Many people have learned that insects and other animals are driven by pheromones, and that perfumes and colognes are supposed to help in courtship, so they want a shortcut for successful romance. However, most scientists would say that there is little evidence that humans rely very much on pheromones as an attractant. Pheromones are special chemicals produced by animals that serve to direct behavior, including mating behavior. In mating, other animals rely on their sense of smell much more than humans do. It is argued that humans have virtually lost the ability to be attracted by pheromones and hence pheromones are only minimally important in human sexuality, if at all.
Nevertheless, some scientists contend that a tiny sense organ in our nasal cavity, the Vomeronasal Organ (VNO) which is sometimes called Jacobson’s Organ, is capable of detecting chemical sexual attractants passed unconsciously between people. The VNO is located in the vomer bone between the nose and the mouth. How it functions in human beings is disputed. But in animals, it is much clearer:
- Mice use the VNO to detect pheromones—vital in mouse mating.
- Cats use the VNO to detect nepetalactone. This is what gives them the high from catnip.
- Snakes use the VNO to sense prey by sticking out their forked-tongue and withdrawing it—touching the VNO in the process.
- Elephants stimulate themselves by transferring sensory-stimulating chemicals to their VNO via the tip of their trunks.
In humans, the VNO first appears during fetal development. Strangely enough, it then shrinks to almost nothing by the time of birth—we don’t know why this happens. In adults, a small pit can be found in the nasal septum of some people, but not in all. Again, we don’t know why. Some scientists think that this tiny remnant means that the VNO still can work—at least in some humans. But what the VNO can do is anyone’s guess.