Pheromones In Popular Culture
Happy Friday, Love Scent fans!
First of all, we hope everyone had fun ringing in 2019! We’re still celebrating the start of the new year with our New Year’s discount, so you still have time to save! Just use the code HAPPYNEWYEAR at checkout to get 35% off your order.
Now, on to today’s topic: pheromones in popular culture!
There have been many depictions of pheromones in popular culture–in heist movies, superhero movies, horror movies, television shows, and more. That’s actually how many people get introduced to the concept of pheromones to begin with: pheromones are mentioned or used by characters in a movie or TV show, and the viewer (understandably) wants to learn more. We’ve had a few customers call or email us asking about a particular pheromone they saw in a movie or a TV show, hoping that we can tell them more about it.
But are depictions of pheromones in popular culture at all accurate?
The short answer: usually not.
Let’s take a closer look at some examples and explain where fiction writers get it wrong.
To start, let’s look at what is perhaps the most well-known depiction of pheromones in popular culture: the film Ocean’s 13. This fun flick uses pheromones as part of its heist plot: Matt Damon’s character dabs some pheromones on his neck in an attempt to seduce a woman so that he can steal diamonds from her. The woman (played by Ellen Barkin) instantly becomes aroused and distracted as soon as she smells the pheromones. She is hardly able to walk a straight line or form a coherent sentence, and makes increasingly aggressive advances at Matt Damon’s character as the minutes pass.
Take a look at a scene from the seduction plot:
She’s leaning towards him, barely able to hold onto her drink, breathing heavily, and doesn’t seem to care that her dress is falling off. Soon she’ll take Matt Damon’s hand and put it on her chest under the pretense of making him feel her racing heart, and when she spills her drink on his pants, she’ll enthusiastically pull them off–all because she took a sniff of the pheromones he’d dabbed on his neck a few minutes before. Essentially, she’s acting as though she is very drunk and very aroused.
When customers call in asking about pheromones they’ve seen in movies or on TV, they’re almost always asking about the pheromone they saw in Ocean’s 13. It’s such a well-known depiction of pheromones that some companies have created products inspired by it.
But is there any truth to this scene? Well, pheromones are a thing that exists, and people who smell them are usually affected by them…but that’s where the factual accuracy ends. As anyone who has used pheromones knows, the response you’ll get from real pheromones is almost never this intense. This is especially the case when you’re wearing pheromones around someone you’re not already in an intimate relationship with.
In real life, some common responses to pheromones are increased flirtatiousness (not forcibly ripping someone’s clothes off), relaxation (not something resembling inebriation), and easier conversation (not the inability to speak properly). Pheromones don’t obliterate people’s inhibitions or put them under a love spell; they bring out your naturally appealing and attractive qualities and give you an edge that you didn’t necessarily have before.
Now, if you’re already close to someone–say, a romantic partner or someone you have a casual sexual relationship with–then pheromones can certainly help intensify feelings of sexual attraction and intimacy, usually by helping people relax or enhancing an attraction that was already there. Basically, pheromones build off the important groundwork you already laid in the relationship and enhance qualities that your relationship has already enjoyed. But it is exceedingly rare for pheromones to take a virtual stranger and make them, as many viewers of this film’s scene say, “jump all over you.”
Basically, as we’ve said many times before, pheromones are not magic potions. They are tools, but they cannot do all the work for you. And they cannot take someone who is not interested in you and make them attack you in a fit of sexual passion.
This may be disappointing to some people, but it’s important to have a realistic view of pheromones when you start experimenting with them. Many people think that pheromones will have people falling over them or banging down their doors to get near them, but that’s just not how pheromones work. Again, they’re a tool, not a magic potion. When you understand this, you can use pheromones properly and enjoy greater success.
Some depictions of pheromones in popular culture are less amusing and more disturbing. An example: the film Perfume: The Story of a Murderer. In this film, a perfumer with a very gifted nose wants to create scents based off the scent (pheromone) profiles of women he meets. Many women die violent deaths in his quest to capture their scents. He does successfully capture the scent profiles of several of the women he kills, after using his sensitive sense of smell to track them down to begin with, and uses those captured profiles to create a custom perfume. When he is captured and charged for his serial murderers, he uses the perfume to essentially control the minds of the authorities, escaping execution. The story ends with the perfumer essentially committing suicide by applying the perfume all over himself and become devoured by a crowd of people who are overcome by the scent.
