The sense of smell is a powerful mechanism for human communication, including sexual communication. Scientists estimate that people can detect about one trillion different odors, far exceeding the number of colors we can see or sounds we can hear. However, we don’t always notice every scent around us.
Research suggests that human body odor can provide information about age, sex, and sexual orientation. It might also help people process sexual cues.
In 2019, a study published in Biological Psychology investigated men’s sexual reactions to women’s sweat collected during the follicular and luteal phases of their menstrual cycle. (The follicular phase begins on the first day of a woman’s period and ends with ovulation. The luteal phase follows the ovulation phase. If a woman is not pregnant, hormone levels will drop during the luteal phase. Eventually, the uterine lining will shed, and her next period will begin.)
During the two phases, the women gave sweat samples while sexually aroused and while resting.
The researchers discovered that men felt more sexually aroused when they smelled sweat collected during a woman’s follicular phase compared to sweat collected during the luteal phase.
Genital arousal in the studied men increased when they smelled sweat collected from aroused women in their luteal phase.
In a 2018 paper, scientists suggested another link between smell and sexual desire. They worked with a group of 100 people who had lost their sense of smell (a condition called anosmia). Twenty-nine percent of the group said they felt less sexual desire and that the decrease began with the onset of the smell disorder. This group was also more likely to have depression than a comparison group without anosmia.
The study was published in the journal Physiology & Behavior.
Biological Psychology via ScienceDirect
“The aroma of arousal: Effects of menstrual cycle phase and women’s sexual arousal state on men’s responsiveness to women’s body odor”
(Full-text. Available online: January 25, 2019)
“Stages of the Menstrual Cycle”
(August 17, 2018)
Physiology & Behavior via ScienceDirect
Schäfer, Laura, et al.
“Sexual desire after olfactory loss: Quantitative and qualitative reports of patients with smell disorders”
(Full-text. Available online: December 18, 2018)
“The Role Smell Plays In Sexual Arousal”
(June 25, 2019)
“Smell Disorders Linked to Lower Sex Drive”