Biology affects people’s behavior and decisions in many ways, especially when it comes to sexual attraction. While you may not consciously perceive these effects, there is so much going on beneath the surface affecting your emotions and leading you towards potential romantic connections. One example of this is pheromones.
Pheromones are scented molecules that your body secretes (and you’re not alone, other animals and insects have them, too). They have caused behavioral changes in other people (1), as your own scent can be a “powerful aphrodisiac” to some people, or a “strong repellent” to others (2). And no, you can’t control your pheromones.
Location on the Body:
Pheromones are secreted from all over the body. However, there are some main areas that have particularly stronger glands, such where your arm and shoulder connect (also known as the axillae region), as well as the pubic area, nipples, genitals, lips, eyelids, and outer ear, just to name a few (1).
Pheromones and Sex:
When you are close enough physically to a potential partner, their scent travels through your nose, through your nasal receptors, and then to your hypothalamus. The result of this can be an increase or decrease in arousal or sexual desire. Some experts believe these scents particularly affect women, who often have higher levels of estrogen, leading to an improved sense of smell.
Many researchers link the differences in pheromones to evolutionary biology, claiming that natural scents drive people toward those who are the best genetic fit for reproduction. For example, have you ever wondered why a sibling might smell bad to you, but great to their significant other?
Experiments in Pheromones:
How do pheromones dictate which partners we patch with? One study exposed a group of participants to different pheromones without revealing the gender behind each smell. They found a strong overlap between sexual orientation and the scents that people found most compelling: Participants unknowingly gravitated towards the smell that aligned with their sexual orientation. In other words, gay men were attracted to male scents, while heterosexual men were attracted to female scents. Another study showed the possibilities of utilizing the sense of smell in an active dating world, such as through “Pheromone Parties.”
One of the first known pheromone parties took place in New York City in 2010. About 40 attendees brought shirts they had slept in for three nights to ensure that their natural body odor would be detectable. The shirts were numbered and gendered, and placed into bags. Each participant smelled the different bags that aligned with their sexual orientation.
Ultimately, 12 couples went home together, and half of those went on to have relationships (3). Who knows how successful this study would be on a large scale, given the small sample size and the lack of replicated parties. There are also likely other limitations at play here, but it does show that there is certainly some real power to people’s biological attractions.