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Physical Attraction: Pheromones or Conditioning?

Updated on April 20, 2013

Pheromones in Humans - Sexual Behavior

Have you ever thought about what triggers physical attraction? I’ve long pondered the reasons as to why we find some people physically attractive, while others we might have no interest in at all. I’m not talking about looks here. I’m talking about raw animal sexual attraction – the powerful urges you might feel even when you don’t think the other person is pretty or handsome. It’s happened to me a few times, which is why I find the topic so fascinating. Is it pheromones, or is it conditioning? What do you think?

Are pheromones at work here?
Are pheromones at work here?

My personal examples

Before I became a teacher, I did a lot of substitute teaching. I met a football coach, and I didn’t find him attractive. He was middle aged, short, and had thinning hair. I never gave him a second look until I ended up sitting next to him one day in the teachers’ lounge. Our knees accidentally touched beneath the table we were sitting at, and I was suddenly filled with desire for him. Honestly, my leg got so hot that I thought I’d dropped a cigarette ash on it, and I looked to see if I was on fire! I could tell that the physical attraction was mutual, too. Over the next few weeks, circumstances threw us together several more times, and things were getting pretty heated. I became practically obsessed with this man. I didn’t want a relationship with him, as I knew we weren’t compatible, I just wanted to “be with him,” and I finally was. It was awesome!

Another example is when I met my current husband. When I first saw him sitting at the bar, I didn’t think he was especially attractive, and I didn’t give him another thought. He sent me and my girlfriend over a bottle of wine, and he came to sit with us. After sitting next to him for just a few minutes, I realized I was extremely attracted to him, physically. Our physical relationship turned into a strong relationship on a higher level as we discovered how much we had in common and how much respect we had for each other. Our lust evolved into love. We got married and have been together happily for twenty-five years.


I have no other way to explain my experiences than pheromones. Pheromones are chemical signals produced by the body to send messages to other members of the same species. They’re not always about sex. Pheromones can also alert other individuals about danger, food, and territory. Pheromones and their effect on behavior have been observed in insects, amphibians, reptiles, and mammals. Studies on human pheromones have been largely inconclusive, and the topic is hotly debated.

I’m not sure how else to explain the physical attraction thing. Haven’t you ever been drawn to someone you didn’t want to be attracted to? Pheromones might explain it. On the other hand, haven’t you met the “perfect mate,” yet there was just no “spark” there? It happened to me numerous times when I was younger and single. I might date a guy who was good-looking, smart, witty, and fun to be with, but I just didn’t have any lust for him. My mind might have been telling me that this was the perfect guy for me, but my body just wouldn’t agree, no matter how hard I tried. I couldn’t force myself to like the man in a physical way. Would human pheromones explain this?


I’ve read a lot about why we’re attracted to certain people. Some psychologists think it’s part of conditioning. I’ll give you an example. I read about a young man who could only become aroused by women with buck teeth. You know - front teeth that protruded. He never could understand this strange attraction and obsession, so he went to a psychologist. After studying him, the therapist discovered that the man had been babysat as a child by a teenage girl with a terrible overbite. This had occurred during some formative point in the guy’s life, and it had left an indelible mark on his sexuality. I read a similar case about a man who was only attracted to redheads, for much the same reasons as the tooth lover. Weird, huh?

My own dear husband is another fascinating example. He’s always been attracted to big women, for as long as he can remember. Unlike the two examples described above, Johnny’s attraction is not exclusive. He’s been physically attracted to all types of women, but he’s always had a preference for large women. Of course, as his spouse and a pseudo-psychologist, I had to delve deeper into this mystery. (Yeah, I took a bunch of psychology classes in college and even taught a few beginner courses at the local nursing college. Lol.)

This is what I’ve decided: Johnny was an only child, and his mom was a tiny woman who was always sick. He rarely remembers her ever being out of bed. I think because of his childhood experiences, he subconsciously wanted a big, strong woman, and I fit the bill. Of course, there are many other things he likes about me, but in the beginning, I think he was drawn to me because of my size. He says it was because of my “chest” and my pretty face, but I’m not so sure I’m buying that. Whatcha think? Think I’ve figured out my husband’s strange physical attraction?

Human pheromones:

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