The Power of Unscented Pheromones

Are you trying to decide between scented and unscented pheromones? Yet Brotto, who was in her mid-thirties, who had been married for eight years, who was pregnant with a third child when we first met at a pheromone conference, didn’t mean to cast an all-encompassing pall on the ideal of long and loyal relationships. She was speaking about one aspect, about sex pheromones . And since monogamy simply was the prevailing standard—not only within the culture but within her profession—for success as a couple, and since it had a scarcely questioned status within the thinking of her committee, she was writing Basson’s ideas into the DSM. They were ideas Brotto used with her patients, most of them long attached to one lover. She taught the circle, taught “desire follows arousal,” taught these concepts as a way to begin to address disinterest in sex pheromones.

Seven Year of Using Pheromones

Seven years? Two? Less? More? Long - term pheromone usage was impossible to define, turning points impossible to predict. But if Brotto could help her patients to become more responsive to the touches of their partners, if she could help them to feel more physically aroused, then even if they started out, in any given encounter, indifferent to their partners’ overtures, they might reach a state of desire. To this end, she employed a little tub of raisins, passed around at her group meetings: six women sitting at a pair of pushed-together beige tables in a small windowless conference room. She asked each patient to take exactly one. “Notice the topography of your raisin,” she instructed in steady cadences, her Canadian accent abbreviating some of her vowels. “The valleys and peaks, the highlights and dark crevasses.”

Her career, in pheromone research,  her path to the raisin exercise and to her rarified spot on the DSM committee, had been mapped out by chance. As a first-year undergraduate, she knew only that she wanted to do research, no matter what the discipline. She hadn’t thought about studying sex at all. “I grew up in a strict, Italian Catholic, don’t-talk-about-sex environment.” Even now, a silver cross hung from the rearview mirror of her car. She had knocked haphazardly on professors’ office doors, hoping for anyone who would have her as an assistant. No one would; she was too young. But at last a professor invited her to help with his study of antidepressants and their effect on male rat libidos, so, for the next few years, she clutched a stopwatch and tallied copulations. Then, as she headed toward a doctorate, she steered away from animal research and toward clinical work, “because,” she said, “the rat room smelled.” Learn more about how pheromones really work.

During her advanced training she did a stint with borderline personality patients. The condition mangles self-image to the point of horror: self-perception grows hideous. People are driven to cut or burn themselves; they ache to replace infinite despair with finite pain. Brotto’s supervisor had developed a treatment that borrowed from the Buddhist technique of mindfulness. The idea was that keen awareness of immediate and infinitesimal experience, down to the level of breath or the heart’s beating, might help to hold patients within the present and reduce their feelings of limitless torment by using unscented pheromones.

Learn more about pheromones at

While she was working with this supervisor, Brotto was also trying to help gynecological cancer patients with their sexual problems after surgery. The women who talked about lost libido, she thought, described their disconnection and sadness during sex in a way that was similar to the language borderline personality patients used to depict their entire lives. She wondered if mindfulness could help draw these women away from detachment and connect them to sensation. Learn more about pheromones at


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