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02.11.09

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Phaedra

Pit Bull: Male sweat contains a compound that works on the ladies--but not, as is commonly believed, to turn them on.

Scent of a Scam

Our writer tests the power of pheromones

By Curtis Cartier


There are few substances in the world that can both exterminate a species of crop-munching insect and increase your chances of ending up in a threesome. But ever since scientists began messing around with pheromones, nature's sexiest cologne, a world of possibilities has opened up for both the casual dater and the angry farmer.

Pheromones are naturally created chemicals that animals use to tell other animals of the same species everything from "The food's over here" to "Let's get it on." They are colorless, odorless and tasteless and can work in amounts so small you'd need an electron microscope to see them.

Central Coast residents have an interesting relationship with pheromones. Since 2007, when the California Department of Agriculture tried to eradicate the light brown apple moth using crop-dusting airplanes to spray vast swaths of Santa Cruz and Monterey counties with pheromones--thereby throwing the moths into a confusing state of sexual overload--there have been plenty of opinions thrown around about these controversial chemical compounds. That's why it was with some hesitation that I agreed to try out "human pheromones" and put to bed the debate over whether the opposite sex can be tricked into the sack using materials other than alcohol, drugs, sports cars or cash.

Smells Like Teens Smear It
Pherlure brand cologne advertises itself as a surefire way to "attract sexual attention instantly from the opposite sex." The product's website displays claim after claim from men who say they sprayed themselves with this love juice and within minutes became the lunch meat in a hot chick sandwich. And though I was a little skeptical at first, thanks to the site's video endorsement from supermodel CJ Gibson, who essentially claims this stuff can get a comic book store clerk with recurring eczema and a level 62 Gnome Paladin character in World of Warcraft laid, I was eventually convinced.

Four days and $55 later, a tiny 1-ounce bottle of human pheromone spray arrived. I should have known something was amiss when I noticed that the bottle was accompanied by an instruction booklet chock-full of hints like "Listen to her," "Make eye contact" and "Be interesting." Didn't I buy this stuff so I wouldn't have to do any of those things?

But putting aside the initial letdown, I pumped a few nozzlesful onto my neck and wrists (it smells like your standard Macy's counter cologne) then headed home to my unsuspecting girlfriend. Bracing for a sexual hurricane, I positioned myself on the couch and waited for my clothes to be ripped from my torso. But when nothing besides the normal "How was your day?" and "Playing Warcraft again, I see" exited her lips, I began to wonder if this stuff was legit. And while it should be noted that I did eventually "seal the deal," it was accomplished more by tried-and-true determination on my end than by any subconscious hypnotism by my cologne. Or was it?

I decided to ask a few scientific folks about whether human pheromones are a sexual superweapon or just a stinky scam.

Catch 'n' Sniff
"Pheromones are very important in the animal world," says UC-Berkeley biology professor Wayne Getz, who has studied the effects of pheromones in bees and cockroaches. "Whether they are effective in humans is debatable. The vomeronasal organ [used to detect pheromones] in humans is highly atrophied, which tells us that it doesn't play as centralized a role as in other animals. One thing to note is that pheromones, when effective, need to come in low concentrations. Too much and females can't find males because the pheromones are coming from all angles."

"Too much" was exactly the strategy the Department of Agriculture thought would confuse and kill off the LBAM. Sexual signals from all angles! Chaos!

But maybe, with people, it's possible to skip the "kill off" part and just stick with "confuse." After all, "confusion" caused by alcohol has led to quite a bit of sex in humankind's sordid history. Perhaps Bernard Grosser, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Utah, could help sort it out. Grosser was part of a team of scientists that in 2000 created and patented androstadienone, a pheromone compound harvested from human hair and skin. He stands passionately behind his research, which is now used in Natural Attraction cologne, made in San Jose.

"[Androstadienone] is a compound very common in male sweat," says Grosser. "We discovered that the effect of this compound on women wasn't sexual but it reduced tension and anxiety. In my opinion a human pheromone or humanlike pheromone does exist."

Pheromones are real, it seems. Whether humans use them for anything other than cologne-making schemes, however, is questionable. And since by the end of my human pheromone experiment, the only thing I attracted was several housecats at the Santa Cruz Animal Shelter, it can be concluded that, yes, it's a good idea to smell good if you're planning on getting lucky. But unless you're a light brown apple moth or a tabby cat, you're going to need more than mojo spray if you're looking to bag a babe.


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