Vabbing is TikTok’s latest weird trend – but does it work?

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Many and various are the strange trends that have originated from TikTok. A lot lean into daredevilry: eating and drinking stuff you shouldn’t be, climbing things not designed to be climbed, putting bags over areas of the body where bags aren’t welcome. Sometimes they’re harmless. A dance, maybe, or makeup hack like the recent ‘siren eyes’.

Then you have vabbing. A portmanteau of the words ‘vagina’ and ‘dabbing’, this trend goes straight for the jugular of prudes: dabbing vaginal secretion on other parts of the body, in the hopes of attracting potential romantic encounters and situations.

The practice has around 13 million views on the TikTok, prompting a huge reaction and dialogue, with many labelling it as “disgusting”. One user - @jewlieah - explained how she took her natural ‘scent’ from her vagina and dabbed it on her wrists, along with the back of her ears. “Put it on surfaces that don’t touch other things, and don’t rub your wrists on other people,” she said.

So what’s going on here? Does it work? Is it safe? How did it start? We’ve got you covered.

What is vabbing?

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The concept of vabbing is that genital fluid (in this case vaginal secretion) is used as a perfume to attract people. People claim it works based on the science of pheromones, which are chemical substances secreted on the outside by an individual, and detected by another individual.

As with any perfume, secretions are usually dabbed (or vabbed) on pressure points, like behind your ears and on your wrists.

Where did vabbing come from?

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By the looks of it, sexologist Shan Boodram brought vabbing to public attention back in 2019 after revealing she engages in the practise before nights out. “I am certain that every single time I employ it, it makes me feel like an enchanted goddess with a delicious secret,” she said

“Pheromones are chemical molecules released to trigger hormonal changes and elicit behavioral responses from others,” she added. “These signaling molecules are contained in body fluids such as genital secretions.” Boodram went on to note that in the 19th century, men would take their handkerchiefs and put them under their armpits for an entire day so the fabric would “become drenched in their natural smell.”

“Throughout the day, if they saw someone they fancied, they would take that handkerchief, soaked in their pheromones, and lightly dust someone or wipe the sweat off their face,” Shan said. “By doing that, they would be transferring their pheromones to them, transferring that excitement and making that person drawn to them through their raw human scent.” It was once discussed on the “Secret Keepers Club” podcast, where comedians Emma Willmann and Carly Aquilino shared their experiences with it. Although it has been highlighted on social media and in a few mainstream publications, there’s no real evidence that suggests any great number of women vab regularly.

Barbara Santini, psychologist and sex advisor at Peaches & Screams, told GLAMOUR: “We need to remember that pheromones play an important role in sexual attraction and behaviour but… in animals. There has been several research studies conducted to test the correlation between the action of human pheromones and sexual arousal or attraction. Based on that, we still cannot confirm how or even if pheromones ‘work’ in humans and affect our choices of partners. There is still insufficient evidence for this. Which leaves vabbing to play only self-confidence role, which actually can be a huge aphrodisiac.”

What are pheromones?

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A pheromone is a chemical that an animal produces which changes the behaviour of another animal of the same species. Lots of people do not know that pheromones trigger other behaviours in the animal of the same species, apart from sexual behaviour. Usually, hormones work internally, and only have a direct effect on the individual that is secreting them. Pheromones, on the other hand, are ectohormones. They are secreted outside the body, influencing the behaviour of another individual.

According to thousands of websites promising sex so long as you buy their pills, human pheromones exist. However, most genuine scientific studies have failed to show any solid evidence. Gustav Jäger, a German doctor and hygienist is thought to be the first scientist to put forward the idea of human pheromones, which he called anthropines.

Jäger said they were lipophilic compounds associated with skin and follicles that mark the individual signature of human odours. Lipophilic compounds are those that tend to combine with lipids or fats. Researchers at the University of Chicago claimed that they managed to link the “synchronisation of women’s menstrual cycles to unconscious odour cues.” The head researcher Martha McClintock called the phenomenon “the McClintock effect.”

After exposing a group of women to a scent of sweat from other women, their menstrual cycles either accelerated or slowed down, depending on whether the sweat was collected before, during, or after ovulation. The scientists said the pheromone collected before ovulation shortened the ovarian cycle, while the pheromone collected during ovulation lengthened it. Even so, recent scrutiny of McClintock’s study have questioned its validity.

Is vabbing backed by science?

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At the time of writing, no research has been conducted on vabbing. The pheromones do play a role in mating behaviour, but most studies were conducted with animals. There’s little research showing that pheromones affect human mating behaviour. What’s more, it’s not clear whether humans even possess pheromones.

A 2012 review looked at whether pheromones affect human reproduction and arousal and found that “although there are studies to support this phenomenon, they are weak, because they were not controlled; others have proposed that human olfactory communication is able to perceive certain pheromones that may play a role in behavioural as well as reproductive biology.”

A 2017 double-blind study looked at two substances - androstadienone and estratetraenol - which were reported to signal gender. It looked at 46 participants who rated photographs of others on attractiveness and probable unfaithfulness, finding that the substances had no correlation to those ratings. “If human sex pheromones affect our judgements of gender,” the study concluded, “attractiveness or unfaithfulness from faces, they are unlikely to be AND or EST.”

That hasn’t stopped sexperts from sharing their own positive experiences with vabbing. As Boodram wrote in an article for Refinery29, “Regardless of if vaginal pheromones truly make a person irresistible or not, the fact that you think it does will cause you to act in a bolder, more confident manner.”

Does perfume make you more attractive?

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Yes, wearing perfume can automatically make you more attractive. Several studies in psychology have established a link between scents and the perceived attractiveness of a person. Research shows women possess a relatively sensitive sense of smell, making them more influenced by odour and fragrances.

On top of influencing the person’s attractiveness, fragrances can also affect the mind and the emotional state. Research carried out by Linda Buck and Richard Axel in 2004 showed the effect of perfumes on stimulating the mind, as well as on stabilising and alternating the emotional state of the individual.

Women are also more attracted to the scent, whereas men are more convinced by the physical attractiveness of the perfume bottle. This suggests that women are more likely to buy perfumes that smell good, whereas men are more likely to buy any perfume that appears attractive, including cheap fragrances.

Another factor that provokes women to purchase a perfume is the emotional reaction they feel after smelling it. Perfumes have the tendency to stimulate an emotional response, which can inspire them to visualise their futures. The decision to buy the perfume is mainly influenced by the idea that a scent can symbolise a newer, fresher version of themselves.

Should anyone avoid vabbing?

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Since there are zero risks of vabbing there isn’t any specific groups of people who should avoid it. However, if you have bacterial vaginosis, your secretions might smell unpleasant, making it a redundant perfume to put it very mildly. In that event, book and appointment with your doctor who may put you on a course of antibiotics.

Outside of that, if you feel at home dabbing your own fluid on your body in a bid to find the One, knock yourself out.

Are there any alternatives to vabbing?

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There are many pheromone products out there, including sprays, pills, and creams that can replace vabbing, although products can be quite costly in comparison.

Do remember, there’s very little evidence that human pheromones actually exist. So don’t throw your hard-earned money about like there’s no tomorrow. If vabbing acts only as a placebo, who cares? It’s free.