The Science of Werewolves: David O'Brien

Leaving the Pack by David J O'Brien - 500by C. Margery Kempe

Today I welcome my Tirgearr Publishing colleague, David O’Brien. David’s got a new book Leaving the Pack and dropped by today to talk a bit about the thinking behind his story. Take it away, David!

First of all, a big thank you for having me here today to talk about my book.

Second of all, I think the blurb will help explain things before we continue…

Nobody believes in werewolves.
That’s just what Paul McHew and his friends are counting on.

They and their kind roam our city streets: a race of people from whom the terrible legend stems; now living among us invisibly after centuries of persecution through fear and ignorance. Superficially human but physiologically very different, with lunar rhythms so strong that during the three days of the full moon they are almost completely controlled by their hormonal instincts, you might have cursed them as just another group of brawling youths or drunken gang-bangers. Now at the point of extinction, if they are to survive their existence must remain restricted to mere stories and legend, but, paradoxically, they also must marry outside their society in order to persist.

The responsibility for negotiating this knife-edge is given to Paul, who runs the streets with his friends during the full moon, keeping them out of real trouble and its resultant difficult questions. Having succeeded for years, he finds his real test of leadership comes when he meets Susan, a potential life-mate, to whom he will have to reveal his true identity if he is ever to leave his pack.

So now that you know what the book is about, let’s talk about sex.

The male characters, the werewolves in Leaving the Pack have a lot of sex. It’s best just to get that out there. They are the ultimate pick-up artists. They roam the city for two reasons: to expend energy, and to find girls. Of course, ultimately, they’re looking for mates, relationships, wives. But they’re in no hurry.

So how are they so successful? Pheromones.

Are pheromones sexy?

Well, there are many types of pheromones in nature, and most of them usually involve sex – getting it and making it worthwhile (from an evolutionary perspective). From chemicals that direct male moths towards receptive females, to the molecules that make female mice sexually receptive in the presence of a strange male (including causing pretty drastic changes in her reproductive cycle), these substances can take over animals’ behaviour and make them act differently to how they would if they never smelt them.

As a zoologist, the physiology of attraction has always interested me: from the first explanation of animal behaviour and experiments using photos of handsome people and cloths soaked in sweat, to my days spent in the field, videotaping deer mating in harems. The successful bucks seemed to only get more successful, as does selected the same ones the other females had, milling around and waiting their turn.

That image might not turn everyone on – it doesn’t turn me on – but it is intriguing. I wonder what would happen if we could separate that buck, bring him to another group of does who hadn’t watched the previous matings. Would he still be attractive? What exactly are the does attracted to in joining his harem?

The step of translating such animal studies to humans has been taken and research is ongoing. It makes for fascinating reading, but just one example will suffice here: photos of men are voted sexier if the voter is told that 80% of previous respondents consider the man handsome rather than just 20%.

But if you meet that man in a bar, how do you know that 80% of women consider him handsome?

As I learned on facebook last week (who says Facebook can’t be educational, as long as you friend learned folk?) Freud said, “How bold one gets when one is sure of being loved.” Confidence. That’s what’s sexy. At least, that’s what everybody says, and dating experts are making money talking about it and teaching people (read men) to emanate confidence.

Doubtless you can relate to this (irrespective of your views on deer). We’ve all had experience of it: a run of just not getting any action and then suddenly after you find someone, there are potential partners crawling out of the woodwork looking for a date. A friend of mine used to call it a purple patch, when you just can’t go wrong in seducing any object of affection.

So how is this confidence projected? Is it in your mannerisms, your body language, your demeanour, the tenor of your voice? Or is it in your smell? Dogs (read wolves) and other animals can smell fear. If they can smell fear, then they can smell the opposite of fear, which is confidence. If they can it’s because we release such a chemical. And if we release it, why would evolution not have our own species capable of picking it up?

Is confidence perhaps just the absence of some kind of fear scent? Doubtful.

While people are probably able to perceive fear as well as confidence, not being afraid is our default and thus not very sexy, while confidence is. There must be some separate substance produced, perhaps stimulated by successive conquests – not just having sex with one’s regular partner. This could be why it has been so difficult to find and isolate the chemical (there are people trying). Its production is probably erratic.

Not so with the pack.

Inventing a race of werewolves allowed me free range to imagine what the scientists might find in the future. The members of the pack are infinitely sexy and have confidence in buckets, because they produce this pheromone during the full moon without even thinking about it. They’re not infallible, of course. They still have to be charming, still have to seduce the objects of their affection. It’s also a potential double-edged sword. Apart from the fact that if they’re ever discovered, they might be milked for their pheromones like bears farmed for their bile, more immediately, not only do they have their own aggression to control, but they also often disgruntle other men in the city by attracting their girlfriends. This can make war go hand in hand with love.

