After many years of darkness on the subject, scientists now
seem to agree that there is a very unique system with which both humans and
many other animals receive their pheromonal chemical messengers from the air.
This system is quite separate from the one with which we detect normal smells
and is especially linked to our emotions and sexual behavior. This system is
known as the AOS (accessory olfactory system) and even uses a special pair of
organs to do its work, the VNO (vomeronasal organs). The following is a short
history of the discovery of these organs through which pheromones influence our
perceptions. Many of the details come from an article that appeared in the
Journal of NIH Research in January of 1994 (volume 6) by Robert Taylor.
A great deal of research has been done, which clearly shows the power of pheromones over the sexual and territorial behaviors of various animals. In these studies there can be little doubt of the importance of the VNO in mediating these effects, because when the VNO is surgically removed from any of these animals they will not mate at all unless they have had prior sexual experience. If you open most medical text books, however, you will read that the human VNO disappears while we are still in the womb, and therefore does not exist in adult humans. This was the unchallenged medical dogma for fifty years, and has only recently been corrected.
The human VNO was first mentioned in anatomy books as early
as the late 1700s, but the whole idea of its existence was stricken down by a
team of well-known scientists in the 1930s and no one has had the courage or
inclination to refute them until now. There is a lot of speculation as to the
psychological forces that could create such a long and hard to break “dark
ages” for pheromone research, but in any case the independent efforts of
two teams of researchers have demonstrated to everyones satisfaction that
humans do indeed possess a VNO that does in fact react to stimuli in the air.
David Moran, Robert Josephson and colleagues at the University of Toronto in
Canada reported in the Journal of Otolaryngology that vomeronasal pits were
present in about 40 percent of the adults they examined, and Bruce Jafek, an
otolaryngologist at the University of Colorado in Denver found a VNO in all of
The jury is still out as to whether the VNO is actually connected to the brain or not, but there is plenty of strong support that it does. Two of the VNO’s staunchest supporters, scientists David Moran and David Berliner have helped found two companies that are banking that it does, the Pherin Corporation in Menlo Park, which is devoting a lot of time and money into researching the VNO as a delivery system for drugs, and the EROX
Corporation, the first fragrance manufacturer to patent pheromones for reputed
effects on sexual behavior.
Does this mean we are no more than animals and can be literally led around by the nose? Not according to Robert Taylor: “the effects of chemical cues in mammals depend strongly on other visual, auditory, or tactile stimuli received at the same time. Furthermore, mammals are behaviorally more complex than other animals. Human sexual behavior depends on everything from hormonal state to childhood memories and moral philosophy. A chemical cue is unlikely to override a lifetime of socialization.”