A fear of pheromones (revisited)

Is 40 years too long to be afraid of human pheromones?

“I should think we might fairly gauge the future of biological science, centuries ahead by estimating the time it will take to reach a complete comprehensive understanding of odor. It may not seem a profound enough problem to dominate all the life sciences, but it contains, piece by piece, all the mysteries.” Lewis Thomas (Thomas, 1980) as quoted in (Kohl & Francoeur, 1995; 2002, p. 24). See also “A Fear of Pheromones” (Thomas, 1971).

In a series of 3 experiments researchers have shown an interaction of male axillary odor with fragrance that suggests the fragrance makes human body odor more attractive. Although the exact mechanism of this interaction is not known, fragrances seem to enhance sexual attractiveness and they may effectively modulate sexual arousal and mood response of women, especially when women are in the ovulatory phase of their cycle. Also odor cues are of most importance to women in the context of partner choice and women prefer the odor of psychologically dominant men (see for review Lenochova et al., 2012)

Androstenes, like androstadienone, are chemical constituents of human axillary sweat that affect the mood, physiology and social perception of heterosexual women in both laboratory and semi-realistic settings (Berglund, Lindstrum, & Savic, 2006; Havlicek, Murray, Saxton, & Roberts, 2010; Saxton, Lyndon, Little, & Roberts, 2008). Androstenol affects levels of luteinizing hormone and mood (Preti, Wysocki, Barnhart, Sondheimer, & Leyden, 2003; Shinohara, Morofushi, Funabashi, & Kimura, 2001; Shinohara, Morofushi, Funabashi, Mitsushima, & Kimura, 2000). Androsterone is one of two primary metabolites of dehydroepiandrosterone, which is found in much higher amounts in humans than in other primates and has been linked to testosterone levels and reproductive fitness in athletes participating in competitive sports (Kohl, 2007).

Unlike androstadienone or any other androstene, the mixture of androstenol and androsterone has been shown to cause changes in women’s flirtatious behavior and in their self-reported level of attraction to the man wearing the mixture (Kohl, Kelahan & Hoffmann, unpublished). The molecular mechanisms of this interaction, which apparently involve the effect of androstenol on hormones and the affect of androsterone on behavior, are well-known across species and are modeled in: Human pheromones and food odors: epigenetic influences on the socioaffective nature of evolved behaviors.


Berglund, H., Lindstrum, P., & Savic, I. (2006). Brain response to putative pheromones in lesbian women. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 103(21), 8269-8274.

Havlicek, J., Murray, A. K., Saxton, T. K., & Roberts, S. C. (2010). Current Issues in the Study of Androstenes in Human Chemosignaling. In G. Litwack (Ed.), Vitamins & Hormones (Vol. Volume 83, pp. 47-81): Academic Press.

Kohl, J. V. (2007). The Mind’s Eyes: Human pheromones, neuroscience, and male sexual preferences. In M. R. Kauth (Ed.), Handbook of the Evolution of Human Sexuality (pp. 313-369). Binghamton: Haworth Press.

Kohl, J. V., & Francoeur, R. T. (1995; 2002). The Scent of Eros: Mysteries of Odor in Human Sexuality. New York: Continuum Press; 2nd ed. Lincoln NE: iUniverse Press.

Lenochova, P., Vohnoutova, P., Roberts, S. C., Oberzaucher, E., Grammer, K., & Havlicek, J. (2012). Psychology of Fragrance Use: Perception of Individual Odor and Perfume Blends Reveals a Mechanism for Idiosyncratic Effects on Fragrance Choice. PLoS ONE, 7(3), e33810.

Preti, G., Wysocki, C. J., Barnhart, K. T., Sondheimer, S. J., & Leyden, J. J. (2003). Male axillary extracts contain pheromones that affect pulsatile secretion of luteinizing hormone and mood in women recipients. Biol Reprod., 68(6), 2107-2113. Epub 2003 Jan 2122.

Saxton, T. K., Lyndon, A., Little, A. C., & Roberts, S. C. (2008). Evidence that androstadienone, a putative human chemosignal, modulates women’s attributions of men’s attractiveness. Horm Behav, 14, 14.

Shinohara, K., Morofushi, M., Funabashi, T., & Kimura, F. (2001). Axillary pheromones modulate pulsatile LH secretion in humans. Neuroreport., 12(5), 893-895.

Shinohara, K., Morofushi, M., Funabashi, T., Mitsushima, D., & Kimura, F. (2000). Effects of 5alpha-androst-16-en-3alpha-ol on the pulsatile secretion of luteinizing hormone in human females. Chem Senses., 25(4), 465-467.

Thomas, L. (1971). A Fear of Pheromones. New England Journal of Medicine, 285(7), 392-393.

Thomas, L. (1980). On Smell. New England Journal of Medicine, 302(13), 731-733.


About James V. Kohl 1307 Articles
James Vaughn Kohl was the first to accurately conceptualize human pheromones, and began presenting his findings to the scientific community in 1992. He continues to present to, and publish for, diverse scientific and lay audiences, while constantly monitoring the scientific presses for new information that is relevant to the development of his initial and ongoing conceptualization of human pheromones. Recently, Kohl integrated scientific evidence that pinpoints the evolved neurophysiological mechanism that links olfactory/pheromonal input to genes in hormone-secreting cells of tissue in a specific area of the brain that is primarily involved in the sensory integration of olfactory and visual input, and in the development of human sexual preferences. His award-winning 2007 article/book chapter on multisensory integration: The Mind’s Eyes: Human pheromones, neuroscience, and male sexual preferences followed an award winning 2001 publication: Human pheromones: integrating neuroendocrinology and ethology, which was coauthored by disinguished researchers from Vienna. Rarely do researchers win awards in multiple disciplines, but Kohl’s 2001 award was for neuroscience, and his 2007 “Reiss Theory” award was for social science. Kohl has worked as a medical laboratory scientist since 1974, and he has devoted more than twenty-five years to researching the relationship between the sense of smell and the development of human sexual preferences. Unlike many researchers who work with non-human subjects, medical laboratory scientists use the latest technology from many scientific disciplines to perform a variety of specialized diagnostic medical testing on people. James V. Kohl is certified with: * American Society for Clinical Pathology * American Medical Technologists James V. Kohl is a member of: * Society for Neuroscience * Society for Behavioral Neuroendocrinology * Association for Chemoreception Sciences * Society for the Scientific Study of Sexuality * International Society for Human Ethology * American Society for Clinical Laboratory Science * Mensa, the international high IQ society