Human Nature

, Volume 17, Issue 4, pp 448–470 | Cite as

Do human menstrual-cycle pheromones exist?

  • Jeffrey C. SchankEmail author


Research over the past 15 years indicates, contrary to earlier results, that women do not synchronize their menstrual cycles. If women do not synchronize their cycles, this implies there is no mechanism for synchronizing cycles. Since a pheromone mechanism of synchronization is the only plausible mechanism that has been proposed, it follows that that there are no pheromones that modulate the length of menstrual cycles. To test this hypothesis, eight studies were reviewed that reported pheromone effects on menstrual cycles, other behavior, or physiological correlates in women. The prediction was that serious problems would be found in each of these studies. As predicted, serious problems were found in all eight studies. Taken together, these results cast doubt on the existence of pheromones that modulate the length of menstrual cycles.

Key words

Human pheromones Menstrual cycles Menstrual synchrony Sexual behavior 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Arden, M. A., and L. Dye 1998 The Assessment of Menstrual Synchrony: Comment on Weller and Weller (1997). Journal of Comparative Psychology 112:323–324.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. French, J. A., and J. A. Stribley 1985 Synchronization of Ovarian Cycles within and between Social Groups in Golden Lion Tamarins (Leontopithecus rosalia). American Journal of Primatology 12:469–478.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Gattermann, R., K. Ulbrich, and R. Weinandy 2002 Asynchrony in the Estrous Cycles of Golden Hamsters (Mesocricetus auratus). Hormones and Behavior 242:70–77.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Handelmann, G., R. Ravizza, and W. J. Ray 1980 Social Dominance Determines Estrous Entrainment among Female Hamsters. Hormones and Behavior 14:107–115.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Harlow, S. D., X. Lin, and M. J. Ho 2000 Analysis of Menstrual Diary Data across the Reproductive Life Span: Applicability of the Bipartite Model Approach and the Importance of Within-Woman Variance. Journal of Clinical Epidemiology 53:722–733.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Jacob S., N. A. Spencer, S. B. Bullivant, S. A. Sellergren, J. A. Mennella, and M. K. McClintock 2004 Effects of Breastfeeding Chemosignals on the Human Menstrual Cycle. Human Reproduction 19:422–429.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Matsumoto-oda, A., and E. Kasuya 2005 Proximity and Estrous Synchrony in Mahale Chimpanzees. American Journal of Primatology 66:159–166.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. McClintock, M. K. 1971 Menstrual Synchrony and Suppression. Nature 229:244–245.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. McClintock, M. K. 1978 Estrous Synchrony and its Mediation by Airborne Chemical Communication (Rattus norvegicus). Hormones and Behavior 10:264–276.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. McClintock, M. K. 1984 Estrous Synchrony: Modulation of Ovarian Cycle Length by Female Pheromones. Physiology and Behavior 32:701–705.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. McCoy, N. L., and L. Pitino 2002 Pheromone Influences on Sociosexual Behavior in Young Women. Physiology and Behavior 75:367–375.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Monfort, S. L., M. Bush, and D. E. Wildt 1996 Natural and Induced Ovarian Synchrony in Golden Lion Tamarins (Leontopithecus rosalia). Biology of Reproduction 55:875–882.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Morofushi, M., K. Shinohara, T. Funabashi, and F. Kimura 2000 Positive Relationship between Menstrual Synchrony and Ability to Smell. Chemical Senses 25:407–411.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Popper, K. 1959 The Logic of Scientific Discovery. London: Hutchinson.Google Scholar
  15. Preti, G. 1987 Reply to Wilson. Hormones and Behavior 20:547–550.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Preti, G., W. B. Cutler, C. M. Christensen, H. Lawley, G. R. Huggins, and C. R. Garcia 1987 Human Axillary Extracts: Analysis of Compounds from Samples Which Influence Menstrual Timing. Journal Chemical Ecology 13:717–731.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Preti, G., W. B. Cutler, C. R. Garcia, A. Krieger, G. R. Huggins, and H. J. Lawley 1986 Human Axillary Secretions Influence Women’s Menstrual Cycles: The Role of Donor Extract of Females. Hormones and Behavior 20:474–482.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Russell, M. J., G. M. Switz, and K. Thompson 1980 Olfactory Influences on the Human Menstrual Cycle. Pharmacology Biochemistry & Behavior 13:737–738.