Is he dreamy or just too stinky?

The same guy could smell great to me but repulsive to another girl. Back in 2007, the first study linking genetic variations to smell perception was published in Nature. Interestingly, the chemicals that were found to have a relationship to differences in genes were androstenone and androstadienone. These are interesting because they are both released in sweat and urine and are known to stimulate arousal. Androstenone smelled like urine, vanilla, or nothing at all depending on the gene variant of the smellers! Of course, just because you can’t smell it, doesn’t mean it isn’t eliciting some response from you. I was surprised to discover that there are a number of androstenone sprays and colognes marketed towards guys who want to attract women. They may be disappointed to find out that they smell like pee to a good chunk of the female population!

testosteroneA little more about androstenone:

  • It smells like urine, vanilla, or nothing at all depending on your genetics (in case you missed that above 😉
  • It’s a derivative of testosterone and thus is more concentrated in men
  • Causes sexual arousal, sweating and increases stress in women
  • Women are more sensitive to it when they’re ovulating

androstadienoneWhat about androstadienone?

  • Responses to it are also linked to your genes
  • Is also a derivative of testosterone and thus is more concentrated in men
  • Studies show that women find men more attractive when they are exposed to androstadienone
  • Decreases stress symptoms in women
  • Again, women are more sensitive to it when they’re ovulating

Are androstenone and androstadienone pheromones?

The interesting thing to me is the debate on whether or not they are actually considered pheromones. What’s a pheremone? A pheremone is a chemical signal that triggers a social response. I don’t know about you, but that definition certainly makes me think these chemicals are pheremones! In fact, most of the media do refer to them as pheremones. However, scientists are still debating this. It’s not 100% clear to me why, but my impression is that it has to do with the variability in the results of studies, the high concentrations of these chemicals used in studies, and the challenges of studying scent perceptions.

Related Reads

For scientists: A review article on androstenes

Interesting article in the Scientific American that explores more about pheromones: Armpit Psychology: The Science of Body Odor Perception


Illustration of the guy and gals is by Chemicals Are Your Friends visual artist, Mike Ellis!


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