The pack wield this power they have relatively benignly. They treat their ladies with respect – they don’t want a lot of irate women hating them. They’re powerful men, but hell hath no fury… as the saying goes. And they stay away from married women. They’re very family-orientated, for all their casual sex. They don’t wish to damage any long-term relationships by making a spouse guilty when she’d really less control over her actions than she realised.

We don’t see so much from the ladies’ point of view, except Susan’s, when she first meets Paul during a full moon. She’s ready to do things she’d never before contemplated (there’s an excerpt of this scene below), but later, when they meet again after the moon, Paul has to prove himself just as seductive, without the aid of what he calls his “little chemical friends.”

So, if there were commercially-available pheromones, would you consider their use cheating, or just another weapon in attracting a partner – like make-up, good grooming and plastic surgery?


David JM O’Brien’s website

Leaving the Pack

Tirgearr Publishing

David JM O’Brien on Facebook

10% of the author’s royalties will be donated to WWF, the World Wildlife Fund.


“Ehmm… I was wondering if you would like to dance with me,” he asked, gazing at the floor as he spoke and then fixing her with a stare that made her heart quicken and a reply out of her mind’s reach.

‘Yes, please!’ a voice yelled inside her. Nevertheless, she knew full well by now that he was playing with her, and that the game consisted in not making things too easy for this stranger who was clearly accustomed to getting what he wanted. She had the will to resist her heart’s demands, if only for a few more moments. Fixing him with an expression that said yes, her voice eventually replied, “But it’s not even a slow song.”

As she said it, however, the music changed tempo to Madonna’s ballad: Live to Tell. Couples began to form as the lyrics began. Susan acknowledged that she was caught. Still she paused for some time, scrutinizing him as though trying to peer insidehim, before she conceded.

“OK,” she nodded with a smirk.

He smiled wryly and she put her arms around him, considering how he had manipulated her from the beginning. They danced for what seemed hours to Susan, as she clung to this beautiful man and let herself drift away, getting lost in his fragrance. It brought images to her mind of summer days in woods, raw sex in a meadow, the slight scent of wildflowers and crushed stems, encapsulated in a ring flattened by bodies rolling on the rough ground, cushioned only by the grass, feeling its texture on bare skin, the sun pouring into the circle past its borders of seed heads and the sound of bees.

She wondered about him calling her ‘sex.’ About to ask whether he had been for real or just taking the piss, she decided it didn’t matter. She thought that the word, the plain truth, was much more suited to him, and realized why she was so reluctant to give in easily to his request for a dance. It was not just a dance she had agreed to. This was not a normal situation, where she could get to know someone during the night and decide later if she would take it further. She had already crossed that line and knew that she would end up having sex with him that night. They would leave the bar and go to his place, or her place, or his car, or the alley around the side of the building – it did not matter – and she would have sex like she’d never had before.

Clinging to him now, she could arouse no resistance to the idea. In fact, she was ready to do whatever they would do, right then. She felt no need to know any more about him. His nearness and his smell were enough to make her want to leave immediately and let him do what he willed with her body.

“What’s your name? Or is it really: ‘Interested’?”

She blushed again and replied, asking his before remembering that he had told her already. His name did not matter to her, either. It was superfluous information, now that he held her in his arms. He grinned, showing that he knew she had only asked him automatically.

“Well, I don’t seem to have made much of an impression on you, if it takes three times for you to remember my name!”

“Yes, I’m sorry. It’s Paul, isn’t it?” she said, staring into his eyes for the first time since they’d begun dancing. They were so dark they seemed to be hiding in the shadows. She could not read what he was thinking – a thing she could often do – but sensed he held a secret behind those ebony orbs. Then she realized that she had been scrutinizing him for a long time and looked away.

“What are you thinking?”

“Nothing much,” she replied, searching for an answer. “Just wondering how long it is going to be before you make a pass at me.”

“I won’t need to,” he whispered in her ear.

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  • Post authordavidjmobrien

    Thanks for having me in LadySmut today! I hope my post isn’t a case of too much science (or speculation!) and not enough sex.! I’m happy to try answer any questions you have (about deer – I’m not so well-versed on the rest!)

    Reply to davidjmobrien
    • Post authorC. Margery Kempe

      The Lady Smut readers are an intelligent bunch. In fact that’s usually the first thing they look for in a partner —

      Reply to C. Margery Kempe
  • Post authorKemberlee

    Great excerpt!

