What are pheromones? Pheromones are odorous substances that are released on the skin of mammals (including humans), that can affect social and sexual behavior of other animals from the same species.
They have been an interesting topic of debate among scientists and skeptics for some time now, and it is still not entirely conclusive.
They often conjure up serious questions about the existence of such things, and whether it is a real or imagined phenomena.
In this article, I will cover the main bases of current research on the topic, from a scientific point of view, as well as speculative conclusions as an enthusiast of several years.
Speculative conclusions are made from what I can gather about them from research, as well as testing individual products & molecules and observing their effects.
So let’s get started.
What are pheromones?
- Pheromones are odorous substances that are understood to be “chemical messengers”. They are present in animals (including humans), and are detected by an organ called the vomeronasal organ (VNO, or Jacobson’s Organ). The vomeronasal organ is connected to the limbic system of the brain, which is also known as the “seat of emotions” (which can influence social and sexual behavior in animals of the same species).
- The word “pheromone” comes from the Greek word “pherein” (which means “to carry” or “to bear”), and “mone” comes from the word “hormone” (or “hormon”, or “to excite”).
- The term “pheromone” was first coined by Peter Karlson and Martin Lüscher in 1959. The word was made to give a name to the chemicals animals and insects use to communicate within their species.
- Who discovered human pheromones? The most likely person to discover human pheromones is a scientist named Alex Comfort. Dr. Winnifred Cutler did NOT discover them, and attempts to take credit for much earlier research on this phenomena.
- Common misspellings: Pheramones, pharamones, phermones, feremones, feramones, faramones, pharemones. In Spanish, “pheromone” translates to “feramona”.
Pheromones are also known as “ectohormones”, because they are hormones, but act outside the body. Although they were originally discovered by studying animals, it is only in recent decades that research has come to light on how they work in humans (and a lot of research is still highly debated – which will be examined below).
In this article, I will give you resources to studies, research, and also critical studies from scientists that remain skeptical of whether they exist in humans, and whether they work.
But first, to truly understand what they are, we must also understand what a “hormone” is.
What are hormones? Hormones are a major part of what makes us function as humans, and what drives our social, sexual, and instinctive behavior.
Hormones are created created by various “glands” in the body, which is controlled by the endocrine system.
Here is a quick overview of the major glands that are controlled by the endocrine system:
- Pineal Gland – produces melatonin, which is important for sleep cycles.
- Hypothalamus – produces hormones that regulate body temperature, appetite and weight, mood, sex drive, sleep, and thirst.
- Pituitary Gland – the “master control gland” makes hormones that control growth, reproduction, lactation, and the activity of other glands.
- Thyroid – produces hormones that control the rate at which the body burns calories and how fast the heart beats.
- Parathyroid – controls the amount of calcium in our bones and blood.
- Thymus – active until puberty, produces cells crucial to the immune system that protect the body from threats such as viruses and infections.
- Adrenal Glands – produce androgens and cortisol; gives your body odor and pubic hair, helps in how we respond to stress; regulates blood pressure and more.
- Pancreas – produces insulin, glucagon and other hormones but primarily responsible for controlling blood sugar levels.
- Ovaries – female reproductive glands that produce eggs and sex hormones – including estrogen, testosterone and progesterone – which are vital to reproductive organ development, breast development, bone health, pregnancy, and fertility.
- Testes – male reproductive glands produce sperm and secretes testosterone.
Hormones influence our behavior – which is often why an “imbalance” of certain hormones can cause emotional, physical or social issues in humans.
Take for example, testosterone. This is produced primarily by men – however, an overabundance of this hormone can result in acne, severe mood changes, and strong muscle growth (this is why steroid users can experience something called “roid-rage”).
However, when it comes to pheromones, they work a little bit differently to a hormone.
Pheromones are hormones, but are excreted by animals on skin, hair, and saliva (sweat and bodily fluids). For humans, they are found on our skin and are excreted through our pores (and most abundantly in the armpits, or the axillary region).
