The way you smell…

the way you smellSmell and attractiveness

One element plays an important part in our attractiveness to other human beings, and that is smell.

Certain body odors are connected to human sexual attraction, according to research. Again, this relates back to the innate drive to perpetuate the human race. Subconsciously, by way of scent, humans can discern whether a potential mate will pass on favorable genetic traits to their offspring.
‘Research on human mating has found that the effect of scent on males and on females differs. Part of this difference is caused by the different motives each gender holds for mating. Males, in order to pass on genes, subconsciously notice and are attracted to traits that indicate fertility in females, such as a voice of higher pitch, a specific hip-to-waist ratio, and a certain body odor. Evolutionarily, females have two main motives for mating: to pass on genes and to find a partner who can provide adequate support for herself and future offspring. As a female reaches the fertile stage of her menstrual cycle, the desire to pass on favorable traits to offspring gains more importance and the female becomes more attracted than usual to males with favorable traits. Many such traits are subliminally detected through scent.’  [1]

Evolutionary biologist Randy Thornhill of the University of New Mexico found that men with symmetrical facial features even smell better to women. In some cases, women in Thornhill’s study reported that they could not smell anything on a man’s sweaty shirt, yet they were, nonetheless, attracted to it. ‘We think the detection of these types of scent is way outside consciousness,’ Thornhill said.

This attraction to scent goes beyond pheremones. Scientific American journalist Adam Hadhazy writes, ‘Humans might use a nuanced concoction of chemicals even more complex than formal pheromones to attract potential mates.’ [2]

If this is so, then men who wish to be attractive to women might do better to refrain from using ‘masculine fragrances’ such as after-shave!
Kate Fox in ‘The Smell Report’ writes: ‘Widely publicised research findings on female sensitivity to male pheromones have also led some men to believe that the odor of their natural sweat is highly attractive to women.

‘Women are indeed highly sensitive to male pheromones, particularly around ovulation, but many popular assumptions about the effects of these pheromones are the result of misinterpretation and over-simplification of the research results.

‘All male pheromones are not equally attractive, and some of the myths stem from an understandable confusion over their names. The male pheromone androstenone is not the same as androstenol. Androstenol is the scent produced by fresh male sweat, and is attractive to females. Androstenone is produced by male sweat after exposure to oxygen – i.e. when less fresh – and is perceived as highly unpleasant by females (except during ovulation, when their responses change from ‘negative’ to ‘neutral’).
‘So, men who believe that their ‘macho’, sweaty body-odor is attractive to women are deluding themselves, unless they are constantly producing fresh sweat and either naked or changing their clothes every 20 minutes to remove any trace of the oxidized sweat.’

Everyone has a different opinion as to what smells are pleasing. Some tribes prefer the smell of cows, or the smell of onions, to any other. The sense of smell is powerful and primitive. Smells can evoke vivid images and emotions and even influence people’s moods. Unconsciously, we can even be attracted to the smell of people with the same political beliefs!

The part of the human brain that interprets smell is in the brain’s limbic system, an area so intimately entwined with memory and feeling that it is sometimes referred to as the ‘emotional brain’.

In spite of this biological wiring, however, smells would not awaken memories and emotions if we did not accumulate learned responses. The first time you smell a new scent, you (consciously or unconsciously) associate it with an experience, a person, an object or even an instant in time. Your brain creates a link between the smell and a memory; for example associating the smell of lavender with your grandmother, or a certain aftershave with a school principal you disliked, or the smell of sunscreen with the beach. When you experience the smell again, the connection awakens that particular memory or mood. Lavender might call up a specific grandmother-related memory or simply make you feel content. A whiff of aftershave might make you feel anxious or angry without your understanding the reason. This partly explains why people have different preferences in smells. One female acquaintance of mine finds herself attracted to men who smell of machine oil, because during her teens she happily dated a youth whose hobby was tinkering with his motorcycle!

Because it is during our youth that we experience most new smells, odors frequently awaken childhood memories. The fact is, however, that  we actually start to link smells and emotion even before we are born! Infants who were exposed to certain smells when they were still embryos in the womb, show a liking for the smells.

It is difficult to know what memories, emotions or cultural responses certain external smells can call up in other people. One thing is for certain however: the way you smell, your own personal–clean and hygienic–natural odor, whether or not you are conscious of its existence, is going to be attractive to numerous people, and not infrequently. So avoid the strong perfumes—you may be masking your own subtle, attractive, natural scent!


[1]    ‘Body odor and subconscious human sexual attraction.’ Wikipedia. Retrieved 28th October 2014

[2]   ‘Do Pheromones Play a Role in Our Sex Lives?’ By Adam Hadhazy. Scientific American. February 13, 2012.

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