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04 Sep 2022 (Last updated 28 Jun 2023)

6 things to know about sex and smell

Pleasure tips 5 min read
Smile Makers Author
things to know about sex and smell

Much research goes into the Smile Makers Collection to find more playful ways to expand our pleasure and enhance stimulation. And this goes way beyond the physical. All five senses play a significant role in our sexual experiences, especially when we really start to notice them.

'The senses help us make more sense of ourselves, the world, and our lovers or partners.' Dr. Emily Morse.

One of the most unnoticed of the five senses is smell, so we asked scent aficionado and perfumer Douglas Little to share the power of our nose. Here's our guide on why and how we should stop and smell the roses, sex, scented candles, and sweat more often.

1. Smell and the brain.

Just like the clitoris' purpose, science doesn't completely understand the sense of smell. One of the earliest and innermost areas of the brain, in the emotion center, is called the limbic system. This area processes memory, smell, and sexuality to help us make sense of the world. (That connection between sex and scent is becoming more apparent now, right?)

Smell is the only sense that has a direct pathway to the brain. Touch, sight, sound, and taste reach the brain via tissue and receptors such as the eyes or tongue. Odor molecules pass up through the nostrils and travel to the actual tissue of the brain. This brain and smell connection cause us to have such intense and powerful memories of a smell.

2. Scent impacts our mood.

The limbic system is still a mystery; we don't completely understand why it processes smell the way it does. However, many studies have shown that humans respond to certain smells in similar ways. Natural aroma molecules impact our mood most, especially as an enhancer. Natural fragrances trigger a more robust or wholesome reaction from our bodies than synthetic ones. Raw firing up the innate within us.

So, what scents ignite what mood?

  • Citrussy smells – energized and happy.
  • Rosey smells – calm and in touch.
  • Grassy smells – grounded and safe.

3. You need to know about indole.

Smell's strong connection with mood makes it no surprise that desire and sensuality are deeply connected. Pheromones might have a role to play, and we'll get to them later. But another bodily secretion that takes many of our noses by surprise is indole. Indole is an organic molecule that is present in many white flowers. It is also present in human faeces. The difference? The concentration is much higher in poop.

'A lot of people find the odor of jasmine very sensual. And it's because of indole's content that the flower has this erotic quality. It is an aspect that feels feral. It feels wild, and it feels slightly dirty.'

Perfumers often use indole because it's a very sexy ingredient. It's an ingredient that makes things feel more undone. Especially now, there is more gravitation towards fragrances with indole in them as people are looking for smells that are no longer antiseptic or soapy. They're looking for things that have more sexuality and sensuality and feel more authentic.

jasmine flower smells like indole

4. Smell, like sex, is personal.

Sensuality, just like sexuality, is based on our desires and pleasure, not others. Our association of what we think sex smells like, and aromas we find sexy, is highly personal. It's our own sensual experiences, our own sexual memories, and our own emotions that matter.

'One of my favorite parts about being a perfumer and making custom fragrances with clients is that I get an opportunity to glimpse into their personal life. I learn so much about a person by the fragrances that they gravitate towards. It's fascinating to get an opportunity to work in a very cerebral and esoteric way with them because ultimately, sense of smell is invisible, but it tells you a great deal about a person.'

Most of us have grown up in a world telling us that there are fragrances for women and fragrances for men, from celebrity (and overtly sexualized) marketing to the categorization of perfumes in retail. But scent is not gendered – as we said, it is personal. It's whatever smells good to you; it's primal.

5.What role do pheromones have on sex and smell?

It wasn't until the mid-20th century that pheromones were named, etymologically meaning to transfer and to excite in Greek (pherin +hormon). And excited they did. The chemicals animals produce and secrete via sweat and urine to communicate and interact with others of the same species have become quite a cultural phenomenon. We've all heard that pheromones can help us attract a suitable mate, but it's 2022 – we also know that sexuality is far more complex than that and not just about finding a 'mate'. A lot of research is hetero and cis-centric and inconclusive – there is not enough evidence to say that humans have pheromones, let alone that they play a role in sexual attraction.

That's not to say we don't find somebody else's smell sexy and arousing; it's likely to be a chemical reaction affecting hormones and, more likely, a brain reaction to something you enjoy!

Perfumer Douglas Little believes the sexiest scent out there is clean skin.

'To me, that is the most erotic thing you can possibly have - clean, hot skin - the smell of two bodies that have just come together is such an erotic experience. There is no way to capture that in a perfume.'

6. Don't hide our most natural and intimate scent.

don't hide your intimate scent

While we can place scented candles and perfumes on our bodies to enhance sensual and sexual experiences, they should not overpower our natural scent. And, when it comes to genitalia, scents should never be used to 'improve' the smell.

For vulva owners, shame around intimate anatomy can lead many of us to feel like we need to cover up our natural scent – but not only can these fragrances affect the pH of the vulva and vagina, but they can also impact our intimacy. Especially for partnered sex, smelling each other's bodies builds connection and can be a very erotic experience.

The key to sexual fragrances is enhancing, not covering up, our senses.

Fancy more of a nosedive? Check out our Sensorial Play collection featuring luxury scented candles and massage oils from the world's perfume capital!

Listen to the full interview with Heretic founder and perfumer Douglas Little on Clitastic Chronicles podcast.

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