From there, they can become airborne, and be detected by other humans.
However, there is still a lot of debate about the functioning of the “vomeronasal organ”, which is the core of disagreement about the existence of human pheromones.
The debate stems from the human version of the VNO, appearing vastly different from those found in other mammals, as well as non-mammalian species. It also appears that the structure of the VNO (if it functions), is used only intermittently (as an “accessory” to the main olfactory system, which picks up scent).
One other reason that scientists continue to ask “what are pheromones?”, is that the VNO also seems to have no nerves connected to it.
This is why it is difficult to conclusively say whether it is due to actually being picked up by the VNO – OR, whether it is another mechanism responsible for the effects that are noted when exposing subjects to them.
Here are studies which attempt to explain, as well as prove/disprove the vomeronasal organ (VNO):
- Human Vomeronasal Organ Function: Critical Analysis
- Structure and Function of the Vomeronasal Organ
- VNO Is Not Involved In Perception of Endogenous Odors
- Pheromones and other Chemical Communication in Animals
- The Vomeronasal Cavity In Adult Humans
The realm of pheromone science in this specific area remains relatively nascent, with many intricacies yet to be fully comprehended. It’s a field teeming with various factors and complexities.
Nevertheless, what we do understand is that pheromones constitute an integral aspect of our humanity, serving as a tangible reminder of our profound connection to the animal kingdom, often more profound than we tend to acknowledge.
Yes, we navigate our lives in automobiles, don stylish attire, and adhere to a set of modern-world norms. Yet, beneath this veneer, our fundamental instincts persist—a primal urge for survival, the drive to reproduce, and the innate push to propagate our genetic legacy to the next generation.
Part of our ancient programming likely involves pheromones – from hunting prey, choosing suitable mates, detecting scents of animals, and the “6th sense” we have for survival.
There are several different categories that are used by various insects and animals (primates, as well as non-primate mammals).
These are relatively established for insects and animals to describe the behavior other animals have when exposed to their specific chemo-signals (of the same species).
What are pheromones purpose in human communication? The main (and most likely types) fall under 4 categories.
- Primer. This type seems to affect the endocrine/neuroendocrine system (onset of puberty, menstrual synchrony, suspected to affect the release of luteinizing hormone and affect testosterone levels). Mens axillary secretions were also shown to influence women’s menstruation cycles, suggesting that they improved regularity.
- Releaser. This type seems to affect behavior of other humans, is strongly suspected to have the most to do with sexual attraction. It was originally coined this by Karlson and Lüscher in 1959 to describe male moths attraction to a certain scent (isolated from female moths).
- Signal/Signaler. This type seems to convey “information” about a human to other humans. It is suspected that we all have an individual “odorprint”, to our unique genetic makeup. Some potential “information” these pheromones could convey are about your diet, environment, health/disease, gender, sexual orientation, virility/fertility etc. It is strongly suspected that this can identify compatible sexual or romantic partners.
- Modulator. This type seems to influence moods or emotions. This was introduced in the year 200 by McClintock’s laboratory, as a result of research into why our moods can in fact change our body odor. A study was done exposing groups of people to both anxiety-inducing, as well as comedic/relaxed parts of a movie, and more often than not, people were able to differentiate between the scents (link to study).
The classification of specific pheromones produced by humans is still debatable, and could change in the future.
The main reason is because the mechanism of how the vomeronasal organ works is still being researched – particularly in regard to reception of these specific types of scent. Which is why there is also confusion about how to classify them as it pertains to the effects on humans.
What is established, is that there are 3 classes of putative human pheromones:
- Axillary steroids. These are steroids that are released in sweat, and most abundantly in the axillary (the armpit) area. They are called axillary steroids because they are hormones and produced by the testes, ovaries, apocrine, & adrenal glands. They are also typically androstanes, androstenes, & androstadienes – which are derivatives of testosterone – an androgen, aka hormone (which is why many of the known pheromones often contain the “andro” prefix).