Luckily for us all, this depiction of pheromones is also not based in reality. While it’s true that there are people who are sensitive to other people’s personal scents (what is essentially their pheromone profile), those personal scents cannot be captured and replicated–and even if they could, they could not be used to control the minds of guards or drive a crowd to devour a person who smelled good to them. If you’re sensitive to a person’s unique pheromone profile, you might be more attracted to them or want to get closer to them, but their scent won’t make you lose all your inhibitions or judgement. And you certainly can’t use your own pheromone profile (or synthetic pheromones) to make anyone else lose their mind!
Perfume: The Story of a Murderer is not the only film to associate pheromones with uncontrollable urges that lead to violence. Siren is a film about a woman who is forced to live an isolated life outside of town because her unique pheromone profile causes men to become uncontrollably violent–towards each other, towards her, even towards their own families. Some men beat others to death over this woman’s uniquely potent pheromones; others are willing to ruin their families and marriages. The title, Siren, is of course inspired by the Greek myths of fantastical marine creatures who drive men mad and cause them to jump from their ships and drown. The mythological reference implies that pheromones have an otherworldly, supernatural power over us, leaving men helpless to control their urges.
By now, you’ve probably guessed what we’re going to say regarding this film’s accuracy: it’s not accurate at all. Yes, some people can have especially intense pheromone profiles; everything from diet to exercise to the amount of sleep you get can impact your natural pheromone levels. And yes, overdosing on strong sex pheromones can lead to agitation and minor aggression from others, especially alpha-type men. But pheromones that drive men to uncontrollable violence and murder? Pheromones that leave people helpless to primal, violent urges? That’s just not how pheromones work; the responses are just not that extreme. Any violence that a person commits is due to their own personality, and not the fault of pheromones (natural or synthetic).
So, are any depictions of pheromones in popular culture accurate? Or are they all overblown, extreme, and far more fantasy than reality?
Well, there actually is a reasonably accurate depiction of pheromones in popular culture. It comes from the well-known hospital drama ER, which ran from 1994 to 2009. In one of its earlier seasons, the hospital nurses and doctors treat a patient who sells something you’re very familiar with: pheromone-infused fragrances. The patient, who refers to the products as “biochemical-awareness therapy,” gives advice for different perfumes and unscented pheromones, even customizing her advice based on whether someone is in a relationship or not. Sound familiar?
This episode of ER even quashes some pheromone myths. One (straight male) doctor, Dr. Carter, accidentally breaks one of the bottles of pheromones; later, another (straight male) doctor, Dr. Greene, says that he thought Dr. Carter was coming onto him as they performed a medical procedure together. Dr. Carter assumes it must have been the pheromones, but it turns out that Dr. Greene was just teasing him–a nurse had told him about the broken bottle of pheromones and had helped him play a joke on Dr. Carter. And those who understand pheromones know that it wouldn’t have been the pheromones anyway, as pheromones can’t make a straight man attracted to other men; in fact, there’s nothing in the world that can change a person’s sexual orientation.
So, in the end, ER actually gives us a reasonable, measured depiction of pheromones. They’re enhancements, not magic potions, and they can’t control someone’s mind or make people attracted to someone they would never be attracted to. And, importantly, they’re not one-size-fits-all: different pheromones are better for different situations and different relationships.
There you have it! These are certainly not the only depictions of pheromones in popular culture, but they’re a good example of the inaccuracies that abound about pheromones–and a good reminder that popular culture is not always a good representation of reality. Movies and TV shows, even fictional works, can be a good way to discover new things, but it’s always important to do your research and make sure you know the truth behind the myths!
Have you seen any of these movies or shows? Are there other depictions of pheromones in popular culture that you wish we’d covered? Tell us about it in the comments! You can also contact us with questions, comments, and concerns. And be sure to subscribe to our newsletter to get free samples and to be the first to hear about blog posts, exclusive promotions, new products, and more!
These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.
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