On one level, sexual attraction is simply a matter of chemicals. So could a scent-focused singles night help you find a new mate?
When most new romances seem to be sparked online and on your phone, could Pheromone Parties, an LA dating craze, provide the perfect antidote? Sleep in a T-shirt for three days, bag it and take it to a bar. Then let people smell it. If they’re drawn to your scent, they have their photo taken with your bag, so you can track them down and get chatting.
The premise is that pheromones are the chemical triggers of sexual attraction. Our DNA will respond to mating potential and drive us to hook up.
Might we reserved Brits embrace this earthy matchmaking with the same exuberance as Californians? Stories, a pub in East London, hosted the UK’s first Pheromone Party this week, and I went along to find out.
As we all stood politely by the bar, a pile of T-shirt-filled plastic bags gradually appeared on a table, numbered with blue labels for the boys, and pink for the girls, which we all politely ignored for the first 10 minutes. Finally a couple of brave souls sauntered over and started sniffing the bags. The table was quickly swamped.
I had tried to play it straight. I’d cracked out a clean T, changed my bedding, and dutifully slept in it au naturel for three nights, without perfume. Even so, there wasn’t much of an odour, but this is about pheromones, so I trusted there’d be a subtle allure to draw in the man of my dreams.
After sticking my nose in a few bags it became clear there were three distinct categories of smell: the not-really-smelling-of-anything-except-washing-powder, the drenched-in-aftershave, and the bloody-hell-have-you-never-considered-deodorant?
In the end, I plumped for one that had a vaguely butterscotchy overtone – unusual enough to get my attention, but not too overpowering. I held it up for my picture, keeping my eye on the projector to see if anyone had picked my bag.
“All the girls are too clean,” one bloke complained. “Weren’t the rules that you couldn’t wash?” It turned out that he had provided one of the more potently “natural” offerings on the table.
Image after image of people holding bags scrolled across the screen, some chancing their arm with several bags at once. Still, no sign of anyone with my bag.
Gradually I became more aware of what I was smelling – wafts of aftershave as men walked past, mint from chewing gum, the occasional whiff of BO as someone exposed an armpit.
Still no one had picked my bag.
A woman offered to give it a sniff to see if it was so repugnant that I had no chance.
“It just smells clean,” she said. Under normal circumstances this would be a good thing, but at a pheromone party, being clean will thwart your chances of being sniffed out as a genetically compatible match. Maybe this is where I’ve been going wrong all along.
Read this feature as it originally appeared in the Guardian’s G2 supplement