The Pheromones Attraction: How Chemicals Create Desire

Updated May 20, 2024by Regain Editorial Team

Pheromones are chemicals that organisms, such as mammals and insects, secrete from their bodies (through bodily fluids) to communicate with another member of their species, triggering a specific, innate behavioral change or endocrine effect. While many plants and animals possess pheromones, no pheromones have been discovered in humans. Therefore, there is no current scientific evidence supporting the use of pheromone-based products for increasing human desire. Rather than relying on these products, it may be more useful to focus on improving self-esteem and self-confidence. 

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Feeling undesirable?

What are pheromones?

Pheromones are a type of hormone (i.e. a biological chemical messenger). While most hormones only affect the individual who produces them, pheromones are ectohormones, meaning they are secreted outside the body and thus affect the behavior of others. Pheromones are detected through specific organs in the nose, called the vomeronasal organ (VNO) and the main olfactory epithelium (MOE). For many animals, pheromones play a role in attracting mates, mate choice, interacting with offspring, and establishing territory. 

Types of pheromones 

Though there is no definitive research supporting the existence of human pheromones, there are four primary types of pheromones that have been identified in other animals. 

Releaser Pheromones

Releaser pheromones typically trigger immediate, specific, behavioral effects. For example, a receptive sow becomes ready to mate when the androstenone pheromone is discharged from a boar, and female rabbits produce mammary pheromones that aid pups in latching and nursing. 

Primer Pheromones

Primer pheromones take longer than releaser pheromones to cause a direct behavioral response. They can affect females’ menstrual cycles, puberty, and pregnancy. For example, a queen bee’s primer pheromones can stop the reproductive ability of other females within the colony.  

Signaler Pheromones

Signaler pheromones typically perform as social signals, providing information about the individual to other members of the species. They can signal things like an individual’s social rank, recent diet, overall health, and mate viability

Modulator Pheromones

This type of pheromone can affect mood and emotions. Some research suggests that modulator pheromones may exist in people. For example, one study from 2003 found that underarm secretions from men could induce relaxation and reduce tension in female participants. However, the context of studies on human pheromones may make their result unreliable

Potential human pheromones

Some studies support the claim that four steroid molecules act as human sex pheromones: androstenone, androstanol, androstadienone, and estratetaenol. While it is possible that humans have pheromones, current literature has not provided strong evidence of them due to small sample sizes, publication bias, overestimating effects, and inability to reproduce results. 

Androstenone

In boars, androstenone pheromones play a role in mating receptivity. In humans, some studies support that androstenone may improve mood and sexual satisfaction when applied to the upper lip. 

Synthetic androstenone is a common ingredient in perfume marketed to attract partners. However, research demonstrates that many “pheromone perfumes” do not include any pheromones, can come with health-associated risks, and do not aid in mate attraction. 

Androstenol 

Androstenol is an odorous steroid that may play a role in anxiety reduction and mood improvement. In humans, it can be found in urine, saliva, sweat, and blood. Some studies find that it activates portions of the hypothalamus, rather than just olfactory regions of the brain, indicating that it may be involved in human reproduction. 

Androstadienone And Estratetraenol 

Androstadienone is a testosterone-derived chemical compound that is found in male sweat. While some studies hypothesize that androstadienone is a signaler pheromone that communicates aggression, readiness for competition, and dominance, these studies typically lack academic rigor. 

Androstadienone and estratetraenol were first proposed as ‘putative human pheromones’ in 1991 by Erox—a company with competing interests—and have since been used in fragrances marketed to attract the opposite sex and/or to increase libido.   

Other Pheromones 

While many studies focus on identifying sex hormones as human pheromone candidates, other studies focus on lactation secretions. For example, one study found that when areola gland secretions are placed under the nose of a baby, the baby will engage in nipple-searching and sucking behaviors. 

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Can you increase human pheromones to boost attraction?

Though it is plausible that human pheromones do exist, current research has not demonstrated a specific change in human behavior tied to a suspected pheromone. Still, many perfume and supplement brands promote that their products contain pheromones that are scientifically proven to increase sexual attraction and/or libido. 

Some websites promote that individuals can increase their pheromone levels by increasing perspiration, reducing the use of antiperspirants, getting enough sleep, and weightlifting. However, none of these strategies are shown to increase pheromone levels. 

Therapy can help you gain confidence

Pheromone-based products often claim to increase sexual attractiveness through a pheromone response, but these claims are based on dubious research. Unlike human pheromones research, there are studies supporting that high self-confidence and self-esteem can improve romantic relationship quality (and overall mental health). By working with a licensed therapist, many people can improve their self-esteem and confidence.   

A 2017 review article supports that online therapy can effectively address the symptoms of many psychiatric disorders, including generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, major depressive disorder, and posttraumatic stress disorder. Furthermore, a 2022 pilot study found that online cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) significantly improved self-esteem, self-compassion, and quality of life in adolescents. 

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Feeling undesirable?

Takeaway

Pheromones are silent chemical messengers that are secreted from one individual to influence the behavior of another. While pheromones are common in many plants and animals, there is no concrete evidence that they exist in humans. Despite a lack of evidence, some companies market products containing animal and/or synthetic pheromones as effective sexual attractants for people. 

Though there is no consensus on the existence of human pheromones, you can improve your self-esteem and self-confidence, which may contribute to desirability and more successful romantic relationships. Research demonstrates that online therapy can effectively improve self-esteem and reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety for many people. 

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