- Note: There are other other substances which can have noticeable effects on humans, but are still yet to be studied by the scientific community. However, there is research that confirms that they do have pheromone-like effects from the enthusiast community and testing.
- Vaginal aliphatic acids (copulins). These are various acids which have been known to create a chemical called “copulins”. Copulins are known to increase the attractiveness of women to men, as it has been observed to increase testosterone levels up to 150% higher than before exposure (the chemical releases in higher quantities during ovulation).
- Stimulators of the VNO. Along with pheromones that stimulate that VNO, there is a special type of tissue called “epithelia” or “epithelial tissues which may also serve as a chemical sensory organ. Research is still limited on this particular cell as it relates to human sense of smell.
A lot of research has been presented on the VNO and its function. But the question remains: do pheromones work?
Yes, they work. This has been demonstrated by observing and researching how animals use various scents to communicate with eachother. However, the biggest reason for debating their existence is when it is specifically about “human pheromones”.
Unfortunately, recent scientific, peer reviewed research is fairly limited.
There is also a lot of information out there with commercial interests in mind, particularly with studies on how they affect humans.
While this doesn’t completely discredit research, it can make some of the claims very questionable.
Several known researchers in this field (with commercial interests) include:
- James Vaughn Kohl (JV Kohl) – owner of LuvEssentials, Pheromones.com, Pheroplus.
- Winnifred B. Cutler, PhD – owner of Athena Institute.
This means the research can be strongly biased to favor a certain outcome.
While the community has uncovered a number of molecules that work as pheromones, the science community lags behind.
Here are links to various studies, articles, and journals that are both for, and against the idea of human pheromones:
Articles, journals, and studies (PDF format)
- Pheromones and their Roles as Aphrodisiacs (PDF)
- 50 Years Of Pheromones: Brief History & Summary of Research (PDF)
- Pheromones in Sex and Reproduction: Do They Have a Role In Humans (PDF)
- Human Pheromones and Sexual Attraction (Effects on Reproduction) (PDF)
- Are Mammal Olfactory Signals Hiding Right Under Our Noses? (PDF)
- Facts, Fallacies, Fears, and Frustrations With Human Pheromones (PDF)
- Androstadienone’s Influence On Facial/Vocal Attractiveness (PDF)
- Effects Of Pheromones On Perception Of Male Attractiveness (PDF)
- Variability In The Odorant Receptor And Effects Pheromone Perception (PDF)
- MHC-correlated odour preferences in humans (PDF)
Studies, journals, and articles (abstracts only)
- Steroids excreted by human skin. I. C19-steroids in axillary hair (abstract)
- Human Pheromones: Have They Been Demonstrated? (abstract)
- Chemosignal Androstadienone Makes Women More Generous (abstract)
- The Influence Of Androstenol On Mood Throughout Menstrual Cycle (abstract)
- Sex Differences in Response to the Odor of Alpha Androstenone (abstract)
- The Scent Of Fear (abstract)
- Rapid Mood Change And Human Odors (abstract)
- Human Olfactory Communication Of Emotion (abstract)
- Psychological Mood Effects of Steroidal Chemosignals in Men & Women (abstract)
- Olfaction In Humans With Reference To Odorous 16-androstenes (abstract)
- Scent of Symmetry: Human Sex Pheromone that Signals Fitness? (abstract)
Articles, journals, and studies (cited)
- Study Shows Some Male Pheromones Can Increase Cooperativeness
- Pheromones and Their Effect on Women’s Mood and Sexuality
- Information About Mammalian Pheromones And Their Possible Uses
- Behavioral & Physiological Changes When Exposed To 4,16-Androstadien-3-one
- Facts, Fallacies, Fears, and Frustrations With Human Pheromones
- Odorous Sex Hormone Compounds Affect the Hypothalamus
- Pheromones, Vomeronasal Function, and Gender Specific Behavior
Assuming the vomeronasal organ is functional, pheromones are capable of affecting our social and reproductive behaviors.
