Role of Pheromones in Humans

Pheromones are bodily chemicals that communicate signals between members of the same animal species. Pheromones can alert animals to behaviors like mating partner selection, territory marking, or a potential threat lurking nearby when secreted via fluids like sweat.

But do pheromones exist in humans? And if so, do they play a specific role in sexual attraction? That's where experts seem to disagree.

This article discusses the concept of human pheromones, outlining available research on whether they may be an active part of sexual attraction behavioral processes.

Close-up of a couple holding hands

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Sex and Gender Terminology

Note that references in this article to men/males or women/females are based on biological sex chromosomes. Current research on pheromones does not delve deeply into gender, which refers to social norms typically associated with masculinity and femininity, nor sexual orientation, which refers to an emotional or sexual attraction to another person.

How Do Pheromones Work in Humans?

First named by researchers in the 1950s, pheromones are generally defined as chemicals that, when secreted, give off a signal to another animal of the same species. These signals can trigger a specific behavioral process that is key to survival and reproduction, like mating.

The Research

Though research has shown that pheromone attraction exists in other mammals, whether that includes humans is unclear. Some of this research consists of the following:

  • Studies involving animals like mice have illustrated how contact with a male-specific pheromone can prompt female sexual attraction. The findings suggest that the response to the pheromone is learned and remembered for future interactions. Evidence like this has enticed experts to ponder whether humans might mimic this sexual and reproductive behavioral response, though data is still pretty limited in this area.
  • Outside of sexual attraction, research has pointed to how pheromones may work in humans. Some studies have suggested human sweat can help sync up the timing of menstrual cycles.
  • Other studies have examined whether pheromone-like scent signals on the nipple area might help newborn babies recognize their mothers.

In any of these scenarios, however, it hasn't been proved whether a human pheromone would be responsible for such an effect.

Types of Pheromones

There are four types of pheromones:

  • Releasers (short-acting and linked to sexual attraction)
  • Modulators (found in sweat and impacts emotions)
  • Primers (affect puberty and menstrual cycles)
  • Signalers (provide information)

Specific Pheromones Involved in Human Attraction

Human sexual attraction behavior can be complicated to understand without the added concept of pheromones. Though studies have shown that pheromones can cause an instant behavioral or communicative response in animal mate attraction, it's unclear whether this interaction exists between humans.

Some researchers have identified two steroids that may potentially have pheromone effects in humans:

  • Androstadienone (AND), which is linked to male attraction
  • Estratetraenol (EST), which is linked to female attraction

Both AND and EST are found in human sweat and other bodily fluids and, in some cases, have been found to influence mood and sexual desire. Some studies suggested that females exposed to a male's AND scent were more likely to report being attracted to them.

Though neither chemical has been firmly scientifically established as a pheromone, there is still ongoing research into these steroids and their effects on sexual behavior.

Pheromones in Animals vs. Humans

Other types of animals, like bees, possess a tissue inside their nostrils that can detect pheromones and convey those signals to the brain. This is known as the vomeronasal organ (VNO). But in humans, the VNO isn't considered a working organ, so it's unclear whether it could communicate with the brain about pheromones in this way.

Pheromones, Perfumes, and Effectiveness

Studies have shown that scent plays a role in attraction and triggering specific memories in humans. And in other animals, research suggests that pheromones might drive this attraction factor based on individual scents.

These findings, mixed with preliminary evidence about the possibility of human pheromones, prompted the creation of certain perfume formulas marketed to contain human pheromones.

The concept behind this was that wearing those perfumes would give off the scent of pheromones that could help boost sexual attraction. Available research around the use of potential pheromones in fragrances is limited, but scientists haven't been able to establish a clear connection about the effectiveness of these products.

Animal Pheromone Products

Some animal pheromone-containing products on the market, like collars or scent diffusers, aim to change the behavior of dogs and cats. This usually includes calming stress or fear, helping with housebreaking, or improving a tense relationship between animals in the same household.

Research is ongoing about how effective these products are and whether they could expand to help a broader range of behavioral issues.


Naturally occurring substances known as pheromones serve as chemical messengers in animals. They can trigger a behavioral response in a member of the same species when secreted via sweat. This includes processes like sexual attraction, mate selection, danger signaling, and more.

Experts are mixed over whether pheromones exist in humans because there's not enough solid scientific evidence to support this claim. Though some research has suggested that certain steroids (androstadienone and estratetraenol) may act as pheromones linked to human sexual response, other studies haven't been able to confirm these findings.

Perfume makers have maximized on this pheromone suggestion, producing products that claim to contain attraction-boosting pheromones, but these formulas haven't been scientifically backed.

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By Cristina Mutchler
Cristina Mutchler is an award-winning journalist with more than a decade of experience in national media, specializing in health and wellness content.