The Tools of Attraction

Saturday, May 31, 2003 Copyright © 2003 National Post Newspaper

Review the 2002 independent study on Athena Pheromone 10:13tm for Women, published in Physiology and Behavior click here

National Post Newspaper Interviews Dr. Cutler for Feature Article on Human Sex-Attractant Pheromone Excerpted by Athena Institute

If you're selling sex, it helps to have science on your side. For proof, just log on to any one of the hundreds of Internet sites selling sex-attractant pheromones. **** The sites promise that their concoctions will entice the opposite sex, and that science backs them up. "Scientifically engineered," says one. "Science has finally done it," says another. One even features photographs of goggled, lab-coated scientists peering into beakers of liquid.

But if you want science to spice up your love life, then Winnifred Cutler's products, Pheromone 10X for men, and 10:13 for women, must surely be the crème de la crème. Cutler is president of the Athena Institute for Women's Wellness; her Web site says the institute is "a biomedical research facility," and touts Cutler as the "co-discoverer of pheromones in humans." Her products are among the most expensive available: around US$100 for one-sixth of an ounce. When added to a favourite perfume or aftershave, they are said to inject pheromone power into your romantic life.

And, unlike the vague claims of other products, Cutler's have been subjected to scientific testing. "Science's 'GOLD STANDARD' test of whether a product works is called a double-blind, placebo-controlled study," her Web site explains. "Our two products have been tested in 3 such studies." She even provides the references for anyone inclined to look them up in the scientific journals.

The most recent study, published last year in Physiology & Behavior, suggested that Pheromone 10:13 worked for 74% of women to increase their sexual attractiveness to men. ****

In lay terms, a pheromone is a chemical signal released by one member of a species to communicate with others of the same species. Because they are airborne, pheromones are generally associated with the sense of smell, but they are not scents like perfumes or body odours. For one thing, they're usually odourless compounds; for another, the messages they send go far beyond "I smell nice" or "I haven't showered in two days." Pheromone signals, when received, typically elicit either physiological responses (hormone levels will rise or subside, for example, or menstrual cycles will synchronize) or behavioural responses (a female boar will assume the mating position, ants will help one another move a twig, kittens will gather round their mother).****

But to this day -- and here's the rub -- no scientific researcher has successfully isolated and revealed the chemical formula of any human pheromone. The term "pheromone" was coined in 1956 by two entomologists, Peter Karlson and Martin Luscher, to describe the compound released by the female silk moth to attract males.****

Others contend that, while no one has isolated a human pheromone yet, that doesn't mean they don't exist. "The science of human pheromones is still in its infancy," says Jim Pfaus, of Concordia University, in Montreal, who specializes in sexual motivation and behaviour. "There's so much we still don't know." Which is what makes Cutler's pheromone products so potentially revolutionary, ****

It may be in its infancy, but research on pheromones is surely some of the most fascinating science on the planet, thanks to its combination of ick-factor and wow-factor. No experiment embodies both as bewitchingly as the groundbreaking 1986 studies conducted by George Preti and Winnifred Cutler.

In their first experiment, a group of female donors was asked to wear pads in their underarms; the underarm pads were collected regularly and their contents squeezed into a vial. This underarm "extract" was then applied to the upper lips of female test subjects. To everyone's amazement, the test subjects' menstrual cycles fell into synchrony with those of the donors. They then conducted a second study, applying male underarm extract to the upper lips of women with irregular cycles; their cycles became more regular as a result.

The only way to explain the effects, Cutler and Preti said, was pheromones. They couldn't say exactly what the pheromones were, since armpit extract is its own primordial soup, with dozens of compounds. Nor could they explain exactly how the pheromones worked. Still, it was the first proof that humans could indeed communicate through pheromones.

At the time, Winnifred Cutler held an academic position with the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, where she was founding the women's wellness program. A PhD in biology, she had previously published a book, Menopause: A Guide for Women and the Men who Love Them. ... shortly after she set out on her own, she had a sudden epiphany about the 1986 studies. "In women who had tested with the female extract, 89% of them reported increased sexual frequency," she recalls. She wrote to Preti asking if she could pursue further research on the matter, possibly including a patent. "We told her to go ahead," Preti says. "We didn't think there was anything to it."

