The peculiar discoveries reviving the search for human pheromones



Friends catching up over coffee on the weekend

The search for sexual human pheromones may be a false trail

Janina Steinmetz/Getty Images

YOU may think you can mask it with a shower and a bit of deodorant, but every time you walk into a room, a whiff of your body odour drifts in your wake. It might be musty, mouldy, milky and metallic, or oily, heavy and animalic – these are just a few words that trained perfumers have used to classify the different “flavours” of natural BO.

While it is clear that odour and perfumes can alter the moods of those around you, it remains a mystery whether there are any unique agents produced by the human body, namely pheromones, that specifically alter other people’s mood, behaviour or physiological arousal.

The idea makes sense. We know that other mammals use pheromones for communication and that they play an important role in mating. But after a flurry of studies hinted that humans shared this trait, researchers started to pick holes in the data and the idea seemed to be left to rest. Quietly, though, a handful of researchers are still digging away, with some tantalising findings suggesting that the pursuit isn’t in vain.

Do human pheromones exist?

The hunt for human pheromones began in the 1950s. Over the decades, researchers focused their attention on two steroid molecules, androstadienone and estratetraenol. These chemicals are closely related to male and female sex hormones and can be found in bodily fluids like human sweat. A flurry of experiments in the early 2000s…


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