Our sense of smell (our olfactory function) is among the most powerful emotional triggers in our sensory input portfolio. A whiff of a certain fragrance can evoke vivid, multisensorial memories of some past experience, person or feeling -- almost as if time had never passed. Scent can trigger memory, revulsion (just think, eyes closed, of the stench of a skunk's spray, of vomit, of a neglected refrigerator...), or attraction -- I can remember the clean, wholesome fragrance of my first girlfriend's soap, and the principal perfumes and natural bodily smells of virtually every young woman who had the misfortune to date me after that.
The olfactory-recall-attraction/revulsion linkage exists in virtually neurologically unimpaired individual, and it is unique and subjective in each of us. We are programmed, and we can be re-programmed by association of experiences with certain fragrances, and vice versa.
The fragrances can be ambient -- Things like flower blossoms, incense, smoke, burning wood or charcoal, the salt spray of the ocean, napalm, gauze pads, detergents, foods, a car...even the bite of ozone-charged air before a tremendous storm can bring us back to the original scene of something significant.
Or they may be personal -- Things like the smell of someone's body, sweat, breath, cologne, perfume, body wash, shampoo, and a variety of secretions too racy and personal for me to elaborate upon [you'll just have to use your imagination].
Yet, whether ambient or personal, we perceive these on both a very conscious as well as a subconscious level. They are apparent to us, even if we are not fully aware to the extent that they may influence us or provoke involuntary responses.
There are other fragrances, a type of exohormone called a pheromone, which we secrete for certain biological purposes, although this is not completely understood. These chemicals are signals, or messengers, of various things, and they are not readily perceived consciously. Our bodies and emotions react to them, even when we are not aware of the fact that we are being "signaled" by the other party. These pheromones, present throughout the entire animal kingdom (especially amongst insects), subliminally advise us, seemingly body-to-body, of someone's viability to mate (or practice), someone's willingness to bond, someone's fertility, even someone's health or emotional despair... and a host of other things of significance.
While certain pheromones (usually the least subtle ones associated with mating and sexual identity) are of a standard chemistry, the issues that make them a speculative way of exploiting their availability are these:
1) People's sensitivity (reactivity) to pheromones varies;
2) People's reactions to pheromones (even the same ones emitted by the same individual) can vary;
3) Pheromones, in Humans, are part of a melange of olfactory stimulants including other bodily odors, soaps, perfumes, secretions -- if you find yourself attracted to someone, it may not be a particular element that attracts you -- it is more likely the melange, the bouquet of aromas, both subtle and obvious, that is creating the personal magnetism;
4) Each individual's body chemistry (pheromones and other bodily odors) reacts differently, i.e., interacts, when combined with certain manufactured fragrances. This explains why one individual can wear a perfume that causes available dates and prospective mates to swarm, while another individual can wear the same perfume and not receive any attention at all -- except for the saloon keeper, wanting to settle the tab.
The phenomenon of 'instant attraction' is produced by a combination of elements, including: body chemistry (natural and perfumed); ambient olfactory stimuli; the other person's body language (non-verbal physical signaling); and, of course, the eyes, nose, and the subconsious and subjective receptiveness of the beholder.
Don't you wish it could be simpler? I do.
When I was an undergraduate, one of my Psych professors was asking each of us (in a small tutorial) what "turned us on" most about a member of the opposite sex. I remember my ridiculous answer... "laughing eyes, easy smile, faint trace of musk oil, faint trace of soap, and tight bluejeans."
Ridiculous, perhaps. But some nice light musk oil still gets to me. So does an easy smile.
Douglas E Castle [http://aboutDouglasCastle.blogspot.com]