There is much mystery and wonder in human attraction, but there is also a great deal of science that has underpinned the discovery that certain chemicals that we emit can act as powerful attractors to the opposite sex. These were first termed as “pheromones” back in 1959 by Martin Luscher and Peter Karlson after the first active pheromone compound was found by Adolf Butenandt to excite the hapless silkworm moth.
The word pheromone itself derives from a combination of two Greek words, pherein (which means to transport) and also hormone (which means to stimulate). So taken together it means a substance that is capable of transport outside the body and which then in turn has a direct stimulating effect on the hormonal response of the recipient.
That is the technical jargon. The human side of this, as most adolescent males will be able to tell you, is a substance that creates a sexual desire and fervor in the opposite sex. And in the same way that early chemists sort valiantly for “The Philosophers Stone” that would allow them to turn lead into gold, later chemists have sought to both understand the chemical mechanisms of human desire, and also to try to discover the substances that trigger it.
It would, of course, be extremely convenient if the same pheromones that work on a silkworm moth, or in later studies bark beetles, worked on humans. But the transport mechanisms that work to excite insects are not the same as humans, and so new and different research has had to be undertaken to find the pheromone attractants that set men and women’s hearts aflutter.
Given the importance from a biological perspective of attracting a mate, you might assume that this problem would long since have been solved. And if you were to look in the back pages of any men’s magazine then the truth is that there are all manner of products that claim to have unlocked the secrets of pheromones and their ability to turn someone else’s heart to jelly.
But the truth is that until recently there was no firm evidence for a chemical compound that consistently worked, and these magazine products were generally nothing more than chemical compounds that had at best been shown to have an effect in animals such as pigs, but which lacked critical scientific data in humans, or at worst were little better than a scam intended to pray on the weaknesses of randy men.
The Work of Dr. Winnifred Cutler and George Preti
It is only in the last twenty-five years that creditable research has emerged that casts new light on the quest for human pheromones that actually work, and it was a biologist, Dr. Winifred Cutler, and a chemist, George Preti who first published work in a mainstream scientific journal (“Hormones and Behavior”) to back up their work into nature’s elixir of attraction.
Dr. Cutler was a researcher at the Monell Chemical Senses Center at the University of Pennsylvania in the mid-1980s when alongside George Preti she carried out research into the role that sweat from the underarms of men can play in influencing the menstrual cycle of women.
This was first prompted by earlier research that she had done in the 1970s which had showed that the menstrual cycles of women who had regular sexual intercourse with men was more regular then females who had only occasional, or sporadic sexual encounters with men; which led her to question why this was, and what the causal factors behind these facts was.
The actual study that she used to get to the bottom of this in 1985 itself illustrates the sometimes bizarre nature of scientific experiments. The men were made to wear pads under their arms which would collect their sweat, then three times a week this was then wiped onto the top lip of seven women to see if it would affect their menstrual cycle.
All in the name of science
These seven women fell into two distinct time frames for their menstrual cycle, either a period of less than twenty-six days or a period of more than thirty-three days.
The reason why this is significant is that scientists have found a close-correlation between certain lengths of menstrual cycles and fertility levels. And so when, after approximately three months, the women’s menstrual cycles seemed to have changed to be close to the optimum time frame (from a fertility perspective) of 29.5 days, then the researchers knew that they were potentially on to something profound.
The conclusion that was drawn from this initial research was that there was some substance in male underarm sweat that was acting as a human pheromone to encourage human fertility.
The reason why this was profound was that it meant both that there was a symbiotic relationship between female fertility and the men around them, and also that there was some substance within male sweat that had a pheromone effect and which could bring about a physiological change in women.
The Development of Commercial Human Pheromones
The study was published in 1986, and there was immediately an avalanche of publicity with respected media bodies throughout the world reporting the study and its possible implications for the development of some kind of commercial human pheromone.
This was however not the first research that had been carried out in menstrual cycles synchronizing, with Martha McClintock performing a study in 1971 that showed that women who live together started to have similar length menstrual cycles. Even more interestingly McClintock also carried out a follow-up study in 1998 which mimicked the 1985 study of Dr Winnifred Cutler and George Preti, only this time she wiped the sweat from under women’s arms onto the noses of other women, and this too influenced the length of the women’s menstrual cycles.
Taken together then it seems clear that there is some pheromone type chemical that is active in both male and female underarm sweat, and the real question then becomes whether it is possible to isolate the active compounds, and bottle them, to produce a real product that acts to make you seem more attractive to the opposite sex.
The Founding of the Athena Institute
It was this idea that led in 1986, following the publication of her joint paper into menstrual cycles in women, to Dr. Winnifred Cutler founding a biomedical research facility called the Athena Institute. It was during the next few years from 1986 to 1993 that she worked on copying the human pheromones she had identified in her earlier work, and on isolating the active compounds that had led to the effects in those studies.
This work then led to the development of two different odorless and colorless pheromones by the Athena Institute in the 1990’s aimed at both men and women.
The first of these was released in 1993 and was aimed at women. It was branded as Athena Pheromone 10:13 and it was designed to be a chemical copy for women of the same chemicals that sexually active and attractive women emit naturally when they are in their late twenties and early thirties.
And in 1994 a version was developed for men and was branded as Athena Pheromone 10X. With this, it was designed so that the product could be directly added to any aftershave product, as it was colorless and odorless.
Throughout this period, Dr. Cutler continued to be feted by the media and wrote several best-selling books including in 2009 “Hormones and Your Health: The Smart Woman’s Guide to Hormonal and Alternative Therapies for Menopause”.
The ABC 20/20 Study
In December 2005, the respected media outlet ABC carried out its own informal study into whether the Athena Pheromone products produced the desired outcomes, namely an increase in attraction from the opposite sex.
There were two tests that were carried out, and whilst the results are very far from scientific proof, they are anecdotally compelling.
The first involved a speed dating event. Two sets of twins, one female set and one male set, both in their twenties were sent to a speed dating event. One of each of the twins applied the Athena Pheromones, whilst the other had a placebo, but neither knew which was being applied.
They then each went on 10, five minute dates, and at the end of the time their “Meet Me Again!” statistics were compiled.
In each case the twin who had used the Athena Pheromone got considerably more requests to see them again.
In the case of the women it was almost double the amount of men who wanted to see them again, 9 positive response for the pheromone wearer, and 5 for the non-wearer.
And in the men’s case it was 10 out of 10 for the twin wearing the pheromone, and only 6 out of 10 for the non-wearer.
In the second case, two women in their 40’s were asked to wear the Athena Pheromones regularly for three months and keep a video diary.
Both became convinced that they were getting more male attention.
The area of human attraction is clearly always going to be complicated, but the role that human pheromones play in the love game may just be worth another look.