I’m sure you’ve all heard by now of the publication in Science this week of a study suggesting that pheromones in women’s tears reduce testosterone levels and sexual arousal in men (summarised by Ed Yong here). This is definitely not my field, so I won’t attempt to add to the blogosphere’s ongoing analysis of the paper. However, I would like to share with you a (vaguely) related episode from high school…
I was with my A Level chemistry class (three male and two female students, and a female teacher), so we must have been somewhere between 16 and 18 years old. We were all standing on the benches of the science lab, not as an homage to Dead Poets Society, but because the room was freezing; our teacher had just returned from the staff room with a space heater, and was taking advantage of this opportunity to demonstrate how convection heating works. It was noticeably less frigid up there near the ceiling, and as we warmed up we were discussing a documentary about pheromones in moths that a few of us had seen on the BBC the night before.
Now, while my female friend and I were doing biology as well as chemistry A levels, all of our male counterparts were doing physics instead. (Not one student in my year did all three). One of these male students had never heard of pheromones before, and was asking lots of questions. Our teacher had seen the documentary too, and was listening in, but was letting my female friend and me take the lead in answering all questions.
Our male friend seemed to be gradually leading up to something, and finally blurted out, “do humans have these pheromones, too?”
“I think so”, I replied. “They didn’t really get past moths on the programme last night though”.
“Oh, yes, humans have pheromones”, added our teacher. “We’re probably influenced much more by smell than we’re consciously aware of”.
“So…”, continued the male student, “humans can give off scents that let other people know that they’re attracted to them?”
He looked increasingly worried at this point.
“Yes”, replied our teacher.
He was definitely getting quite agitated by now.
“From, like, how far away?”
He blushed bright red.
It took him a while to live that one down…