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CROSS-SPECIES COMPARISONS: PHEROMONES AND SEXUAL BEHAVIOR

Pheromones are biochemical substances secreted outside the body (as opposed to hormones, which are secreted internally). Through the sense of smell, pheromones serve as an important means of communication among most animal species (Wilson and Bossert, 1963). The fact that animals make extensive use of the sense of smell has been known for some time. But more recently, many investigators have examined the possible effects of pheromones (Karlson and Luscher, 1959).

Pheromones were first discovered in insects, and many have since been identified in other organisms; several have been produced synthetically. Pheromones have been shown to be one prominent way in which lower organisms communicate sexually. With mice, pheromones have been implicated in the female's choice of a mate (Rogel, 1978). Female mice which have been impregnated have even been found to abort the pregnancy when exposed to the presence of the smell of a strange male mouse (Bruce, 1960), presumably because of the effects of some pheromone.

Comfort (1971) has speculated that pheromones may similarly play an important role in human sexual behavior, especially in sexual attraction and arousal. In 1974, Michael, Bousall, and Warner isolated fatty acids in the vaginal secretions of women which structurally were closely related to similar substances thought to be sex-attractant pheromones in monkeys. Other studies, both behavioral and biochemical in nature, also seemed to suggest a relationship between what might be termed human pheromones and human sexual behavior. However, recent critical reviews of this data (Beauchamp, Doty, Moulton, and Mugford, 1976; Rogel, 1978) have cast considerable doubt on this speculation. No mammalian reproductive pheromone has been definitely chemically identified; there is doubt that the substances tentatively termed human pheromones actually meet the traditional, scientific criteria that have been used to define nonmammalian pheromones. Also, vaginal odors have been found to be very complex, highly individualized, and affected by a variety of environmental factors (including diet, phase of menstrual cycle, and the use of deodorants and perfumes). These findings have led Rogel (1978) to conclude that while olfactory cues may influence human behavior in many ways, it is not likely that any form of chemical communication plays any significant role in the control of human sexual behavior.

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