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Can I use my vagina for perfume? A deep dive into vabbing

TikTok is convinced that using vaginal fluids as perfume will attract love and attention – we investigate the phenomenon of the pheromone-based scent

Vabbing. Rumoured to source back to folklore, now all over your FYP on TikTok, it’s the act of using your vaginal secretions as perfume to “activate” your pheromones and attract your soulmate – or, at the very least, your next sexual partner. TikTok loves a good hack, especially when it comes to finding love – think siren eyes and “hypnotic dot make-up” – but while this might sound like just more of the wellness nonsense loved on the platform, the trick actually dates back far before social media. 

Although not referred to by name, in Tom Robbins’ 1976 novel Even Cowgirls Get the Blues, lesbian cowgirl Bonanza Jellybean gives a step-by-step guide to vintage vabbing. “What you do is reach down with your fingers and get them wet with your juices. Then you rub it in behind your ears. It’s a wonderful perfume,” she says. “Very subtle and very mischievous. Men are attracted, I guarantee you.” The practice is also mentioned in Tracey Cox’s 2003 book Superflirt and there are posts from 2007 by members of the StripperWeb forum discussing it.

We need to wait until 2018, however, for the first recorded use of the word “vabbing” in relation to this DIY technique. On an episode of The Secret Keepers Club, a podcast from comedians Carly Aquilino and Emma Willmann, the two hosts discuss their friend who rubbed his own genital sweat behind his ears after hearing a sex therapist recommend the practice for women. A listener then writes in after being inspired to try it herself saying it made her date “ravenous”, mentioning four times how good she smelled and saying he couldn’t wait to get her home. The listener christened it vabbing – a portmanteau for vagina dabbing. In 2019, sexologist Shan Boodram also started recommending it in her book and vlogs under the name “Love Potion Number Vagine”.

So it’s clearly been around for a while, but the big question remains: does vabbing actually work? Do your pheromones really affect the way people respond to you? We know that in the animal kingdom pheromones affect mating behaviour, but very few studies have been done on humans, and the scientific community is still undecided on whether we even produce pheromones.

Dr Tristram Wyatt is an evolutionary biologist and senior research fellow at Oxford University, specialising in the evolution of pheromones and animal behaviour. He says it’s true that there is no concrete evidence that supports whether humans have pheromones that are used specifically for attracting the opposite sex. However, his own feeling, “based on studies of other mammals,” is that we do. “What you can say about mammals is that they are smelly,” he says. “And although there are some doubters, there are examples of chemical communication by pheromones in mammals.” 

Given that “humans are mammals” and that “we’re also very smelly”, Dr Wyatt concludes that “we probably do have pheromones.” Another indication that we might have pheromones is that our smell changes at puberty, he continues. The problem is that there has been no systematic analysis and no truly solid evidence so, for the moment, based on scientific literature and findings, nothing can be said for certain. 

Whether or not there is any scientific basis is not stopping the TikTok girls from enthusiastically endorsing the practice: the platform is full of anecdotal evidence singing its praises. “I create a lot of content about feminine energy and how powerfully magnetic it can be. So for me, it really made sense that something like this would work and be beneficial,” says Krystal Baham, a TikToker who posts videos about the practice. Baham first discovered vabbing before it was a viral topic and became hooked by the results. “I was getting ready to go to a Giveon concert and thought I’d try it,” she remembers. “It’s as if I became magnetic and lots of people were drawn to me.” Now she vabs her temples, behind her ears and on her wrists anytime she goes to a social setting where there will be a lot of people. 

When Baham first started posting about vabbing, a lot of people called it “gross” or said she must be desperate to go to such an extreme to attract a man. But she argues that it’s not extreme at all – “one small step added to your normal routine” – and that it leads to attention from everyone, not just men. “The main thing I want these people to know is that vabbing is not only for attracting male attention. You will be magnetic and a lot of people will be drawn to you,” she says, recommending it even before a job interview. “Anywhere you want to stand out and get more attention.”

Dating interactions these days can often feel swift and expendable, so it’s not surprising that people would be particularly open to trying free and instant shortcuts for attracting love (or lust). “Vabbing is like a powerful magnet to attract men,” says body and sex positivity activist Jewlieah. As a plus-size woman, she says she wasn’t used to regular romantic attention so it has been a bit overwhelming to have men approaching her more since she started vabbing.

The first time she tried it, at her local pool, a man offered her a drink, gave her a gift and then asked her to dinner. An older neighbour also asked her to go for a drink. “I go to my pool regularly and I have never been approached like that there,” she says. A few days later she tried it at her gym (hygienically, of course). She was hit on by the man on the machine next to her who then texted her before she’d even left the gym asking for a hug. “Total red flag but it made me realise that even though I vabbed and I was sweaty from working out, he still liked my scent,” she says.

A question still remains, however, which is: do we really need to use pheromones specifically from the vagina? If pheromones are found in other bodily secretions, wouldn’t sweat work just as well? In other mammals, says Dr Wyatt, it’s certainly the case that pheromones are produced from the genital area so why wouldn’t it work for humans? “It is the case in cows, we’re another mammal, so why not?” Ultimately, though, we simply don’t know. “It’s not been seen as medically important,” he adds. “There are very few studies of vaginal secretions. Most of the investigations of human smells have been of the armpit.” The reason for this? “It’s the least embarrassing place to ask somebody for their secretion. You need a whole lot more informed consent to start getting vaginal secretions.” 

So, for now, vabbing remains ambiguous and evidence-free. Baham and Jewlieah aren’t going to let that stop them though. “I know vabbing hasn’t been proven to actually work – many people believe that it’s just a placebo effect,” says Jewlieah. “All I know is my personal experience with vabbing and many of the commenters who have tried and shared their positive experiences as well.” As she says, as long as you’re being safe and sanitary, “why does it matter if we do it?”