People shell out millions of dollars a year to smell like something they're not, dabbing on perfume and splashing on aftershave in the eternal quest to attract their preferred gender.

But does perfume really work? Sure, a little eau de toilette makes you smell nice, but does it make you ... sexy? Will Red or Drakkar Noir weave a scented spell that enthralls the object of your desire?

Maybe, maybe not.

Indiana University psychology professor James Craig doesn't think that fragrances by themselves can make a person more attractive.

"It's pretty clear that much of peoples' responses to perfume and other smells has got to be learned," Craig said.

Smell is a very powerful memory trigger, and past associations often dictate how a person will respond to a given scent, he said.

For instance, if you're a woman who's had a rotten relationship with a guy who wore English Leather, chances are that if you meet a man at a party who's wearing the stuff, your nose will tell you to run away.

Conversely, if your first true love put on Polo before he took you out, you might find yourself subtly attracted to new men who wear that cologne.

"Culture and conditioning play an important part in how we perceive odors," agreed Milos Novotny, a professor of chemistry at IU.

For example, while most people enjoy the scents of both pizza and violets, few would be interested in a cologne that smells like a pepperoni pie. Perfumes contain scents from blooms and not bakeries because flowers are symbols for things such as life, fertility and romance in most human cultures.

But Novotny added people's reactions to perfume is more than just conditioning. There are some odors, such as the rich scent of roses or the sweet smell of ripe apples, that we naturally enjoy because of our genetic heritage.

When humans were evolving millions of years ago, those that were attracted to the lush scents of flowers and ripe fruit got a better diet and therefore had more and healthier children than those proto-humans whose malfunctioning sniffers led them to eat hard, unripe fruits or rotting meat.

The proto-humans who benefitted from their good sense of smell eventually evolved into modern humans. Although modern life has nearly eliminated the need for a sharp nose (and, indeed, over 70% of our genes for our sense of smell don't even work anymore), we've retained our ancestors' attraction to certain scents.

But Novotny added that we've apparently inherited a few other smell-related traits from our primitive ancestors.

Many animals, such as mice and pigs, exude chemicals called pheromones that they use to communicate things such as a readiness to mate. Pheromones are known to influence the behavior and reproductive cycles of other members of their species that are exposed to the chemicals.

Novotny said that while no scientist has shown that humans produce pheromones, "some pheromone-like reactions exist in humans, such as women living in dormitories getting synchronous menstrual cycles."

Because of this, Novotny said that it is possible that some substances in perfume could act like pheromones in humans and thus heighten a person's sexual attractiveness.

"Certainly, this is an area which has been insufficiently explored," Novotny said. "It's possible that the perfume industry may know more about all this than they're telling the general public."

What could be in a perfume that might act like a pheromone?

Well, pheromones, for one thing.

"I know they (synthetic pheromones) were put in Jovan a few years back," said perfumer Keith Pierson. "But to my knowledge, it was just a fad."

Pierson, who is the lab manager for Belle-Aire, Inc., added that some perfume ingredients have been derived from secretions that animals use to mark their territories. These animal-derived perfume notes include civet, castorium, and musk.

Civet is an extract from the skunk-like spray of the civet cat. Castorium comes from the peri-anal glands of beavers, and musk is derived from a gland in the genitalia of the male musk deer.

As befits their origins, these substances smell pretty foul in their normal state. But Pierson said that if they're diluted to a 10% or weaker solution, they impart a pleasant warming effect to a perfume or cologne.

Pierson isn't sure if civet and musk have an effect on humans or not, but said they definitely attract other species.

"If you put them on yourself, half the animals in the neighborhood will follow you around," he said.

Women can recognize the smell of musk whereas three-quarters of all men cannot, he said. Accordingly, most men's colognes contain musk while few perfumes do.

But those concerned with animal rights need not worry that a beaver or deer died to make their perfume, provided they buy reasonably-priced brands.

Pierson said that all but the most expensive perfumes contain synthetic versions of the chemicals derived from animals.

"The industry came out with synthetics to replace the naturals because the naturals are so expensive," he said. "Absolute civet goes for about $3000 a pound these days."

He added that the synthetics are easier to work with and lack the foul edge of the originals.

Pheromones aside, perfumes do smell nice, and many of us will enjoy them even if they don't help us get a date. But people should remember that shopping for perfume or cologne is very much like shopping for clothes: you've got to try them on to see if they fit. And, if you want to be sexy, wear just a little: you should be bathing with water, not cologne. Fragrance isn't a suitable cover for rancid body oils and fermenting sweat.

"Body chemistry makes as much difference in the fragrance as the original ingredients," said Harry Hugar, a perfumer at The French Connection in Bloomington. "Probably, if you had twenty women in an office who were wearing Giorgio, only three of them would smell alike."

Because of this, it's not a good idea to try to buy perfume for somebody else, Hugar said. Gifts of perfume can also backfire by triggering allergies or bad memories.

"You yourself may like a fragrance, but a close friend of yours won't even be able to wear it," he said.

And finally, when you combine body chemistry with the pheromone mystery, it may be that the most alluring fragrance you can wear is the one you make for yourself.

This is a slightly-expanded version of a story I wrote for the Indiana Daily Student

The short answer, and most truthful, is of course "yes."

Let us now travel through time to a junction box on the left side of nowhere. Here stands James Anderson Murray, just outside an old style telephone booth waiting for a phone call. When it comes, he will know where to drop off the package that has been in his trunk all day. He is beginning to sweat a little bit, and the pressure is getting to him. Will he be able to make the drop, or will the authorities catch up with him before he can complete the transaction?

