Birds do it. Bees do it. So Atlanta artist Judith Prays figured, why not people, too? In late 2010, Prays developed the Pheromone Party, on the premise that the best way to find your other half is through the magnetic chemical scents that many animals use to attract each other. "The first time I dated someone for purely physical reasons, it was amazing how well it went," Prays tells The Daily's Justin Rocket Silverman. "I was so into his smell even when it was objectively nasty. So then I just thought, what if I could choose people by smell?" Here's what she did:
First off: What exactly are pheromones?
"Invisible yet inherently alluring chemicals that trigger sexual attraction," says Courtney Subramanian at TIME. More technically, adds Randi Hutter Epstein at Slate, pheromones are "aromatic chemicals emitted by one member of a species that affect another member of the same species, either by altering its hormones or by compelling it to change its behavior." When they work, "they are truly bewitching" — a female silkworm can turn a male into "a sex slave" with just one spray.
How do Prays' Pheromone Parties work?
In her inaugural party in New York, she invited 40 single people, requiring each to bring a shirt they'd slept in for three nights with no perfume or deodorant. The shirts were put in numbered, gender-coded bags ("blue for guys and pink for girls, to avoid any unpleasant surprises," explains Silverman), and throughout the party guests would stop to sniff a shirt or two. If they were really drawn to one, a photographer would snap their photo with the numbered shirt, and those photos were projected on a wall at the party's end. If someone dug your smell, that was your entrance to introduce yourself.
Was it a success?
"By the standards of many singles parties," says Silverman, it was "a smashing success." According to Prays, 12 of the 40 guests "hooked up" after the party, and three of those couples began long romances. "I thought it was a wonderful way to meet people," says Scott Thrift, 32, who embarked on a six-month relationship at the party. "It cuts through all of the fluff and gets straight to the point."
Is there any science behind the "smelly shirt" parties?
It's an open question. Prays' methods are "remarkably similar to those used in chemical senses laboratory testing," says Silverman. So far, though, the evidence for human pheromonal soul-mating is mixed, says Slate's Epstein. In a 1995 study that had women sniff through a pile of sweaty T-shirts to find the most alluring scents, the findings suggested that women's noses led them to simply choose men with different immune systems, presumably to avoid mating with family.
Does the idea have promise?
Sure. If you like the person's odor, "it's a good indication that you're off to a good start," Behavioral neuroscientist Charles J. Wysocki tells The Daily. Well, I find the idea that we have some control over who we're attracted to "really quite liberating," says Slate's Epstein. But sniffing your way to love is at least an improvement over online dating, Prays tells The Daily. That "really only determines how good you are at writing profiles."
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- 7 grammar rules you really should pay attention to
- After Ferguson, we don't need another dialogue on race
- Why you should stop believing in evolution
- The secret to handling pressure like astronauts, Navy SEALs, and samurai
- The government is getting into the fact-checking business. Be very, very afraid.
- In defense of Obama's golfing
- A trick for better lunch sandwiches
- The world is on fire and neither Democrats or Republicans have a clue
- How Democrats might goad the GOP into shutting down the government
- Your literary playlist: A guide to the music of Haruki Murakami
Subscribe to the Week