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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.

Pheromones

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?

Conditioning

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:

Please take the poll!

Which statement is true about you?

See results

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    • Theophanes profile image

      Theophanes Avery 

      5 years ago from New England

      Could be hormones too. There's actually studies that suggest a woman is most likely to cheat when she's ovulating. There's also other studies that suggest women find the smell of their relative's sweat repulsive but the smell of sweat of completely unrelated men to be attractive. Basically there's a lot of little puzzle pieces and sometimes when they fit together you can go mental. ;) Interesting read though. It's a curious subject for me since I have never found anyone to be visually sexually attractive. I just don't get this phenomenon. I have a boyfriend but he basically had to wear me down for me to give in to a relationship. It's been the best years of my life, so happy he has the resolve of a terrier going after a squirrel... Happy Hubbing!

    • Beata Stasak profile image

      Beata Stasak 

      5 years ago from Western Australia

      Very interesting, habee, how you explain the secret physical attraction for a person you never actually met, know a lot about but only through the words and images...the pheromones through the air?

    • habee profile imageAUTHOR

      Holle Abee 

      5 years ago from Georgia

      Thanks, someguy! That's one of my daughters and her husband.

    • profile image

      someguy 

      5 years ago

      Not sure what that photo is supposed to illustrate, but they're both attractive people.

    • habee profile imageAUTHOR

      Holle Abee 

      6 years ago from Georgia

      Lol, xethonxq! I don't know how to explain some of my attractions other than pheromones!

    • xethonxq profile image

      xethonxq 

      6 years ago

      I think this is a fascinating topic to review. I completely buy into pheromones attracting us together. I know that with my partner I can't get enough of being around her...it's a need I can't explain. Cripes, it even happens when we are having tiffs. Sometimes it drives me insane...lol. Damn hormones...lol. :)Great hub habee!

    • habee profile imageAUTHOR

      Holle Abee 

      6 years ago from Georgia

      jenu, maybe that means your pheromones are alive and well! lol

    • profile image

      jenubouka 

      6 years ago

      Very interesting, I have no idea what and why to my attractions they differ vastly from each other. All heights, ethnics, etc. What does that mean?

    • habee profile imageAUTHOR

      Holle Abee 

      6 years ago from Georgia

      Thanks, Beata! And you're right, it takes more than pheromones for a lasting relationship.

    • habee profile imageAUTHOR

      Holle Abee 

      6 years ago from Georgia

      fpherj, I'll tell her! She's almost 30, and that's a recent photo.

    • Beata Stasak profile image

      Beata Stasak 

      6 years ago from Western Australia

      They are beautiful couple...they have the same sparkle in their eyes...I believe it is not the outside we look at when we attracted to someone...it is the inside that shines out from them:)...thanks for sharing and good luck to this lovely couple on your picture, hopefully they will still be together when the pheromones lose their power and what will stay with them is just the 'love'...

    • habee profile imageAUTHOR

      Holle Abee 

      6 years ago from Georgia

      Ya know, Leader, I think I do, too. But I'm not sure all people are in touch with their pheromones.

    • Leaderofmany profile image

      Leaderofmany 

      6 years ago from Back Home in Indiana

      I have been married twice and the only thing they shared was the Marine Corps uniform. The body type was totally different. Good Hub, and I lean more toward pheromones.

    • fpherj48 profile image

      Paula 

      6 years ago from Beautiful Upstate New York

      OH!!! I thought they we High School students...going "steady" or whatever it is they call it nowadays....Wow! she has 3 kids? God bless her! You can tell her I thought this picture was taken the day after PROM night!! lol

    • habee profile imageAUTHOR

      Holle Abee 

      6 years ago from Georgia

      fpherj, thanks so much! She has 3 kids and he has 1, but they don't have any together...yet. lol

    • habee profile imageAUTHOR

      Holle Abee 

      6 years ago from Georgia

      Thanks, Escobana! I'm so glad it's not just me. lol

    • fpherj48 profile image

      Paula 

      6 years ago from Beautiful Upstate New York

      habee.....Your daughter is exquisite! (and even an old granny like me can say her adorable guy AIN'T BAD EITHER!!) What a beautiful couple! Leave it to me, to look at them and picture the most gorgeous babies in the world!! When they're OLD enough!!!

    • Escobana profile image

      Escobana 

      6 years ago from Valencia

      Love your Hub! It's funny to read about a part of my single life once. Dating all sorts of guys, having sex with them, only if the physical attraction was mutual.

      I can clearly remember myself, turning down a beautiful guy, telling him he looked absolutely hot: "The thing is, I don't feel sexually attracted to you. Sorry".

      Or friends telling me:"You can do better than that!" not understanding my invisible attraction to 'ugly guys'. So yes, I'm sure pheromones are quite often responsible for the choices we make in life, as to whom we'd like to be with, for how long as we wish to.

      Voted up and away! Shared as well:-)

    • habee profile imageAUTHOR

      Holle Abee 

      6 years ago from Georgia

      Too funny, Hubert. At least you only wasted 3 years. I wasted 12 in a similar situation!

    • habee profile imageAUTHOR

      Holle Abee 

      6 years ago from Georgia

      Lol, fpherj! That's my middle daughter and her finacee. She's actually kind of funny about who she's attracted to. No matter how great the guy might be, if there's no spark, she isn't interested.

    • fpherj48 profile image

      Paula 

      6 years ago from Beautiful Upstate New York

      habee....I thoroughly enjoyed this hub. I am really "into" fragrances, aromas....and very selective (particular) about them as well. Mainly, I'd like to comment on the question below the picture of the young couple above. I have no doubt these beautiful, happy and wholesome kids don't need a damned thing to create attention or attractiveness....other than their eyes and hormones!!! lol Great hub!

    • profile image

      Hubertsvoice 

      6 years ago

      I met a woman one time that was not particularly attractive, yet I spent nearly 3 years with her. That was two of some of the happiest days of my life. The day I met her and the day I left her.

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