Man has to decide to be a man.
Or be a woodchuck.

You see, everyone has their own way, and some people will preach ideas like gospel. James Anderson Murray is a symptom. He is certainly not the cause. He is just trying to get a break in a world that has dealt him a number of bad hands. This is the one that will put him over the top. This is the one that will make or break him.

See the cheese.
Be the cheese.

Self-perception is the key to being attractive, since self-confidence is the most important piece of the puzzle when it comes to others finding you attractive. You don't have to reach the point where you can't stop kissing your own body, but you need to find yourself attractive. The right cologne or perfume can go a long way in modifying your self-perception.

Justify my love
Modify your love
Stop thinking now
Start being "Wow!"

James Anderson Murray gets his telephone call. There is a change in plans. The drop will have to be made as a briefcase exchange on the floor of the Eastern States Plastics Exposition at the Civic Arena. Trying to keep a low profile, James Anderson Murray finds himself in old jeans and a flannel shirt standing out on a dusty road. He gets back in his Chevy Impala and starts to head downtown to the Civic Arena. He is not prepared. Sweat is pouring off his forehead and he isn't comfortable with the scent now eminating from his armpits. James Anderson Murray is worried. He is real worried. This is going to be the way the big deal goes down and he is not prepared.

A truly good hotel can come through for you.
Choose your lodgings wisely.

Fumbling through his wallet, dropping business cards to the left, ID badges and driver's license to the right, James Anderson Murray finds what he is looking for. Wiping the sweat from his brow, he produces a credit card. It is the only one he has with an open line of credit. This is just the emergency he was saving that five thousand dollar limit for. This is how he can spin the wicker lady of luck and produce a victory that he will long remember.

"We will send someone up to your room, Mr. Murray.
May we also suggest a cologne?
The lovely Esmeralda can bring up a selection, if you like."

Of course, thinks James Anderson Murray. This was something he never considered. With all the "smell your own way" propaganda floating around out there he might have missed his only opportunity to make a good impression. Thankfully, he chose the right hotel and spent wisely. In this world, my friends, you get what you pay for.

They think you are a big wheel
And soon you will be
The boys at home think small
They have Old Spice minds
And they'll never get anywhere.

James Anderson Murray takes a nice shower and just as he finishes drying his hair, the lovely Esmeralda shows up at the door. She has a nice little cart loaded with shirts, shoes, suits, talcum powder and a selection of colognes. She is a professional and has been at this for a number of years. She knows how to make a man attractive, whether it be for a night out on the town with a lady, a business meeting or a convention. James Anderson Murray tells her he has to look right for a key business meeting. He also tells her he is nervous.

Silence can be too loud.
Or just loud enough to wake you up.

She pulls off his silk boxers, telling him they will provide too much of a distraction in his business meeting. "All that slipping and sliding around in there won't help you relax," she says with a knowing grin. She strips him completely naked and takes care of things so he won't start sporting unwelcome wood. Then she slips him into a pair of cotton boxers, black dress socks and a sleeveless undershirt.

Tick tock.
Tick tock.
Seven O'Clock.

Once James Anderson Murray is completely relaxed, Esmeralda sits him down in a comfortable chair and brings out the cologne selection. She lets James Anderson Murray take a sniff of each bottle and together they narrow the selection down to three colognes. A little dab on the wrist of each, alternating arms, and Esmeralda tells him the third bottle is the best match for his chemical and physical type. She applies it to his neck, chest and arms and they set to finding the right shirt, tie and suit. Forty-five minutes later, James Anderson Murray is dressed to kill.

The convention is filled with people. Everything from washed up salesmen in cheap suits to lost sheep in sweatshirts and sweatpants populates the room. James Anderson Murray stands above the buzz, and the scent of him draws people in closer. The women smile and the men raise an eyebrow wondering who this dangerous man might be.

"I could eat you right up.
Sexy man.
You smell like success."

The briefcase is in his left hand, which is a good thing because the men James Anderson Murray made the deal with are ready to make the exchange. There is no perspiration and the nerves are calm. James Anderson Murray stops by the Quint Polymers booth and places the case down on the floor. The men place another briefcase next to it, they nod at James Anderson Murray and pick up the one he brought. James Anderson Murray picks up theirs, winks at them, and walks in the opposite direction.


On the way out of the convention, James Anderson Murray spots two attractive young women representing a formed plastics firm. They tell him they will be free for dinner and "some fun" later on, so he gives them his hotel room number. No need to flee the scene and head to Mexico before having a night of pleasure. When you are dressed to kill and smell just right, there is no reason to retreat. James Anderson Murray also invites the bell boy to join them. He had almost forgotten about his sexual preference with all the wonderful things going on in his life. He is on top of the world.

"Yeah, just like that.
Just like that.
You found the magic button."

Well, James Anderson Murray never woke up the next morning. A bullet in the back of the head will do that to you sometimes. Regardless, when the coroner arrived he could not avoid mentioning to his friends the attractive qualities of James Anderson Murray. Seeing as James Anderson Murray was no longer wearing his fine Italian suit, the coroner only had the cologne to go by. This was a fine smelling young man who had died in his prime. His only crime was not discovering the wonders of cologne and perfume years before he did. His death can be directly attributed to the anti-cologne and perfume lobby and their propaganda.

Word to your mother.

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