There is a strong link between scent and sexuality. The sense of smell is a powerful mechanism of sexual communication.
We don’t always notice every scent around us, yet scientists estimate that people can detect about one trillion different odors. This exceeds the number of colors we can see or sounds we can hear.
Research suggests that human body odor can provide information about age, sex, and sexual orientation. It also helps people process sexual cues.
For example, men might become more aroused when they’re exposed to the scent of a woman’s sweat.
A 2019 study 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 these two phases, the women gave sweat samples while sexually aroused and while resting.
The researchers discovered that men felt more sexually aroused (including genital arousal) when they smelled sweat collected during a woman’s follicular phase compared to sweat collected during the luteal phase.
The link between scent and sexual desire has also been studied in people with smell disorders.
The journal Physiology & Behavior published a study in 2018, where scientists worked with a group of 100 people who had lost their sense of smell (a condition called anosmia). Twenty-nine percent of the group reported decreases in sexual desire after the onset of the smell disorder. This group was also more likely to have depression than a comparison group without anosmia.
As people get older, their sense of smell may decline, and this can affect sexuality, too. In 2021, a Journal of Sexual Medicine study investigated the sexual function of 2,084 older adults (average age 72) with poor senses of smell. In general, the participants felt less motivated to have sex and thought about sex less frequently. They also tended to be less emotionally satisfied with their last sexual partner.
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)
The Journal of Sexual Medicine
Siegel, Jesse K., BS, et al.
“Olfaction Is Associated With Sexual Motivation and Satisfaction in Older Men and Women”
(Full-text. Published: January 7, 2021)
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”