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What is vabbing, the new Tiktok trend?

The award for weirdest TikTok trend of summer 2022 may go to “vabbing,” a supposed hack where people dab vaginal secretions on their skin like perfume, all for the art of seduction. If that sounds familiar, it’s because many animals spread bodily compounds called pheromones, both to communicate with each other and hook up with mates.

TikTok user Jewliah has shared multiple videos about her vabbing process and the successful results. With suitors buying her drinks, giving her gifts, compliments and attention, Jewliah claims the primping practice has changed her life.

So how did vabbing start? Well, although the trend is recent, the first few mentions of it in pop culture were in Tom Robbins’ 1976 novel Even Cowgirls Get the Blues; in the book, a lesbian cowgirl gives a step-by-step guide to vabbing. But the act made waves in November 2018 after a mention on the “Secret Keepers Club” podcast by comedians Carly Aquilino and Emma Willman. On an episode of the show, they discussed a friend who used her sweat from their testicles as “cologne,” which inspired a listener to try her own version of the experiment. Positive results ensued, and voila, the legend of vabbing lived on.

With TikTok now picking up on this practice of enhancing “natural human pheromones,” more people are giving vabbing a spin. but can you really attract a partner by luring them in with your vaginal secretions? Well, Eva Garrett, an assistant professor of anthropology from Boston University, says it’s complicated. Garrett, whose research focuses on the evolution of smell in primates, explains that while others can be drawn to your natural scent, pheromones are likely not playing into the attraction.

“If someone thinks it’s (vabbing) going to help them find a date or partner, it might just be more of a placebo effect,” she explains.

[Related: Why can some people smell ants? Here’s the answer to TikTok’s latest mystery.]

But what exactly are pheromones? According to Garrett, they include any chemicals that produce a specific behavior in an animal of the same species. Some creatures release their pheromones by marking or rubbing their scent gland on areas around them to attract mates. Those compounds include nonvolatile odorants, which means the scent doesn’t travel through the air. Rather, it stays in the region where the animal placed it to alert others of its kind that it’s time to procreate. For instance, boars will release a pheromone in their saliva and froth at the mouth. The cue causes females to assume a sexual position for reproduction.

But it isn’t simply smelling the pheromones that changes the behavior of a potential mate—there’s a lot that goes into the process that humans aren’t equipped for, Garrett explains. Namely, we don’t have the well-developed Jacobson’s organ that pheromone-spreading mammals, reptiles, and amphibians use to detect chemical signals. The neuroanatomical system is typically connected to the nasal cavity through a network of nerves and ducts. Typically, animals will lick the area where a pheromone has been spread and stick their tongue up to the tops of their mouths, confirming the message with the Jacobson’s organ.

With the lack of evidence of pheromones in people, Garret says it’s unlikely that vabbing works as a mate magnet. But she admits it’s possible that it can enhance one’s natural scent, which could be attractive to certain individuals.

[Related on PopSci+: What’s the secret to sexiness?]

It’s true that social odorants play an important role in certain human bonds and behaviors. From mothers building relationships with babies through smell, to partners luxuriating in the smell of each other’s sweat, natural scent is something that nearly everyone experiences.

In fact, perfume, while synthetic, is meant to enhance one’s natural scent and can even reveal social information to other people. So, like Chanel N°5, Garrett says there’s a chance that rubbing vaginal secretions can entice someone who’s already intrigued by your natural scent.

In case that’s enough to make you want to try vabbing, Garrett says to remember to be safe by washing your hands before and after touching your genitals. “If you think it can help, it can’t hurt. But if you find that you don’t enjoy the scent of your vabbing then it could be a good sign to not.”

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