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If you’ve spent any time on TikTok over the past few weeks, you’ve probably been relentlessly confronted, whether you like it or not, with the concept of “vabbing,” a portmanteau of “vagina” and “dabbing.” Basically, vabbing is the practice of women are using their vaginal fluids as a form of makeshift perfume, dabbing it behind their ears and on their wrists in an effort to attract suitors. The idea is that vaginal fluids release pheromones, or chemical changes that elicit hormonal responses from others, thus ensuring that prospective sexual partners will catch a whiff and subsequently line up in droves.
As cohosts Brittany Spanos and Ej Dickson discuss on the latest episode of Don’t Let This Flop, Rolling Stone‘s podcast on internet news and culture, the practice of “vabbing” isn’t exactly new. It previously went viral in 2019, when sexologist Shan Boodram wrote about it in her book The Game Of Desire: 5 Surprising Secrets To Dating With Dominance — And Getting What You Want, in which she asked a group of her clients to test it out on a trip to a crowded bar. “Vaginal fluids, especially around ovulation, but really any time you want to feel an extra boost of confidence, can serve as a love potion,” she wrote in the book, which was excerpted by Refinery29. (In a YouTube video, Boodram explains that she also did it herself, to great success.) The practice was framed in pseudoscientific terms, with Boodram writing, “If copulins [chemicals secreted by the vagina] are used as perfume, then it will attract anyone traditionally attracted to women with vulvas.”
Despite going mildly viral in 2019, vabbing recently started taking off in earnest on TikTok, where creators are either expressing disgust at the prospect of using their own vaginal fluids as perfume or trying it out themselves. In one viral video with more than four million views, creator @jewlieah appears to try it at the gym for the first time, saying, “You guys aren’t gonna believe me, but now I’m in the sauna and it worked — the vabbing worked,” later explaining in a follow-up video she was approached by a man for her number while doing lunges on the treadmill.
Of course the research community has not prioritized studies on whether or not using vaginal fluids as perfume attracts sexual partners, so there’s very little data to support whether vabbing itself works. There has, however, been research conducted on whether the scent of pheromones play a role in sexual attraction, and while most of these studies have been done on animals, there have been studies done with humans that are not exactly conclusive. There is, for example, a famous Swiss study from 1995 colloquially known as the sweaty T-shirt study, in which biological researcher Claus Wedekind gave female college students men’s sweaty T-shirts and asked which they preferred by the smell. The women overwhelmingly said they preferred the ones that had a different MHC (major histocompatibility) gene profile than their own, which is said to determine genetic compatibility with a potential mate.
Since the sweaty T-shirt study, there have been many DNA-matching dating startups and sweaty T-shirt parties based on Wedekind’s results and built around the idea that people can determine genetic compatibility by odor. But many scientists are critical of the sweaty T-shirt study, as well as the general idea that odor plays any role whatsoever in sexual attraction in general. One 2012 review of such studies on pheromones, for instance, 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 behavioral as well as reproductive biology.”
So is vabbing harmful? Not really. Could it potentially hurt your chances to get a date at the bar or the gym? Unless you specifically tell them that you’ve been vabbing, probably not. But there’s scant evidence to support that it works, making vabbing one of the many TikTok attraction hacks that doesn’t really have any basis in fact at all.
This week on Don’t Let This Flop, Spanos and Dickson also discuss the Wren Eleanor saga, J. Lo and Ben Affleck’s nuptials, Lana Del Rey’s new himbo boyfriend’s connection to Julia Fox and Courtney Love, and whether or not Drew Barrymore is secretly Mr. Peanut Butter from Bojack Horseman.