    I’ve heard and read about these pheromone experiments. I thought they had moved onto human trials. Perhaps we’re already unwitting guinea pigs! The perfume industry is a multi billion dollar machine which lays its reputation on the prefect concoction of scents that will help attract a partner, or three.

    Years ago, in another and single life, I switched perfumes. I can’t remember what I used to wear (this was back in my 20s and so very long ago), but when Obsession hit the market, everyone was tripping over themselves to get a bottle. Admittedly, I got a free sample of the stuff (back when free perfume samples were readily available) and tried it. I was working in a bookstore at the time. I paid no attention to having a new perfume. I just wanted to smell nice among all the books. It didn’t take long to start getting hit on. By both sexes! One man who I knew was happily married, was in to buy a book for his wife. At the till he looked up at me and very softly said, “You smell sexy as hell,” winked then walked out the door with ‘the look’ over his shoulder. Anyone knowing me knows I’m not lost for something to say, but there I was, rooted to the floor for a minute. Then the next customer came up, a very cute man closer to my age. He leaned in and whispered, “He’s right.” I swear, if my knees hadn’t suddenly locked into position, I probably would have fainted. LOL What the hell did they put in Obsession back then? I still wear it on occasion, but don’t get that kind of reaction anymore. Maybe I’m just old now and should start meeting more blind people 😉

    You’re right though. I think confidence has a lot to do with it. It goes back to the age old question: What trait in a man (or woman) most attracts you? You’ll hear a lot of ‘he makes me laugh’ or ‘his eyes’, ‘his smile’, ‘his butt’ . . . One person has to say ‘his confidence’ and suddenly they’re all saying it. Case in point, the cute geek in school who can’t get a date for the prom/debs because he’s too shy. First sign of personal success and he’s Superman in the confidence dept and then the girls come out of the woodwork.

    You bring up an excellent point, too, by saying if animals can smell your fear, they must also smell your confidence. Which leads me to ask . . . Do you think that’s why so many spiders terrorize humans? 😉

    Reply to Kemberlee
    • Post authorC. Margery Kempe

      I think animals smell to recognize but they interpret body language too. Birds have almost no sense of smell, but crows can recognize a wide variety of people. They remember the way a person moves and decide on their threat accordingly.

      Reply to C. Margery Kempe
      • Post authordavidjmobrien

        body language is definitely vital. Even wolves with amazing scenting abilities use primarily body language in short term interactions – it’s much more efficient than producing a different chemical for each emotion (yes, scientists are slowly starting to use such terms for non-human animals!) which takes a longer time to get its meaning across. On the other hand, we are finding out that birds are actually able to smell much more than we assumed.

        Reply to davidjmobrien
    • Post authordavidjmobrien

      ha! That’s like the old Impulse adverts where they guys go around buying flowers. It’s hard to know how close the industry has gotten to a chemical actually produced by humans. The scientists have been concentrating more on the genetic similarities between prospective mates where women are more attracted to the sweat of men who have some factors (can remember exactly what they are) that are somewhat similar but not exactly the same as their own father’s factors. The end result is that one man’s sweat will not attract all women no matter who he is, because some will be genetically incompatible to him. That a woman is aware of this (unconsciously of course) is amazing and shows how fine-tuned our olfactory sense still is that we can detect the difference in genetic make-up between people. Everyone still probably has their own individual scent (well, of course, since dogs can smell their owners and they say you should speak to your dog after you get out of a shower to let him know the smelly flower human is actually you!) and we humans can still detect the individuals despite our much decreased sense of smell compared to other mammals. As for spiders – I think an arachnid smelling the fear of a mammal is pretty pointless since they are so small they’ll get killed no mater what our fear or confidence state. They freak me out because they’re too damn fast and unpredictable! It’s like the mouse and the elephant. There’s no way to react fast enough and the little bastad might get a bite in there somewhere, even if you kill it afterwards!

      Reply to davidjmobrien
      • Post authorKemberlee

        I studied canine and feline behavior when I was getting my diploma in canine and feline nutrition. It was meant to be my secondary diploma before I had to leave the industry. Anyway, I was able to apply some interesting theories when running my obedience courses. A lot of is started with confidence, but also establishing pack order. Pack members will only follow a leader who is confidence and strong. And while dogs can’t understand English, they learn to associate behavior with sounds. And if you’re not confident and strong in those behaviors, a dog will essentially flip you the paw and walk away.

        So much goes into animal behavior. It’s so hard to say it’s one thing more than another because they all play vital roles. I think it’s an amazingly fascinating field, one which I wish I’d been able to explore more.