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Schank, J. C. 1997 Problems with Dimensionless Measurement Models of Synchrony in Biological Systems. American Journal Primatololgy 41:65–85.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Schank, J. C. 2000a Menstrual-Cycle Variability and Measurement: Further Cause for Doubt. Psychoneuroendocrinology 25:837–847.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. 2000b Can Pseudo Entrainment Explain the Synchrony of Estrous Cycles among Golden Hamsters (Mesocricetus auratus)? Hormones and Behavior 38:94–101.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. 2001a Do Norway Rats (Rattus norvegicus) Synchronize Their Estrous Cycles? Physiology and Behavior 72:129–139.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. 2001b Menstrual-Cycle Synchrony: Problems and New Directions for Research. Journal of Comparative Psychology 115:3–15.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. 2001c Oestrous and Birth Synchrony in Norway Rats, Rattus norvegicus. Animal Behaviour 62:409–415.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. 2001d Measurement and Cycle Variability: Reexamining the Case for Ovarian-Cycle Synchrony in Primates. Behavioural Processes 56:131–146.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. 2004 Avoiding Synchrony as a Strategy of Female Mate Choice. Nonlinear Dynamics, Psychology, and Life Sciences 8:147–176.Google Scholar
  27. Schank, J. C., and M. K. McClintock 1992 A Coupled-Oscillator Model of Ovarian-Cycle Synchrony among Female Rats. Journal of Theoretical Biology 157:317–362.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. 1997 Ovulatory Pheromone Shortens Ovarian Cycles of Female Rats Living in Olfactory Isolation. Physiology and Behavior 62:899–904.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Shinohara K., M. Morofushi, T. Funabashi, D. Mitsushima, and F. Kimura 2000 Effects of 5a-androst-16-en-3a-ol on the Pulsatile Secretion of Luteinizing Hormone in Human Females. Chemical Senses 25:465–267.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Shinohara K., M. Morofushi, T. Funabashi, and F. Kimura 2001 Axillary Pheromones Modulate Pulsatile LH Secretion in Humans. Neuroreport 12:893–895.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Stephens, M. A. 1965 The Goodness-of-fit Statistic VN: Distribution and Significance Points. Biometrika 52:309–321.Google Scholar
  32. Stern, K. N. 1992 Ovulation in Women: Methods of Detection, Behavioral Correlates, and Pheromone Regulation. Ph.D. Thesis, University of Chicago.Google Scholar
  33. Stern, K., and M. K. McClintock 1998 Regulation of Ovulation by Human Pheromones. Nature 392:177–178.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Strassmann, B. L. 1997 The Biology of Menstruation in Homo sapiens: Total Lifetime Menses, Fecundity, and Nonsynchrony in a Natural Fertility Population. Current Anthropology 38:123–129.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. 1999 Menstrual Synchrony Pheromones: Cause for Doubt. Human Reproduction 14:579–580.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Trevathan, W. R., M. H. Burleson, and W. L. Gregory 1993 No Evidence for Menstrual Synchrony in Lesbian Couples. Psychoneuroendocrinology 18:425–435.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Wallis, J. 1985 Synchrony of Estrous Swelling in Captive Group-Living Chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes). International Juornal of Primatology 6:335–350.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Wilson, H. C. 1987 Female Axillary Secretions Influence Women’s Menstrual Cycles: A Critique. Hormones and Behavior 21:536–550.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. 1992 A Critical Review of Menstrual Synchrony Research. Psychoneuroendocrinology 17:565–591.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Wilson, H. C., S. H. Kiefhaber, and V. Gravel 1991 Two Studies of Menstrual Synchrony: Negative Results. Psychoneuroendocrinology 16:353–359.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Winfree, A. T. 1980 The Geometry of Biological Time. Berlin: Springer-Verlag.Google Scholar
  42. Yang, Z., and J. C. Schank 2006 Women Do Not Synchronize Their Menstrual Cycles. Human Nature 17:433–447.Google Scholar
  43. Ziomkeiwicz, Anna 2006 Menstrual Synchrony: Fact or Artifact? Human Nature 17:419–432.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Transaction Publishers 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyUniversity of CaliforniaDavisUSA

Personalised recommendations