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Pheromone party offers sniffin’ good time at the Cinefamily

A guest at the April 5 pheromone party at the Cinefamily takes a whiff.
A guest at the April 5 pheromone party at the Cinefamily takes a whiff.

Earlier this month, Los Angeles saw its first-ever “pheromone party,” held at the Cinefamily theater on Fairfax. And according to host/organizer Judith Prays, “everyone seemed to have interesting interactions.”

No doubt. As the LA Weekly reported, the April 5 event involved dozens of lively singles mobbing tables stacked with unwashed shirts, where they grabbed the shirts, sniffed them deeply and commented on the fragrance. Like a speed-dating seminar, only with lots more shirt-sniffing.

Prays, a filmmaker and rapper from Long Beach, came up with her idea a couple years ago, and the first (and only other) pheromone party was held a year and a half ago in New York. Both that one and the recent event at the Cinefamily apparently resulted in a lot of hook ups -- though it remains to be seen how permanent the relationships will be.

“Pheromones measure physical attraction,” Prays told KPCC, “which is an important thing, but not a factor that determines longevity of a relationship.”

Still, if physical attraction is the first step, perhaps Prays’ pheromone parties can cut through the small talk -- and even enrich our romantic lives a little bit -- with a kick-start from science.

Prays’ parties are modeled after the so-called Sweaty T-Shirt experiment. First conducted in 1996 by Swiss biologist Claus Wedekind -- and backed up by numerous findings since then -- these experiments have convinced many scientists that “sexual chemistry” is a quite literal thing. Humans, it seems, need more than a complementary taste in movies to bond well romantically: We need complementary pheromones.

Wedekind’s experiment was simple: He asked men to wear the same T-shirt for a few days, then seal it up. Women then sniffed the shirts and said whether they liked the smell or not. Wedekind discovered that women whose immune systems matched up well with certain men (i.e. the couple did not share genetic health problems, such as asthma or diabetes) liked the smell of those certain men’s stinky shirts. But when their immune systems were too closely matched by the men (both had asthma, say), they thought the stinky shirts were just ... stinky.

As a result, what might seem like sour B.O. to one nose is fresh-baked cinnamon buns to another.

With that in mind, wouldn’t it be great, if you were going to singles bars, to just skip all the small talk and get right down to the sniffin’? Prays apparently thought so too.

The Weekly explains how the parties work:

“Buy a plain white T-shirt, wear it for three days, and bring it to the party. Upon registering, put the shirt in a Ziploc bag that has your number on it. Inside the party are tables stocked with party attendees’ numbered bags: pink for girls, blue for boys. Smell a bunch of shirts and when you find one you're attracted to, visit the cameraman, who takes a photo of you and the bag, proudly displaying your number of choice. The photo then is projected on a screen; if the person sees you displaying their number and finds you intriguing, they have the go-ahead to introduce themselves.”

This last part is a clever way to check someone out while avoiding hard feelings -- because yes, we have to be visually attracted to each other too.

And check out they did. Prays said that “A guest, Tyler Stockton, later emailed me saying, ‘Instead of avoiding eye contact most people seemed surprisingly eager to make some.’”

“I'm not a scientist,” Prays added, “I'm a host -- and as a host, that's everything to me.”

Sadly, those guests at the April 5 event at the Cinefamily may be among the lucky few, as Prays has no other pheromone parties in the works for now. But she is definitely not done with her social tinkering.

“I throw a lot of concept parties and social experiments and the pheromone party was just another one. I was just curious what would happen,” she said, adding that “My curiosity about the pheromone party is sated.”

Still, Prays, who says she’s evolved spiritually of late, is leaving the door open a crack:

“I've gotten into religion, I'm celibate -- the pheromone party doesn't really match my belief system right now. But ... I'm also madly into hip-hop, and Snoop Dogg is a big inspiration to me -- and he's a businessman. And something I've learned from him is he gives the customer what they want.”