The Pheromones Attraction: How Chemicals Create Desire

By ReGain Editorial Team|Updated April 29, 2022
CheckedMedically Reviewed By Melinda Santa, LCSW

You’ve probably heard of pheromones before, but do you know exactly what they are and how they work? Pheromones are chemicals produced by animals that affect other members of the species. They’re sometimes referred to as behavior-altering agents. People most commonly think of pheromones that trigger sexual desire, but what the majority don’t know is that pheromones can trigger other types of behavior in animals.

What Are Pheromones?

Pheromones are a type of hormone. Most hormones are produced internally, and they only affect the person who is producing them. But pheromones are a little different. They’re ectohormones, which means that they’re secreted outside the body and can influence others’ behavior.

One prime example of this is human pheromones that induce sexual arousal in others. But insects use pheromones to communicate, and animals can use them to signal an alarm, establish territory, and warn others to back off.

You might have seen pheromone products like perfume and cologne for sale in-store or online and wondered if they do anything. Research suggests that these products are largely ineffective.

Types Of Pheromones In Animals

There are four main types of pheromones in animals. These are the releaser, the primer, the signaler, and the modulator. We’ll explain each of these in detail below.

Releaser Pheromones

A releaser pheromone causes an immediate response in the recipient’s behavior. Typically, the response resulting from a releaser pheromone is reliable and happens very quickly. Releaser pheromones are often linked to sexual attraction. Some animals use these pheromones to attract mates from miles away! Another example of a releaser pheromone has to do with rabbits. Female rabbits can produce mammary pheromones that immediately cause their babies to nurse.

Primer Pheromones

Primer pheromones cause a change of developmental events rather than causing a direct behavior change. In comparison to releaser hormones, primer pheromones take a longer period to cause a response. Primer pheromones can affect females’ menstrual cycle, puberty, and pregnancy. This type of pheromone has been discovered to alter hormone levels in other beings. For instance, some female mammals that became pregnant and were then exposed to primer pheromones from another male (not the father) could spontaneously abort the fetus due to the changes in hormone levels resulting from exposure to pheromones.

Signaler Pheromones

Put, signaler pheromones provide information to other members of the species. One example is signaler pheromones showing a mother whose newborn is hers through scent. Signaler pheromones essentially provide a genetic odor print of the animal producing them. They typically lead to short-term changes in behavior.

Modulator Pheromones

This type of pheromone can synchronize or change bodily functions, and it’s typically found in sweat. Through various animal experiments, scientists learned that when modulator pheromones are placed on female animals’ upper lips, they become more relaxed. It’s also thought that modulator hormones can affect females’ monthly cycles.

Pheromones In Humans

In humans, pheromones are often advertised to attract others and increase your sexual desire and libido. While we’ll get into the dubious science around this in the next section, we’ll first look at a few of the common pheromones that can be found on the market today. Androstenone, androsterone, androstadienone, and androstenol are all marketed as attractors for the opposite sex, but what are they, exactly? Let’s take a look.

Androstenone

Androstenone products come with some pretty big claims. There are perfumes and colognes out there that are marketed as if people will act entirely differently around you when you’re wearing them. Suddenly, everyone will be excited to talk to you, they’ll make more eye contact with you, and you’ll be seen as much more attractive than you were before you spritzed on the product.

If this sounds too good to be true, that’s because it is. Some humans can smell androstenone, and it’s often described as having either an unpleasant smell, like urine or sweat or a sweet, floral scent. Some people can’t smell androstenone at all. While androstenone can be found in human urine and sweat, there’s not a lot of evidence that it affects the behavior of other humans.

Androsterone

Androsterone is an anabolic steroid, and the World Anti-Doping Agency bans it. It’s also illegal to include this pheromone in supplement products. Even so, people still frequently use androsterone to lose weight and improve their athletic performance. However, research and scientific evidence don’t support the use of androsterone for these purposes. It can even be dangerous, with side effects like infertility, hair loss, liver and heart disease, and breast development in men. Products with androsterone often claim to make the wearer give off “alpha qualities.”

Androstadienone

This pheromone can be found in male sweat, and it’s been suggested to function as a human pheromone. However, research has mixed results, and androstadienone has yet to be fully proven to have legitimate effects on human behavior. Products containing androstadienone claim that they can enhance masculinity, improve women’s moods, and attract others sexually. However, these claims aren’t supported by science.

Androstenol

Androstenol is a steroid produced by the human body. Some studies have shown that humans can smell it and that a part of women’s brains is activated when exposed to androstenol. Products with this pheromone are supposed to elevate mood, improve focus, and relieve stress. While more research is needed, these claims are largely looked at as false.

What Does The Research Say About Human Hormones?

The research is very mixed when it comes to human hormones. Many scientists believe human pheromones don’t exist at all--as in, they don’t affect other humans’ behavior. Others believe that pheromones need more research and can affect humans just as they do other animals.

This study showed that exposure to the steroids androstadienone and estratetraenol had no significant effect on human behavior. These results were consistent with those of other experimental studies and reviews that suggest these steroids are unlikely to be human pheromones.

Meanwhile, this study claims that we can reasonably anticipate that humans have pheromones but that we’ve lost our responses to them over time due to a lack of selection pressure.

Finally, this study concluded that androstadienone plays a beneficial role in women’s mood, focus, and sexual response. However, the scientists noted that more research was needed to validate the conclusions before androstadienone products could be scientifically endorsed.

As you can see, the jury is still out when it comes to human pheromones. This is certainly an interesting area to keep up with as studies continue to help us learn about human pheromones and their effects.

Gain Confidence the Proven Way

Many people who seek out pheromone products are looking to feel more confident in themselves when it comes down to it. But with science unsure of whether these products provide even a small level of effectiveness, it’s time to find other ways to increase your confidence. Counseling is one effective way to work through any self-esteem issues you have and help you become more secure within yourself. There are even online counseling platforms like BetterHelp, where you can talk to a mental health professional from the comfort of your home.

If you struggle with confidence and want to build up your self-esteem, so you feel good walking into a room full of people, then consider reaching out for help. IIt’spossible to gain confidence naturally, rather than trying to find it in a perfume or cologne bottle full of pheromones!

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