Pheromones are thought to be externally secreted through urine, semen, vaginal secretions, breast milk, axillary sweat, and potentially saliva and breath. Once released into the air by one individual, these secretions can then theoretically be detected by another individual via receptors in their nasal passages, explains Shannon Chavez, PsyD, a licensed psychologist and sex therapist for personal lubricant brand K-Y.
Some animals have a well-developed vomeronasal organ located in the nasal septum. That organ is what’s thought to detect pheromones secreted from other animals in proximity, according to naturopathic physician Jolene Brighten, N.D. Although recognized through the nose, Chavez notes pheromones may not have a detectable scent.
When a pheromone is detected by the recipient, it’s believed to send a signal to the brain which can influence mood, reproduction, sexual functioning, and more. The body essentially uses this information to make sense of its environment and respond appropriately: “Pheromones play a role in the survival and evolution of the body,” Chavez explains. “They trigger puberty, changes in reproductive function, and survival instincts that may be necessary for social environments where there is a threat.”
There’s much speculation about the impact pheromones have on human attraction, so before we dive further into the theory, we need to unpack its conclusive results so far–or lack thereof.