Editor’s Note: This article was updated to reflect the latest information from the WHO about potential monkeypox transmission routes.
If you’re on TikTok, you might be seeing videos of people talking about “vabbing.” At first I was lost, so I did some digging. Here are your most common questions about vabbing, answered.
What the Heck Is Vabbing?
Vabbing — a combination of the words “vagina” and “dabbing” — is the practice of wearing your own vaginal secretions as perfume.
According to some people who vab (let’s call them “vabbers”), dabbing a little pussy juice on your wrists and behind your ears will make you more sexually attractive to others — supposedly, it’s a pheromones thing. That’s why most vabbers engage in this practice before a date or a night out. Here’s TikTok user @jewlieah describing a recent vabbing experience:
Apparently, @jewlieah vabbed and was offered free drinks and a gift from multiple hunks at the pool.
It seems like vabbing had its first big moment a few years ago thanks to a November 2018 episode of the Secret Keepers Club podcast, hosted by comedians Carly Aquilino and Emma Willmann. On a previous episode, the hosts had discussed a gay male friend who used his own genital sweat as cologne after learning about pheromones and sexual attraction. A vagina-owning listener decided to give this technique a whirl using her genital juices. The listener dubbed the technique “vabbing,” and apparently, she got great results.
Vabbing had another trending moment in 2019 when sexologist Shan Boodram wrote about it in her book The Game of Desire, but she didn’t call the practice “vabbing” — she called it “Love Potion Number Vagine.”
And now, thanks to TikTok, vabbing is taking off yet again. At this point, you’re probably wondering…
Well?? Does It Work?
Anecdotally, yeah. If you search the hashtag #vabbing on TikTok, you’ll find lots of (mostly straight) vagina-havers singing vabbing’s praises. But vabbing hasn’t been researched in any formal way.
We know that pheromones affect animal mating behavior, but few studies on pheromones have been conducted on human subjects. And there’s some debate in the scientific community as to whether or not humans even produce pheromones in the first place.
You may have heard of the very straight “sweaty T-shirt study,” in which a group of college guys each wore the same T-shirt for two nights without using any deodorant or other scented products. The shirts were then put into identical boxes, and women were asked to smell the shirts and indicate which shirt made them feel the most sexual attraction. And it turned out that the women were most attracted to men whose major histocompatibility complex (MHC) was most dissimilar from their own (but their preferences were reversed if they were taking oral contraceptives). That study was conducted back in 1995, and a 2005 study showed similar results. These studies have led some researchers to believe that MHC plays a role in sexual selection and that this process is mediated by pheromones.
But what about queer people? From what I can tell, the role of MHC, pheromones and scent in queer sexual attraction is under-researched, but I did come across one study, which found that lesbian cisgender women respond to pheromones differently than heterosexual cisgender women.
So Should I Try Vabbing?
If you live with a partner and want to vab in your own home, go for it. Even if it’s just a placebo effect that’s giving you a confidence boost, who cares?! You deserve sexual confidence, and if vabbing gets you there, then lick it, dip it and stick it with your sweetheart.
When it comes to vabbing out in the world — well, that might not be the best idea right now. First, let’s clear this up: the likelihood that you could give someone else an STI through vabbing is very, very low. Many of the viruses and bacteria that cause STIs can’t survive for very long outside of the body, and the STIs the do survive for a while on surfaces typically need to come into contact with a mucous membrane or an open cut or sore in order to spread. Unless someone is licking or placing their genitals on the part of the body where you’ve dipped and dapped, the likelihood that they’d contract an STI from you is, again, very low.
So if there isn’t much risk associated with vabbing, why should we be concerned right now? Well, we’re dealing with an international outbreak of monkeypox. To be clear, monkeypox is NOT an STI, and according to some earlier statements from the World Health Organization, monkeypox does not spread through sexual secretions. More recent WHO guidelines state, “it is unclear at this time if monkeypox can be transmitted specifically through sexual transmission routes.” Even if it turns out that monkeypox doesn’t spread through sexual secretions, we know that is does spread through skin-to-skin contact with an infected person’s sores or lesions, which can be anywhere on the body (including inside the vagina). So to stay on the safe side and protect the people around you, it’s probably best to hold off on public vabbing until the monkeypox outbreak is under control.