Birds do it. Bees do it. Even dandelions and trees do it.
This much we know. But people? Do people do it?
Absolutely, says entrepreneur Joe Anders.
Don't be silly, says organic chemist George Preti.
In question are pheromones, minute chemical secretions (odorless "smells," if you will) released by the bodies of everything from earwigs to earls; secretions that influence the physical and/or social behavior of others of the same species.
In question in particular are human pheromones, and whether these airborne chemical messengers attract unwitting, even unwilling, members of the opposite sex.
While scientists have documented the fact that such chemical communication exists in hundreds of species from insects to apes, they have been generally unable to agree on whether or not human pheromones exist and, if they do, whether or not they influence attraction.
But if scientists are in a quandary, entrepreneurs have had no such reservations.
These days, you can buy pheromones in spray cans. In Los Angeles, the mail-order product, Bodywise, judiciously applied, will cause the most recalcitrant woman to swoon at the unworthy toes of a truly ugly man. Or so the ads say. Gold Attractant, it is said, sends a hitherto reluctant male suitor into an orbit of ecstasy.
Europe's best-seller is Aeolus-7, named, perhaps significantly, after the Greek god of wind.
"Joe Anders" is a pseudonym. The local importer of Bodywise insists--vehemently and predictably--that his is "a legitimate enterprise. I believe in the product. I stand behind it. It's just that I work with my brother in a very stuffy profession and we don't want to make waves."
Under "Anders," though, or "Williams" or a variety of monikers, he has been a one-man tsunami, enraging feminists, exhorting the wimpy and making outrageous claims for Bodywise "in dozens of articles and on hundreds of radio and TV interviews.
"The biggest, I guess, was the old Tom Snyder TV show. Great fun. Snyder may or may not have believed in Bodywise. All I can tell you is that when the show was over, he took two cans."
Snyder's reaction to spray-can pheromones--Anders' initial reaction too, for that matter--was typical: Sex attractants are a lot of hooey, but hey, what's to lose? In 1981, on a trip to Amsterdam, Anders picked up a can, "just for fun."
Anders, who says he was "quite shy then," tried the spray on a train trip, during which he claims, "two Danish girls more or less forced their attentions on me.
"I said to myself, 'Holy moly, this stuff really works!' " Back in the United States, he made overtures to the spray's European manufacturer and arranged to import Bodywise.
"Only one of 16 men secretes enough (pheromone) on his own to have a worthwhile effect," Anders claims. For the rest, the key ingredient, he says, is "androstenone, the natural male attractant in our spray."
Competitors, he warns, use spurious substitutes: "I won't B.S. you. If it has androstenone in it, it's probably the real thing. If it's androsten ol , it's garbage."
Gloria Joyce, who sells Attractant 10 (and its female equivalent, Gold Attractant), hasn't a clue as to what's in it, nor does she particularly care. The Beverly Hills businesswoman, who advertises Attractant for mail order in The Times among other publications, began to import the spray two years ago from Britain. "It seemed like it would be a lot of fun," she says, "and it has been.
"Notice that our ad says, 'Maybe it works, maybe not,' " Joyce says. "What do I know? I will tell you that it seems to work."
Joyce admits that women's pheromones (Gold Attractant) move slowly, if at all. "I've got tons of that stuff at home. Either the women didn't fall for it or they didn't need it."
Pheromone sprays for women, such as Joyce markets, are not to be confused with Pheromone, a popular perfume by Marilyn Miglin. It "contains 179 all-natural ingredients," says spokeswoman Pam Lassers: "flowers, oils, essences of bark, roots, wine resins . . . a formula Miglin found in an ancient Egyptian temple." No pheromones? "No pheromones," Lassers says, "but personally, I believe in them. Absolutely."
Judging by sales of Attractant 10, more than a few men agree with Lassers.
"I get these guys coming in, telling me their stories. I have a 70-year-old regular who swears by it. He sprays it on his wife's pillow--she's in her 70s, too. I generally send it by mail, but he comes in to pick it up. He can't wait.
"The letters? You wouldn't believe them. And the 'Friday nighters' who drive miles to get a can, and the man who bought a dozen because he was leaving the country and didn't want to take any chances."
"You walk into a room full of strangers," Joyce muses, "and you're suddenly attracted to a man, someone who comes on just powerfully masculine. He hasn't said a word. He's not handsome--a Bogart, maybe, or an Onassis--but he's got it. Why?