Could you please enlighten me as to the latest Straight Dope on pharmones (sp?) and aphrodisiacs? --Your devoted reader, Robin Razzano, Glendale, California
PS: Please hurry, I need all the help I can get.
For starters, sweetcheeks, it's "pheromones," not "pharmones." Boys don't get chummy with girls who are dummies, you know. As for boosting what I take to be your somewhat dismal romantic fortunes, don't get your hopes up. Research on human pheromones (or, more specifically, sex attractants that work via the sense of smell) is still in its infancy, but the results so far have been mostly negative. Ditto for aphrodisiacs in general. But let's take one thing at a time.
The existence of pheromones among your lower forms of life, such as insects, monkeys, and weekly newspaper editors, is well established. The female of the species secretes a chemical known as a copulin (cute, huh?), which instantly drives the male into a rutting frenzy.
Fatty acid materials similar to those that make up monkey copulins have been found in the vaginal secretions of human females, but no one has been able to show that they perform a similar function. One research team had volunteers sniff samples taken from women at various points in the menstrual cycle, with a view toward rating the relative pleasantness thereof. (I do not wish to hear any smart remarks about this.) While there was a slight decrease in unpleasantness around the time of ovulation, i.e., maximum fertility, the smell never exactly qualified as attractive. Another team isolated the aforementioned fatty acids and told various married female volunteers to dab a little on their bodies every night to see whether it turned their hubbies into howling beasts. Result: ixnay once again.
Still, there is some evidence that pheromones do exist. You may recall that Cecil wrote a while back about menstrual synchrony--the tendency of women living in close quarters to menstruate at the same time. Studies have shown that one dominant woman can cause others to synchronize with her cycle as a result of smelling her sweat. Furthermore, female volunteers exposed to male sweat found their menstrual cycles, which previously had ranged anywhere from 26 to 33 days in length, tended to stabilize at 29.5 days. These things surely mean something, but God knows what, and they're certainly not going to snag you a man-thang.
Nonetheless, several cosmetics companies have come out with perfumes that supposedly contain pheromones. The folks at Jovan, for instance, have been kind enough to send me a sample of Andron, "the pheromone-based cologne for men." Andron contains alpha androstenol, an alleged pheromone made from tears and sweat. Having daubed Andron liberally about my being, I am pleased to report that I now sleep regularly with a beautiful woman. However, since this is the same babe I have been sacking out with for several years anyway, we must conclude either that androstenol is so powerful it works three years in advance, or else that its efficacy remains to be demonstrated.
Jovan's promotional literature sort of dances around this point. But even if Andron does perform exactly as advertised, it's important to note that all you're getting for your money is something that the body supposedly secretes naturally for free. Jovan, in other words, is selling iceboxes to Eskimos.
Regarding other aphrodisiacs, the news is no better. We'll talk about this more next week, but here's a couple things for the time being: first, no effective aphrodisiac has ever been invented, although some think experiments with brain chemicals may eventually prove fruitful (don't hold your breath); and second, even if an aphrodisiac is discovered, the results may not be exactly what you have in mind. I am reminded of the following sexist joke, which I found in the john yesterday. Q: What's the difference between a dog and a fox? A: A six-pack. Disgusting, sure, but you see the problem you face.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): illustration/Slug Signorino.