A Review of Recent Psychophysical Studies Examining the Possibility of Chemical Communication of Sex and Reproductive State in Humans

  • Richard L. Doty


Numerous anthropological reports suggest a close relationship of odors to sexual processes in some human groups. For example, vegetable juices with smells reminiscent of seminal fluid or vaginal secretions have been used as aphrodisiacs in several primitive cultures (Haire, 1940). In a southwest Pacific society studied by Davenport (1965), a form of love magic is based upon the similarity of vaginal odors to those of fish. To attract fish, men of this community use a red ground cherry attached to the leader of a trolling line. After a fish has been caught in this manner, the cherry is believed to have the power to attract women. In some societies, animal secretions from species with marked physical stamina and long, violent heat periods are smeared ritually on sacred objects, as well as on the body. Such practices may form one basis for the widespread modern usage of animal products such as musk, civet and ambergris in perfumery.


Menstrual Cycle Magnitude Estimate Seminal Fluid Chemical Communication Menstrual Cycle Phase 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. BEAUCHAMP, G. and DESOR, J.A. 1976. Discrimination of sex and individual identity from human urinary odors. In preparation.Google Scholar
  2. BEAUCHAMP, G., DOTY, R.L., MOULTON, D., and MUGFORD, R. 1976. The pheromone concept in mammals: A critique. In R.L. Doty (Ed.), Mammalian olfaction, reproductive processes, and behavior, Academic Press, New York, in press.Google Scholar
  3. BLOCH, I. 1934. Odoratus sexualis, Panurge Press, New York.Google Scholar
  4. BRODY, B. 1975. The sexual significance of the axillae. Psychiatry 38: 278–289.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  5. COMFORT, A. 1971. Likelihood of human pheromones. Nature 230: 432–434.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. DAVENPORT, W. 1965. Sexual patterns and their regulation in a society of the southwest Pacific. In F.A. Beach (Ed.), Sex and behavior, Wiley, New York, 164–207.Google Scholar
  7. DOTY, R.L. 1972. The role of olfaction in man — sense or nonsense? In S.H. Bartley (Ed.), Perception in everyday life, Harper & Row, New York, 143–157.Google Scholar
  8. DOTY, R.L. 1975. An examination of relationships between the pleasantness, intensity and concentration of 10 odorous stimuli. Percept. Psychophys. 17: 492–496. (a)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. DOTY, R.L. 1976. Changes in the intensity and pleasantness of urine odors during the menstrual cycle. Unpublished experiment.Google Scholar
  10. DOTY, R.L. 1976. Reproductive endocrine influences upon human nasal chemoreception: A review. In R.L. Doty (Ed.), Mammalian olfaction, reproductive processes, and behavior, Academic Press, New York, p. 295–321.Google Scholar
  11. DOTY, R.L. and DUNBAR, I.A. 1974. Attraction of Beables to conspecific urine, vaginal secretion, and anal sac odors. Physiol. Behav. 11: 825–833.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. DOTY, R.L., FORD, M., PRETI, G. and HUGGINS, G.R. 1975. Human vaginal odors change in intensity and pleasantness during the menstrual cycle. Science 190: 1316–1318.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. DOTY, R.L., KLIGMAN, A., LEYDEN, J. and ORNDORFF, M. Communication of gender via human axillary odors depends upon intensity-related factors. Submitted to Nature.Google Scholar
  14. ELLIS, H. 1936. Studies in the,psychology of sex, Random House, New York.Google Scholar
  15. HAIRE, N. 1940. Encyclopedia of sexual knowledge, Eugenics Publishing Co., New York, 355–386.Google Scholar
  16. HEDIGER, H. 1968. The psychology and behaviour of animals in zoos and circuses, Dover, New York.Google Scholar
  17. HURLEY, H.J. and SHELLEY, W.B. 1960. The human apocrine sweat gland in health and disease, Thomas, Springfield.Google Scholar
  18. LINDHE, J. and ATTSTRÖM, R. 1967. Gingival exudation during the menstrual cycle. J. Periodont. Res. 2: 194–198.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. LOE, H. 1965. Periodontal changes in pregnancy. J. Periodont. 36: 209–217.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. LOE, H. and SILNESS, J. 1963. Periodontal disease in pregnancy. I. Prevalence and severity. Acta Odont. Scand. 21: 532–551.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. MAIN, D.M.G. and RICHIE, G.M. 1967. Cyclic changes in oral smears from young menstruating women. Brit. J. Derm. 79: 20–30.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. McBURNEY, D.H., LEVINE, J.M., and CAVANAUGH, P.H. 1976. Psycho-physical and social ratings of human body odor. Bull. Personal. Soc. Psychol., 1976, in press.Google Scholar
  23. MONCRIEFF, R.W., 1944. The chemical senses, Leonard Hill, London.Google Scholar
  24. MONTAGNA, W. and PARAKKAL, P.F. 1974. The structure and function of skin, Academic Press, New York.Google Scholar
  25. PROUT, R.E.S. and HOPPS, R.M. 1970. A relationship between human oral bacteria and the menstrual cycle. J. Periodont. 41: 98–101.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  26. RUSSELL, M.J. 1976. Human olfactory communication. Nature 260: 520–522.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. SAGARIN, E. 1964. The sense of smell and sex. In A. Ellis and A. Abarbanel (eds.), The encyclopedia of sexual behavior, Hawthorn Books, New York, 979–986.Google Scholar
  28. SHEHADEH, N. and KLIGMAN, A.M. 1963. The bacteria responsible for axillary odor. J. Invest. Dermatol. 41: 3.Google Scholar
  29. TONZETICH, J. and KESTENBAUM, R.C. 1969. Odour production by human salivary fractions and plaque. Archs. Oral. Biol. 14: 815–827.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. WALLACE, P. 1976. Individual discrimination of humans by odor. Physiol. Behay., in press.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Plenum Press, New York 1977

Authors and Affiliations

  • Richard L. Doty
    • 1
  1. 1.Monell Chemical Senses Center and Department of Otorhinolaryngology and Human CommunicationUniversity of Pennsylvania Medical SchoolPhiladelphiaUSA

Personalised recommendations