Sweaty T-shirts and sexual chemistry? Could it be “love at first… scent”?

by | Apr 28, 2012 | Health & News | 2 comments

Maybe it’s not similar interests, looks, horoscope signs or proximity that make men and women fall madly in love., but actually their body smell. Scientists specializing in the field of evolutionary psychology have long known the dramatic effect of pheromones in sexual attraction. Pheromones are subtle chemical signals released in the air which draw pairs of the same species together.

In mice, experiments showed that pheromones acted as attractants between male and females who were genetically similar except that they differed in a certain set of genes, known as the major histocompatibility complex (MHC)(1). This complex plays a key role in immune function. Individuals with different MHC’s would produce offspring with a stronger, more resilient immune system, thus conferring a distinct survival advantage.

What about in humans, who aren’t particularly known for their keen sense of smell? Could females sniff out the scent of their potential sexual partners?

A recent research study done by Swiss zoologist, Claus Wedekind, answered this question (2). In his “sweaty T-shirt” experiment, he recruited volunteers, 49 women and 44 men based on their distinct MHC gene types. He gave all of the male volunteers clean t-shirts to wear for two nights and then instructed them to be returned. In the laboratory, the T-shirts were placed in individual boxes equipped with a smelling hole and asked each female volunteer to sniff the boxes and rate the odor as to intensity, pleasantness, and sexiness.

The results were striking! Women overwhelmingly preferred the scent of T-shirts worn by the men whose MHC differed from their own and described them as the most “sexy”. The T-shirts worn by the males with similar MHC profiles were rated as “fatherly” or “brotherly” — definitely not “relationship” material.

Interestingly, in this same study, women taking the birth control pill did not show this same preference for different MHC genotypes. The theory is that the pill generates a physiological state similar to pregnancy, thereby inhibiting ovulation and hormones produced by the ovary during each menstrual cycle. Pill-users preference for MHC-similar scents turned out not to be a mate preference, but instead a preference of the smell of genetic relatives who would help them from a nepotistic perspective rather than a reproductive one.

In fact, through interviews of hundreds of patients, I have found that those in the happiest relationships with most satisfying sex lives actually crave the smell of their partner. Not only is it their physical appearance or personality that attracts them, but also the distinct smell of their body that gets the sexual juices flowing.

Here are three tips to put the power of scent back into your sex life!

1) Take a good whiff of some of his clothes, like his t-shirt or sweatshirt.
How does it make you feel? Do you think arousing thoughts or think he needs to immediately get his laundry done? Many women feel comfortable and safe when wearing their partner’s shirts because they are picking up his scent, whether it’s conscious or unconscious.

2) Experiment with some scent-sational aphrodisiacs.

Recent studies conducted by the Smell and Taste Research Foundation in Chicago found some powerful smells to boost his arousal (3). Specifically, the combined scent of lavender and pumpkin pie, as well as donuts and black licorice, increased blood flow to the penis by nearly 40 percent! Buy some pumpkin pie spice or lavender candles and place them around the house… and see how the sparks fly!

3) Smell-train your partner.

In general, women have a keener sense of smell than men. By wearing certain scents which your partner enjoys, he will be more attentive. An interesting cue that could subtly tell him that you’re in the mood, would be to put a few dabs of your favorite perfume on the nape of your neck and behind your ears. When he picks up this scent, he’ll know that all systems are go!
Questions for reflection:

• So what scent turns you on?
• What turns your partner on?

Experiment with various combinations of smells and create your own signature relationship smell.

Please share your findings with me and the other readers. ..Who knows, maybe your “scent” suggestions will spark up someone else’s presently dormant sex life!

1. Yamazaki, K., Yamaguchi, M., Baranoski, L., Bard, J., Boyse, E.A. & Thomas, L. (1979). Journal of Experimental Medicine, 150: 755-760.
2. Wedekind, C., Seebeck.T., Bettens, F. & Paepke, AJ., (1995). MHC-Dependent Mate Preferences in Humans. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London, Series B: Biological Sciences, vol. 260 (n. 1359): 245-249.
3. https://www.senseofsmell.org/sosi-bookshelf-detail.php?value=Sensuality&cat=Sensuality