In 1993, Cutler came up with the formula for her female pheromone, naming it 10:13, in honour of her birthday, Oct. 13. She produced a few vials of the stuff for a series of meetings with the Revlon corporation, but the meetings didn't lead anywhere. On a lark, she gave a vial to one of the Athena Institute's directors, who came back raving about the attention she was getting from men. A reporter from The Philadelphia Inquirer got wind of it, tried it and wrote a story. "The next thing I knew, I was on Montel Williams and Sally Jesse Raphaël," Cutler says. "After Montel's show, he warned me that I better add a few phone lines to cope with the requests, and he was right. I got more promotion than I ever wanted, and I never paid a cent for it."

Two years later, she developed the 10X formula for men, and has been selling both products ever since.

***If Pheromone 10:13 and 10X were indeed what Cutler said they were, then she had done what no other researcher had done: She was the first to discover the specific chemical formula for a human pheromone.

If a scientist wants to get noticed, the best thing she can do is get her research published. If Cutler's colleagues had been ignoring her, by 1998, they were about to start paying attention again.

It was in that year that the respected scientific journal Archives of Sexual Behavior published an experiment Cutler had conducted on Pheromone 10X. The study had to be reviewed by three other scientists to be accepted for publication. In that experiment, 17 men were given Pheromone 10X to add to their aftershave for six weeks, while 21 men were given a placebo. All of the men kept a record of six sociosexual behaviours: petting/affection/kissing, formal dates, informal dates, sleeping next to a romantic partner, sexual intercourse and masturbation. In the results, the pheromone users reported significant increases in the recorded behaviours, particularly sexual intercourse and sleeping with a partner.

In 2002, the prestigious journal Physiology & Behavior, widely read by doctors and academics alike, published a study on Pheromone 10:13, which also passed muster with three peer reviewers. The experiment was similar to the first: for (more than) six weeks, 19 women were given Pheromone 10:13 to add to their perfume, while 17 women were given placebo. All of them kept a record of the same six sociosexual behaviours, plus a seventh: male approaches. The results were similar, too: 74% of the women using Pheromone 10:13 reported increases in at least three of the behaviours.

But there was a catch. In both studies, the chemical composition of the pheromones was not divulged. The reason: patent applications were pending on both, and Cutler didn't want anyone copying her discovery.

In the interests of protecting her discovery, Cutler will not answer any questions about the manufacture of her products or their pending patents. But she bristles at the suggestion that she might be some kind of snake-oil saleswoman. She points to her curriculum vitae, which lists dozens of published articles. Unlike other pheromone manufacturers, she has gone to the trouble of testing her products, she says. Those who don't believe the science need only ask the people whose romantic lives have improved by using them. More than one-third of her monthly sales are re-order customers.

Who is on the side of truth? Scientific debates are difficult for any layperson to decipher. Most such arguments, including this one, revolve around issues like "average value over baseline," the appropriate use of contingency tables, or the suitability of t-tests. What's more, everyone seems to have a stake in the outcome. But Concordia's Jim Pfaus offers a more philosophical perspective on the matter.

Pfaus, a member of the Physiology & Behavior editorial board, has never been a fan of Cutler's, but he defends the research on her products -- up to a point. "The studies suggest that there's something happening there," Pfaus continues, "but they are not the final proof. Ideally, someone will try to replicate the study, or conduct a slightly different experiment with the same products. That's what you do when you get results like this: You throw more experiments at them and see if they hold up."

Pfaus is a keen follower of human-pheromone research. He knows that (detractors) refuse to be dissuaded. He understands their skepticism, but has no sympathy with it.

"Decades ago, biologists refused to believe that genes existed, until someone actually showed them one," Pfaus points out. "But someone had to believe in genes without actually seeing them, or they would never have been discovered. Now, we've mapped the entire human gene sequence. When you absolutely refuse to believe, you're not doing science anymore."


COMMENT FROM ATHENA INSTITUTE: Both Athena Pheromone 10:13tm for women and Athena Pheromone 10Xtm for men are cosmetics that can increase your attractiveness to the opposite sex. Neither product is an “aphrodisiac.”

See more Serious Articles in the Athena Media Section...