Considering there is limited information on the functioning of the vomeronasal organ, and how exactly it perceives these special scents, this is still under investigation.
However, it should be noted that “odor” is still highly distinctive for every individual – and there is a strong correlation of partners choosing the most unique genetic system to produce the most healthy offspring.
“Previous studies in animals and humans show that genes in the major histocompatibility complex (MHC) influence individual odors and that females often prefer odor of MHC-dissimilar males, perhaps to increase offspring heterozygosity or reduce inbreeding. “
The effects of specific pheromones
Aside from the observations in academic settings, the effects of various pheromones are far and wide, and most have been studied through testing and reporting on various forums and sources online.
Based on that, here are suspected and known pieces of information they can signal about you to others:
- Your emotional state (proven through several scientific studies)
- Genetic information (attracting compatible partners)
- Overall health (sickness affects pheromone production)
- Whether you’re male or female
- Sexual orientation (homosexual men respond to male pheromones as women do)
- Sociability (androstenol is known for social effects)
- Age, maturity level, trustworthiness (Possibly indicated through higher androsterone)
- Sexual assertiveness/aggressiveness (higher testosterone = more androstEnone)
- Your “status” in the pecking order (leader/follower)
- A unique combination of pheromones to create a unique “scent signature”, or “odorprint”. This also means you may be compatible with very specific people. You may find people who you normally wouldn’t find attractive, more attractive than usual if your genes or “chemistry” is highly compatible with a certain someone (see above about how the major histocompability index influences attraction between partners).
This list is made up of some of the most obvious, as well as “known” effects that have been researched (as a community, as well as the scientific community).
Remember, scientists are still catching up to what many enthusiasts have already found out through experimentation.
As an example, the main pheromones that have been put “under the microscope” in a scientific setting, are androstenone, androstenol, androstadienone, and androsterone.
However, there are over 20 unique pheromones (and pheromone-like substances) that have strong evidence to suggest certain effects on other people.
Here are just a few observed effects from single pheromones, as well as complex pheromone colognes & perfume formulas (that contain a synergistic mix of pheromones):
- Boost your social status and get you more respect from friends, family, acquaintances and more.
- Make people feel a sense of “awe” in your presence
- Dramatically improve your social skills
- Provide an aura of trust, respect, and admiration
- Make you more “charming” to men and women, which will get people to want to befriend you
- Make women extremely clingy towards you, and crave your presence
- HUGE indicators of interest (you’ll notice a LOT more touching, flirting, and conversation as women will be extremely intrigued by you)
- Maximize the positive personality traits you have, while making negative ones less noticeable
- Completely change someone’s “first impression” of you (great for getting out of friendzone, or getting an ex back)
- Create strong emotional attachment from women (or men)
Note: In-depth effects and studies of specific human pheromones, and other chemo-signals, scents, and odors that appear to affect humans is available here:
That covers the “scientific” part, as well as speculative research about what we know so far.
Yes, it’s still early in terms of having solid, scientific, peer reviewed research behind it.
But the exciting part is that we are on the forefront of this new technology, and who know where we might be in just a few years.
It’s also fascinating because we can actually play a part in this by contributing research, and figuring out how they work on other people.
There’s still so much to learn, and so many unanswered questions.
Hopefully in the near future, we can have groundbreaking new discoveries happening on a much more regular basis.
Are you ready to use the magic of pheromones in your life too?
Hopefully, this has provided a comprehensive answer to your inquiry about “what are pheromones?” It’s a concept that goes beyond mere expectation, as it’s an intrinsic part of our human identity.
I often find myself engrossed in documentaries about animals employing scents to navigate their world, from warding off predators to locating sustenance and mates. It’s truly fascinating to realize that humans are engaged in a similar practice, albeit on a much more intricate level.
It’s a testament to the marvels of our world—a captivating journey.
Thank you for your readership.
– Phero Joe