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Talking armpits? Guiding through pheromones!

“No pheromonal substance has ever been demonstrated to directly influence human behaviour.” That’s what the scientists say…but one smelly armpit around the braaifire (barbecue) could destroy such statements.

Are we sure that our ‘anthropines’ ( human pheromones) and are our signature smells, identified by science as lipophilic compounds that are associated with our skin and follicles, are not responsible for more communication other than that bad smelling armpit?

The word ‘pheromone’ in ancient Greek can mean ‘to bear or carry impetus’ or to ‘transport stimulus’ and for us layman (excuse the pun) should relate, in our lives, to the world of communication – and not simply sex!

There are many chemical messages sent and received in our world as we know it. None via the internet, or telephone or on the television, radio or in the newspapers…

Pheromones have evolved in all animal phyla, to signal sex and dominance status and are responsible for stereotypical social and sexual behaviour among members of the same species. In mammals these chemical signals are believed to be detected primarily by the vomeronasal organ (VNO), a chemosensory organ located at the base of the nasal septum.

An active role for the human VNO in the detection of pheromones is disputed; the VNO is clearly present in the fetus but appears to be atrophied or absent in adults. Let’s assume that the ‘smelly armpit’ is purely a signal for our noses, placed directly above our mouths, to ‘text’ our brains a message that reads “don’t eat it – it’s rotten!” A defence against food poisoning.

This does not seem to apply when it comes to new lovers ‘eating toes, licking ears’ or other unmentionable things?

Pheromones is a complicated science and my scientific knowledge is running dry – (remember the philosophy “Knowledge is a subset of what is true and what is believed!”) But in my anthropomorphic way, I believe (and so it could be true) that we have simply learned to loose the application of the natural pheromone. We rely so heavily on visual stimuli seconded by vocal utterances, and re-stimulated by visual niceties that we forget that ‘smelly armpits’ directly influence our behaviour!

Remember the smelly armpit around the braaifire (barbecue)? Now watch the aggregation of athletes, dancers and fighters as they hug, kiss and communicate their success or achievement with their fans, peers and comrades – no smelly armpit syndrome there!

Oh by the way – the aggregation pheromone is one serious reason for animals to get together on the African plains. The males also secrete pheromones that get the females to come to them.

When we next think about ‘smells’ (our perception of smells) let’s think about the following very different messages the olfactory (vormonasal or nose) system guides us in our lives. Think about divergent, convergent and orthologous evolution. Perhaps we have to be of the same ilk before we can ‘smell’ a great partnership, ie. the smell of money!

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