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The Phenomenon of Pheromones

A few weeks ago 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.

Reed’s model of human sexual response renames this stage as 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 sexual stimulation 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 with her. 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, this sensation tends to be more elusive. Human survival for thousands of years depended on an acute sense of sound and sight. Thus, these two senses are far more highly developed than the olfactory organs in our little noses. Survival aside, even when it comes to mate choice and the decision to get it on, 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 — irrelevant 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. (That scene in “Ocean’s 13“…)

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

Cutler co-collaborated on a study that found that when women post-menopause 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, postmenopausal pheromone users noted substantial increases in hugging, petting, kissing, sleeping next to a romantic partner, and formal dates.

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 20’s. 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.  For you gentlemen, that long mountain bike date may be great, but don’t show up sans shower.

If the odorless pheromone phenomenon feels too enigmatic, try other stimulating scents such as lavender, licorice, pumpkin pie, and hot cinnamon rolls. This week, there’s apples and honey, too.  There may be something in the chemical composition of the odor, or perhaps the aroma incites your sexual imagination. But whether or not you believe in the science behind scent, allow your sensations seduce you.

Have a Sexy Shabbos and a Sexier Shana Tova!

About Dr. Jenni Skyler

Jenni Skyler, PhD, MSEd is a sex therapist and board certified sexologist. She is the Director of The Intimacy Institute for sex and relationship therapy in Boulder, Colorado. She holds a doctorate in Clinical Sexology and a Master of Education in Counseling Psychology - Marriage and Family Therapy track. She has worked in the field of sexual health as a therapist, educator, and public health consultant since 2005. In addition, Jenni is a PAIRS® certified instructor and hosts workshops and retreats to help couples emotionally enrich their relationships.

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