Pheromones Lost

by David Francis

Anthropologists will tell you that the earliest male hominids probably spent less than twenty hours a week providing for themselves and their families. They could wake up around ten or eleven, go pick some berries, maybe catch a few bugs, scoop up some water from the local stream, bring it all back to the cave, and then be pretty much done for the day. It was a simple time, when working extra hours to provide special domestic comforts for the home seemed pointless since over half their children were being eaten by a variety of carnivores anyway. Not that these attacks bothered the males all that much. They had plenty of leisure time and the process of making new children just happened to be their favorite way of spending it. The women, on the other hand, seeing months of pregnancy, hours of childbirth, and years of parenting amounting to nothing more than the satisfaction of appetite for lions, tigers, and bears too lazy to chase after elk and antelope, longed for a method of survival a bit more sophisticated than this "Eat all you like, we'll make more" strategy.

Just about the only ones doing any real work were the women. The men performed the minimal work necessary to maintain their status as hunter/gatherers, while the woman did the serious work of caring for what children were spared from becoming a main course. The females were certainly resentful. From the dawn of time women have been heard to say that they don't need men, and it had, no doubt, occurred to these ladies that, if allowed, the designated man work of picking berries and catching bugs could be performed adequately by the women. And, quite frankly, if all the male hominids were conveniently consumed by some giant saber-tooth tiger, well, the females wouldn't have lost much sleep over it. In fact, without their ever-amorous mates, they would have probably gotten a lot more sleep.

But though they no doubt fantasized about the demise of all their men, the women really didn't have much control of their reproduction habits. Nature had seen to that. Having just recently, in anthropological terms, climbed out of the trees, these hominids--both male and female--still carried around a considerable amount of beast-like attributes. An attribute the males still maintained was the possession of a certain gland that worked hand-in-hand with their sweat glands. As bizarre as it may sound, this gland produced a certain odor that the female, having evolved no further than she had, found absolutely irresistible.

This is actually a common trick in the world of Nature. For instance, do you think the female porcupine would willingly engage in the obviously painful and stabbing experience of copulation with another porcupine without some sort of coercion? Many male animals base all their romantic successes on the secretions from odor-laden oils by organs called pheromone glands. The odors from these glands someone how work with the chemical make-up of the female and trigger the natural urge to reproduce. Early humans also used these pheromones for mating, but, either because humanity's olfactory senses have decreased or because the glands themselves have evolved away, this process is no longer recognizable in modern humanity.

But in the earliest days of Homo-sapiens, with a set of pheromone glands the male hominid could basically avoid the otherwise difficult process of wooing a mate, and really only needed to worry about chasing off the other competing males. The females, bound as they were at this time by this animalistic leftover of their genetic make-up, could do very little to stop themselves from becoming pregnant again and again and again. As amazing as it sounds, one sniff of those pheromones could turn a sulking mother of five into an unthinking and uncaring sex-addict, quivering at a grimy male's feet.

Now everyone knows that in order to maintain an ecological equilibrium, Nature tends to support a consistent balance of energies. Obviously, the hominid male ego at this time, bolstered by the fact that it could have a woman at its beckon call at any time, was wildly out of natural proportion. So Nature, with its slow, methodical, and barely to be seen hand of change, began to work on this dangerous imbalance.

Among the early hominids, there had always been a few males that were born with non-functioning, or at least less potent pheromone glands. As a rule, they weren't particularly popular with the ladies. And more often than not, when one did manage to charm a female, sooner or later, some pheromone-charged male would come along and lure her away again. Children, of course, were pretty rare for these fellows. They usually couldn't keep a wife for more than a couple of weeks. However, what children they did have tended to have a longer life expectancy than their pheromonally endowed relations. This came about simply because, having so much free time--and few women to spend it with--they kept themselves busy with various projects just to keep their minds off their women troubles. They started producing tools and making pots and pans and many other wonderful innovations. The females found they actually preferred life with the pheromonally challenged, what with all these new domestic comforts and appliances, but they still couldn't resist that chemical scent addiction, and they still couldn't make themselves stay with a non-pheromone male if they got an kind of offer from a pheromone male.

As you can imagine, in a male population whose majority was equipped with healthy pheromone glands, the pheromone-less males weren't treated with much respect. To the pheromone males, the pheromone-less males were just pathetic nerds who couldn't even get a date. When they weren't stealing their women right out from under them, the pheromone males were usually spreading rumors that the pheromone-less males were all having sex with baboons, cows, and each other. It got so bad that doing things like building walls and making tools became synonymous with disgusting sexual acts--at least among the pheromone males.

And yet, as nerdy and socially unacceptable as wall-building and tool-making was at that time, while the pheromone males were just breaking even with their mass impregnancies vs. carnivore attacks, the non-pheromone males were--very slowly--experiencing a population growth. Pheromone-less males kept at their building and innovations. They started living in protected settlements together. They kept building more tools and weapons, and less and less of their children were susceptible to carnivore attack. After a few centuries, pheromone males had ceased to be a majority. Within a millennium, they were a definite minority. Given this and the all around usefulness of tools and (most importantly) weapons for the non-pheromone males, the pheromone males were starting down a one way road to extinction. As they became more and more of a minority, they soon discovered that charming away a non-pheromone male's wife could have unpleasant results. The women still couldn't resist these pheromone males and were still lured away from home as before if a pheromone male came calling. But now when this happened, a non-pheromone male would just pick up a handy club or some other tool the pheromone males had never figured out, beat the hell out the wife thief, and then take his mate back home.

The pheromone males didn't vanish immediately. They hung around for a few more millennia in sparse numbers. In this time they basically resembled the motorcycle riders and sensitive artist types that still give the more common and usually more marriageable males trouble today. The women found the pheromone males that managed to survive wildly exhilarating, but in the end, these males lacked the skills and staying-power to maintain a population when they had to compete with more practical males. Eventually they became altogether extinct.