Love labyrinth delivers aphrodisiac through your eyeballs

Image: Ann Charlott Ommedal

If that kind of title hasn’t made it immediately obvious, I’m writing about one of Bompas & Parr’s projects — a mirror maze which guides visitors to its heart via a scented aphrodisiac.

The Waft that Woos (for thus it is named) was inspired by Shakespearean comedy — specifically The Merry Wives of Windsor — and was commissioned by the Royal Shakespeare Company.

But what of the science behind the art installation?

Well, the aphrodisiac scent involves a mixture of natural perfumes and phenylethylamine (PEA) which is sometimes referred to as “the love drug”.

PEA causes the release of dopamine in the parts of the brain associated with pleasure, sloshing around particularly abundantly when its levels peak as you’re having an orgasm and — more modestly — when you’re falling in love.

But PEA can be swiftly metabolised by monoamine oxidase (MAO) when arriving in the body orally meaning that for the aphrodisiac to have time to act on the central nervous system a MAO inhibitor (and a non-oral route into the body) is required.

In The Waft That Woos, this takes the form of yohimbine, a mild MAO inhibitor derived from the bark of the yohimbe tree and designed to accentuate the effects of the PEA.

The whole heady concoction is then transformed into a fine mist using ultrasonic oscillators (which roughly translates as “THERE’S A REALLY SEXY HUMIDIFIER IN STRATFORD-UPON-AVON RIGHT NOW”) which can be absorbed through the lungs, the eyeballs, and indeed any other porous surface your body has to offer.

Image: Ann Charlott Ommedal

NB Some of the effects of PEA are similar to those of amphetamines so if you have a heart condition you might need to give this one a miss…

The Waft That Woos, until April 2013, the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon