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Love and Pheromones

The idea of a 'Pheromone Party' is as follows: unwashed t-shirts are put into numbered bags and these t-shirts are then sniffed by others. If the odour of an unwashed t-shirt is found to be appealing, a potential date between the sniffer and the owner could occur. A gathering of this type occurred first in 2010 in Brooklyn, New York, gaining much success, and then spreading to Los Angeles and London. The people attending these parties hope that, by using their sense of smell, they will be able to use the 'Pheromone Party' to find love.

Human pheromones are an important concept in pop culture, where it is suggested that they can have a significant influence over the human ‘mating ritual’, similarly to that of animals.

Smell the Love

As mentioned in the screencast, androstenone is a steroid which has a musk-like odour and is found in human sweat, human urine and in the saliva of pigs. Androstenone is often called a pheromone and can sometimes be found in ‘love potions’, where sellers claim its addition will increase female libido and the attractiveness of men. Despite many years of work, there is no evidence to suggest that humans experience the effects of pheromones the same way other animals do, but that doesn’t stop people from buying these so-called ‘love-potions’ and even attending Pheromone Parties.

How to Throw a Pheromone Party

The idea of a ‘Pheromone Party’ is as follows: unwashed t-shirts are put into numbered bags and these t-shirts are then sniffed by others. If the odour of an unwashed t-shirt is found to be appealing, a potential date between the sniffer and the owner could occur. A gathering of this type occurred first in 2010 in Brooklyn, New York, gaining much success, and then spreading to Los Angeles and London. The people attending these parties hope that, by using their sense of smell, they will be able to use the ‘Pheromone Party‘ to find love.

Interestingly, research has shown that women have keener senses of smell than do men (this may be due to having more cells in the olfactory bulb – the part of the brain responsible for the sense of smell), that men’s body odours are harder to cover up than are women’s, and that women’s brains respond differently when smelling sweat samples from men who were sexually aroused and men who weren’t.

Can Pheromones Find Love?

Does anything in your experience cause you to believe that humans might have pheromones? Do you think that pheromone parties are truly able to help someone find an appropriate mate, just like pheromones do in animals?


Armpit Chemistry

Researchers at York and Unilever have pinpointed the bacterium that is the main offender in making armpits pungent – the culprit, Staphylococcus hominis, acts by breaking down naturally secreted sweat compounds into smelly compounds including thioalcohols (e.g. CH3CH2CH2C(SH)(CH3)CH2CH2OH). Going forward, the team envisages a deodorant that would prevent armpit bacteria from producing thioalcohols rather than simply killing them off, as typical deodorants do.

Related to this, has anyone tried using a probiotic deodorant? These recently introduced underarm salves claim to use a healthy mix of bacteria to combat body odour – bacteria from non-smelly armpits are used to eradicate ‘bad’ bacteria in stinky armpits.


Pheromones and Fear

We have seen that guard bees release alarm pheromones to alert others to a threat, so what about humans? As yet, no one has identified a compound in human sweat that corresponds to our level of anxiety. However, a number of experiments indicate that sweat born from emotion (e.g. on watching a scary film) has a different smell to sweat from exercise. For example, in 2002, a study of 60 women rated sweat from women who had watched a scary movie as stronger, less pleasant and smelling more “like aggression” than sweat from women who had watched a neutral movie. For such studies, it can be difficult to find volunteers willing to forego deodorants for several days and it bodes the question, bearing in mind the fragrances we daily dab onto our bodies, would any signals that sweat might contain be detectable?

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Exploring Everyday Chemistry

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