        As for my spider comment . . . I was being cheeky, but I love your response 🙂

        Reply to Kemberlee
  • Post authorMadeline Iva

    Hey David, thanks for such a great post!

    When I was growing up I had irregular periods. The women in my family said, “Oh, don’t worry, when you get married they’ll get regular.” (A conservative lot, they assumed all women get married.) Anyway, they were right. When I started living with my DH, before he was DH, I didn’t have that problem anymore. Science says male scent on a regular basis can do that.

    The flip side was scent also affects us when we’re living with females. I can’t believe how many times I’ve gone to a writing retreat, or when I went back to college and lived in a dorm my period got all screwed up because it began to get into sync with someone else’s period. I realized at one point, I’d even had my period schedule change to sync up with my writing crit partner. It’s a pain, and I never seem to be the one who’s cycle stays the same while everyone else syncs around me.

    And finally, YES, I’ve experienced the, uh, purple patch. Getting together with DH about five different guys — some of whom had already known me for two years or so — were suddenly all into me. I think it was because I was glowing with happiness, just radiant. I think guys like women who are happy.

    Reply to Madeline Iva
    • Post authordavidjmobrien

      Thanks for the comment, Madeline! The pheromone that influences women’s periods was the first one that was discovered in humans, I think. They found it first in convents. Before that they didn’t think humans were influenced by chemicals from other people like they knew mice etc. were. And they keep on finding more. I suppose there must be some individuals with strong monthly rhythms who influence the others around them while others are more open to influence. Otherwise there would be no synchronization, though there are cases of girls moving in either direction towards a place in the middle between their cycles, too.
      Guys are just as influenced by confidence, yes( and who wants to date an unhappy person? Unless you feel you can “cure” him or her). Sometimes they can be overwhelmed by it, though, and lose their own confidence with a girl they really like and find it easier to go out with a less daunting partner.

      Reply to davidjmobrien
    • Post authorElizabeth Shore

      No doubt that’s true as the “Happy wife, happy life” expression affirms.

      Reply to Elizabeth Shore
  • Post authorLiz Everly

    Welcome! And can I just say…YOWZAH…love that excerpt. 😉

    Reply to Liz Everly
    • Post authordavidjmobrien

      thanks a million! Glad you liked the excerpt! Hope it’s not like a movie trailer where I’ve already shown all the good bits – there’s more in the book!

      Reply to davidjmobrien
  • Post authorKel

    Wonderful post!

    So I have to say, scent is already super important. While I wouldn’t consider changing scent specifically to gain someone’s attention the same way I wouldn’t consider surgery to attract someone. I’d also be a little bothered by a potential partner having done so, but that has more to do with not wanting to spend my own time on someone who would care to do so than finding anything else objectionable about the practice.

    Actually, there’s a bit of truth to the fact that a guy women are willing to hang around with is bound to know how to 1. talk to women and 2. be respectful towards women. That might not always hold true, but usually, the way other women act tells kind of pre-vets a guy. There’s less guessing about his attitude, his general demeanor and the probably outcome of saying hello. So it’s not just about “taken” but also “who is willing to spend time with him.” By definition, a guy in a relationship with a woman has at least one woman willing to spend time around him.

    I’ve noticed it when out with groups of friends. Women we don’t know are much more likely to approach the men in our group, single or not, than the men in other groups… and coincidentally, our ratio is usually pretty close to 1:1. Sometimes they’ll approach the women first just to say hello, or whatnot… but they’re also much more receptive if approached by one of the men in our group.

    • Post authordavidjmobrien

      Thanks for the great comment Kel. It’s true that pre-vetting by other females makes it easier to make a mating choice. In deer and many other animals this is how it happens. Humans are a little more complicated because while we are by nature polygynous (with males larger than females and traditionally competing for mates) we are in large part (as western society spreads around the world) transitioning to monogamous relationships in having only 1:1 ratios in marriages. So we might think that a person seeing someone “taken” should really keep their distance and not try to interfere, because instead of adding to the group, as they would in times past and in some parts of the world still, Western society dictates that this new person replace the previous partner.

      Reply to davidjmobrien
  • Post authorElizabeth Shore

    Great post, David, and some really fascinating stuff about pheremones and sexual attraction. And as a side note, as I sit here sipping water from my WWF aluminum water bottle, I love the fact that you donate a portion of your royalties to them. Awesome.

    Reply to Elizabeth Shore
    • Post authordavidjmobrien

      Thanks Elizabeth. I always said if I published a novel I’d donate some to WWF. I’m delighted to be able to keep the promise!

      Reply to davidjmobrien

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