of shirts that had been worn by men whose immune system genes were the most different from their own genetic makeups.
What this means is that when a woman goes to choose a mate, she subconsciously does so by “sniffing” out his immune system. Thus, she will prefer the mate whose immune system is the most unlike hers (his odor will be the most attractive to her).
The Darwinian logic behind the women’s T-shirt preferences is that when two dissimilar sets of genes are combined, the result is a more comprehensive immune system for the pair’s off-spring. Outcrossing breeds progeny that are less prone to illness because they possess more varied and robust immune system genes and thus exhibit “hybrid vigor.” While the conventional wisdom is that a woman will select a mate based on his external qualities, personality, education, background, ambition.