The pheromone phenomenon


Last week we discussed “seduction” as the psychological stimulation needed to get us turned on to sex. Once the brain becomes erect, our next challenge is to get the body excited. We typically know this stage as arousal, or the awakening of the second biggest sex organ — our skin.

David Reed’s model of human sexual response renames this stage “sensation.” Remember that Reed’s theory departs from the friction model where sex is merely mechanical and genitally focused. Therefore, with sensation, we find ourselves aroused by all our senses, both physically and psychologically. This includes sight, sound, taste and touch.

When an athletic man does chest presses at the gym, you can see his built biceps bulge from his tank top. When a sensuous woman sucks on a chocolate truffle, you can hear her moan in pleasure. When she licks the chocolate from her fingers, you can almost taste it. When your partner bites your neck, you can feel the electricity of the carnal connection.

Sexual stimulation also includes imagination and fantasy. We can imagine that first kiss as we picnic at the top of Sanitas. Or we can fantasize about bantering around in the bedroom with Brad and Angelina in a threesome.

Finally, sexual stimulation consists of smell. However, we typically default to our sense of reason. Is this girl of legal age? Does this man have a job? Do I have a condom and lube with me? Sometimes we stumble home, arm-in-arm, with the person we picked up at the bar — ignorant of age, employment or sexual safeguards.

Maybe our beer goggles thwarted our ability to see, hear or reason otherwise. Or perhaps there was another force at work: pheromones, that magic that science is still trying to understand.

Though they operate through the olfactory apparatus in the nose, the irony is that pheromones are odorless. They exist in human beings as naturally occurring substances found in hair and body secretions from armpits and genitals. The question is, how well do pheromones really work when it comes to the sensation stage of our human sexual response?

Do they really incite higher levels of sexual stimulation?

Dr. Winnifred Cutler, behavior endo crinologist and director of the Athena Institute for pheromone research, strongly believes that, “a woman’s pheromones, at any age, play a major role in the attention she receives from others.”

Cutler collaborated on a study that found when post-menopausal women topically applied a synthetic pheromone derived from a fertile woman’s armpit sweat, they gained far greater attention from male partners. In contrast to those who received a placebo, post-menopausal pheromone users noted substantial increases in formal dates, hugging, petting, kissing and sleeping next to a romantic partner.

This study demonstrates another fact about pheromones. For women, they are only naturally emitted if she is fertile. If you’ve had an ovariectomy (surgical removal of the ovaries), or gone through menopause, you can use Cutler’s synthetic product, Athena Pheromone 10:13. Cutler’s pheromone products seem to work for all ages and genders. She oversaw a “20/20” investigation examining the effects of pheromones on people in their 20s. During a speed-dating event, male and female twins were each given a scent — one twin a pheromone, one twin a placebo. The twins receiving pheromones got double the number of dates.

However, not all pheromones are equally alluring. Fresh male sweat, for instance, is more appetizing than when it has been sitting stale and exposed to oxygen for hours. And pheromones from vaginal secretions, also called copulins, increase in intensity when a woman menstruates. Luckily for you ladies, men tend to be less discerning during this time in your menstrual cycle, and their testosterone levels will increase as the potential for sex draws near. (Think of a male dog sniffing out a bitch in heat.)

If the odorless pheromone phenomenon feels too enigmatic, try other scents such as lavender, licorice, pumpkin pie and hot cinnamon rolls. There may be something in the chemical composition of the odor, or perhaps the aroma incites your sexual imagination. Whether or not you believe in the science of scent, allow your sensations to seduce you.

Jenni Skyler, Ph.D., is a sex therapist and board-certified sexologist. She runs The Intimacy Institute in Boulder,