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pheromone party

noun [countable]

a social event in which people try to find a romantic partner by smelling anonymous pieces of clothing

'Sniff your way to love? Singles who have attended so-called pheromone parties haven't ruled it out. The get-togethers … ask guests to submit a slept-in T-shirt that will be smelled by other participants. Then, voila! You can pick your partner based on scent, of [sic] so the theory goes.'

Associated Press 23rd June 2012

Some say that 'love is blind', but does it have a sense of smell? Instead of 'love at first sight', could it be a case of 'love at first sniff'? The latest craze in the search for romance seems to be suggesting that this could be true, with the emergence of pheromone parties – a wacky new way to find a dating partner in which speed dating meets science.

the concept of the pheromone party might seem a little bizarre but it in fact has a sound scientific basis

A pheromone party is a social event in which attendees each bring a T-shirt in a sealed plastic bag. Crucially, this T-shirt must bear the participant's smell, and so they need to have slept in it for three nights before the party in order to 'capture' their body's odour. The T-shirt bags are marked with identification labels (pink for girls and blue for boys) and then circulated across the group of participants so that each can take turns at sniffing the contents. If they find the aroma of a T-shirt particularly appealing, they can then elect to have their photograph taken whilst holding the T-shirt. These photographs are subsequently displayed, so that if someone later sees a person holding their shirt, they can check them out visually before deciding if they'd like to 'sniff' them back.

The concept of the pheromone party might seem a little bizarre – making your dating choices purely on the basis of how someone smells does seem rather odd? but it in fact has a sound scientific basis. Many creatures, dogs being the classic example, sniff each other out as a precursor to mating. This happens because of pheromones, secreted chemicals that trigger a social response in members of the same species. Evidence seems to suggest that complementary pheromones play a role in physical attraction, so that 'sexual chemistry' between two individuals could be a literal rather than hypothetical indicator of the potential for romance.

Background – pheromone party

The concept of the pheromone party was invented by Judith Prays, a 25 year-old web developer living in Atlanta, US. Having persistently tried to match up with potential partners on an intellectual basis, but without much success, Prays decided to date someone purely on the grounds of physical attraction. This resulted in one of the most successful relationships she'd ever had. Observing that she'd been particularly obsessed with the way this guy smelt, and aware of previous experimentation with pheromones, Prays had the idea to throw a pheromone party, the first event taking place in New York in late 2010.

Prays modelled the pheromone party concept on a piece of scientific research known as The Sweaty T-shirt Experiment. Conducted by Swiss biologist Claus Wedekind in 1995, the experiment involved asking men to wear identical T-shirts for several days, which were then placed in identical sealed containers. Women were later asked to smell the shirts and identify which they liked. Wedekind found that women whose immune systems were complementary to the men's seemed to like the smell of the shirts, but those whose immune systems were similar just thought that the shirts were stinky!

The term pheromone as a description of a chemical influencing animal behaviour was introduced in 1959 by German biochemist Peter Karlson and Swiss biologist Martin Lüscher. The term is based on a blend of the Greek words pherein ('to transport') and hormone ('to stimulate').

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This article was first published on 3rd September 2012.

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