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The science of smell.

the science of smell.

How scent impacts who you are attracted to.

There’s a reason why “you smell good” is such a flattering come-on (delivered, of course, by the right person, at the right time). Scientifically speaking, your natural odor is a key element in how your romantic pursuits unravel. According to a study published in Frontiers of Psychology in 2017, attractiveness isn’t just about looks—scent also plays a role. 

Pheromones—a naturally secreted substance that triggers an emotional or mental response (however subconscious)—are found all across the animal kingdom. In people, they’re emitted through sweat glands, which is why you’ve likely had at least one friend try to convince you that sweat is sexy. But they’re also a nature-induced factor that can play a role in who you find yourself drawn to.

In one famous study from 1995, female university students were asked to smell t-shirts worn by male subjects for two consecutive nights, and rank them according to how pleasant they found them; the assessment showed that they tended to prefer the shirts belonging to men with greater DNA differences from them (so, it’s all an evolutionary advantage). However, in research done in the decades since, these findings are now seen as a little oversimplified.

There are different kinds of sweat, after all: and according to The Smell Report from the Social Issues Research Center, most of it isn’t going to land you a date. Androstenol, found in fresh male sweat (a light schvitz, if you will) is known to be attractive to heterosexual women; androstenone, a similar pheromone that’s produced by male sweat once it’s been exposed to oxygen (so, your typical B.O.) is not. Androstadienone, another testosterone-produced pheromone hits a real sweet spot: Studies have shown that it induces a relaxed response in women (and, in some cases, a sexual one), and it can strengthen the relationships between men, too. Sexual orientation also plays a role: one 2005 study showed that gay men process pheromones in a different way than straight men, and in 2006, the same was shown in gay women versus straight women. Pheromone parties (in which single guests bring a bag with a worn item of clothing for potential partners to sniff) have even popped up in major cities.

Odor is highly personal after all, fragrances smell somewhat differently on each person depending on their body chemistry. And while scent itself is so innately tied to memory, pheromones are not the be-all-and-end-all of attraction—according to Scientific American, there’s still a long way to go in research (making scents of it all, if you will)  to even determine if, in humans, they can even truly be pinned down as sexual stimuli.

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