While the #vabbingg and #vabbingperfume tags on TikTok feature horrified reactions to the vabbing trend, it seems like there are still plenty of folks out there who are curious if it’s possible to “vab” their way into a new relationship.
In case you haven’t heard, vabbing is the, um, practice of dabbing your own vaginal fluid on the areas where you might wear perfume — like your wrists or neck — before walking around society with the goal of attracting a partner. It’s thought that vabbing helps release your pheromones into the air, which in turn subtly yet effectively grabs the attention of those around you who then wander over, as if entranced, to strike up a conversation.
Vabbing definitely pushes the envelope of sexual attraction, says Dr. Jenn Kennedy, PhD, LMFT, a therapist who specializes in couples and sex. But some claim it really does work. Take the recent vabbing at the gym trend where TikToker @jewlieh swore up and down that a man asked her out because she vabbed.
Since it involves scents and secretions, vabbing raises a lot of questions — and even more eyebrows. And yet it’s impossible not to wonder if vabbing really works. As Dr. Karenne Fru, MD, PhD, FACOG, a fertility specialist at Oma Fertility, notes, “Vabbing underscores the fact that humans are always in search of the next best thing to secure romantic attention.” Here’s what the experts have to say.
Does Vabbing Really Work?
If you’re wondering if people can actually detect your vaginal odor-cum-perfume, it really depends on the strength of your scent and where you are. “In theory, vabbing relies on the sense of smell,” Dr. Fru explains. And since most places are inundated with various odors, she’s doubtful vague vaginal secretions would be noticed or have an effect.
If you vab before you go to a restaurant that’s full of food aromas, or at the gym where everyone’s sweaty, chances are no one will even notice that you’ve adorned yourself with fluids. That means the TikToker who had success vabbing at the gym might’ve just had a lucky day, or maybe she’s a member of a really small gym where scents travel.
Speaking of, let’s say you vab before going into a more intimate setting where you hope to be attractive, like a movie theater or small get-together. According to Dr. Kennedy, lots of people love the musky smell of vaginal fluid, and they might notice it in close proximity. “Attraction is complex and includes so many non-verbal, sensory signals: smell, taste, touch, sight,” she says. “So yes, smell counts and could certainly create a largely unconscious reaction — positive or negative — in another.”
The actual scent of vaginal fluid is one thing, but that also brings up the question of pheromones, aka the chemical messengers that are said to waft across a room and aid in attraction. Dr. Fru points out that there aren’t any controlled studies or trials on vabbing specifically. And while most pheromone studies look at animals, it’s possible that pheromones can be detected subconsciously by humans, too. “Pheromones lean heavily on smell, albeit out of direct awareness,” Dr. Kennedy explains. (Hint: It might be why you love the smell of a partner’s clothes.)
Pheromones leak out of sweat and sebaceous glands, and while they’re typically found in the armpit and chest area, it’s possible they’re in other bodily fluids, like vaginal secretions. Again, humans pheromones are not that well-studied, and it isn’t even abundantly clear if they’re located in vaginal fluid, says Dr. Michael Ingber, MD, a board-certified doctor of female pelvic medicine and reconstructive surgery.
“There are lots of studies on human pheromones, and we still don't fully understand everything,” he tells Bustle. “There are pheromones in sweat, which are thought to be attractive to both sexes, but then body odor, which is basically oxidized sweat, can have the opposite effect.” That’s why it’s tough to say, without a doubt, that vabbing works.
Could Vabbing Be A Self-Fulfilling Prophecy?
Another take, and one that’s a little more likely, is that vabbing is just a self-fulfilling prophecy. According to Dr. Kennedy, anyone who tries it is more likely to project other signals of interest and availability, without even realizing it.
When you vab with the goal of snagging a partner, you’ll inadvertently flirt a little more, lean a little closer to people, or catch some eye contact, she says. And that’s what others are going to pick up on right before they say “hey” — not your fresh batch of vabbing perfume.
Dr. Fru agrees that any vabbing success is probably just coincidence, and she personally doesn’t recommend it. “Perfume of your choice, lightly applied, is a much more hygienic option,” she says.
Should You Try Vabbing?
If you’re still curious, it won’t hurt to do a little experiment of your own. “In general, the vagina has its own ‘cleaning’ mechanism and shouldn't be considered ‘dirty,” Dr. Ingber explains. As long as you don’t have any infections — and if you aren’t too horrified by the trend — he says it’s totally OK to give it a try.
“If you're going to do it, make sure your hands are clean,” he notes. “Wash them with soap and water, as opposed to using an alcohol-based gel, so the mucosa isn't dried out. [Then] gently insert a finger, scoop some of the fluid in an upward motion, and dab away!”
Spence, C. 2021. The scent of attraction and the smell of success: crossmodal influences on person perception. Cogn Res Princ Implic. doi: 10.1186/s41235-021-00311-3.
University of British Columbia. "Stressed out? Try smelling your partner's shirt." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 4 January 2018. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/01/180104120247.htm>.
Verhaeghe, J. 2013. Pheromones and their effect on women's mood and sexuality. Facts Views Vis Obgyn. PMID: 24753944; PMCID: PMC3987372.
Dr. Jenn Kennedy, PhD, LMFT, therapist
Dr. Michael Ingber, MD, board-certified doctor of female pelvic medicine and reconstructive surgery