Scent, Pheromones, and the Irresistible Allure of Axe Body Spray


[quote]What does this woman smell like?  Is it a heady mixture of ambrosia and crack?  Is she the spawn of Marilyn Monroe and a bottle of Axe body spray? – Jon Stewart, in reference to Jill Kelley, the woman who launched 3 sex scandals with top government officials.[/quote]

We obsess over looking attractive – but what does it mean to smell attractive? What does sexiness smell like?  (Hint: If the above commercial is any indication, Axe seems to have mastered the secret sauce.)

Of all the senses, smell reaches the emotional, most primitive part of the brain the fastest.  It induces an instant reaction and a strong emotional tie.  In the first of a two-part series on scent, Sociology of Style takes a look at the role of scent in attraction.  

Scent + Attraction Think that humans have evolved beyond olfactory instincts?  Think again.  Here are some studies that will leave you sniffing your mate (and some unsuspecting potential mates):

  • How personal aesthetics are perceived is directly related to the scent that accompanies them: In this study, scientists discovered that women rate male attractiveness differently when subjected to pleasant or unpleasant scents (the smellier the scent, the less appealing the guy’s looks).
  • The scent associated with attraction is different than body odor (we’ll get to that in a second) and your genetics greatly influence the sort of scent you’re most inclined toward for successful breeding.  This is particularly strong for women, who prefer the odor of men who have a different immune makeup than their own (as proven in this “sweaty t-shirt” study, in which women ranked male t-shirts based on scent).
  • Scent = strongest sex appeal: AskMen reports that girls consistently rank “how a guy smells” at the very top of their list of what determines her sexual attraction to him – outranking looks, height, and income.  It’s worth noting that the women surveyed in the AskMen “study” were college students.  However, as a woman who is beyond college, I feel qualified to confirm that, while other factors certainly weigh heavily in mate selection, scent is not to be under-estimated.  Note to men of all ages:  Smell intoxicating.  Seriously.  It makes you addictive and irresistible to women you’re trying to woo romantically, and can even wield power over women you want to persuade professionally or in other facets of everyday life (flea market bartering, anyone?), and pretty much every other woman you encounter.  Just try it.  (You’re welcome.)

Pheromones I’m sure you’ve heard the word “pheromones.” But do you understand what they are and how they work?  Here’s some help:  Pheromones are airborne chemical signals that are released by an individual into the environment and which affect the physiology or behaviour of other members of the same species.

Unlike scent, pheromones operate subconsciously and are actually odorless.  So what happens biologically when pheromones are released? Here’s the 3-step process:

  1. We take in pheromones through the Vomeronasal Organ in the nose.
  2. They stimulate the area of the brain that produces emotion and emotional response.
  3. Sexual response, desire, and arousal are triggered.

How do we exchange these invisible chemical signals?  Via greetings, like handshakes and kisses. The face and hands (as well as the ears) are areas of concentrated sweat glands – and therefore pheromone-rich.  The “Eskimo kiss,” which involves the rubbing together of noses, is really a mutual sniff test.

But pheromones aren’t limited to attraction.  As many female roommates (and this study) can attest to, pheromones can also induce “ovarian synchrony” – or the synchronization of menstrual cycles. (Note: Hormonal birth control disrupts the role of pheromones in both attraction and menstrual synchronization.)

Men aren’t the only ones considered more attractive due to their sent: A study conducted on “professional lap dancers” (their politically correct terminology, not mine) suggests that women are considered more attractive during “estrus” – the most fertile time in a woman’s cycle, which is the human equivalent of being “in heat.” This is explained via subtle changes in odor, symmetry, attractiveness, and a decreased waist-to-hip ratio.  The “lap dancers” made around $70 an hour during their peak period of fertility, versus about $35 while menstruating and $50 in between.  (Note: Birth control pills strike again: Dancers on hormonal birth control did not experience a spike in earnings during estrus. Who knew The Pill could be your economic downfall?)  Fun fact: Around 5300 lap dances were performed during the course of this study.  Pheromones or not, that’s a lot of happy laps.

Still not convinced? Fine. Here’s another study demonstrating the power of pheromones: Men were told only that the shirts had been “worn by a women,” and then asked to sniff a selection of t-shirts.  Those who sniffed t-shirts worn by ovulating women had higher testosterone levels than men who sniffed t-shirts worn by non-ovulating women or by no woman at all (sneaky researchers!).

Homosexual pheromone reactions differ from heterosexual reactions. This study concluded that homosexual men were attracted to/aroused by male pheromones, which may be an indicator that sexual orientation is linked to  pheromone attraction and reaction.

Hygiene Link Pheromones can be present in sweat, so natural body odor can be attractive to others – and women are particularly likely to be attracted to a man’s body odor. Testosterone is what makes men taller, darker, and more masculine in their facial features.  It’s also what produces a “masculine scent.” However, because of bacteria, the ‘attractive’ body odor emitted by pheromones can quickly be replaced with a less-than-pleasant body odor.

Fragrant Facts

  • Napoleon Bonaparte loved his mistress Josephine’s scent so much that he wrote her a love letter insisting that she refrain from washing and instead save her sexual scent for him to enjoy.
  • During Victorian times, English women would sell handkerchiefs scented with their body odor.
  • Ever nearly pass out due to an overwhelming scent on the subway?  (Don’t just point at the homeless guy, women who O.D. on perfume!) Well, several cities have tried to ban scent: Halifax was the first city in North America to ban cosmetic fragrances in indoor public spaces; Honolulu tried (and failed) to ban B.O. on public buses; and Detroit enacted “anti-perfume” rules in government buildings.
  • Your nose is smarter than you think: Researchers have found that couples can smell each other’s emotions, human babies and mothers can recognize one another solely on the basis of odor, and we can distinguish between a new born and the elderly on scent alone.

 Besides conducting your own lap-dancing and t-shirt-sniffing tests, here are some products to enhance, trigger, and block both wanted and unwanted scents:

  • Chaku Perfume Co. Ltd. have developed a new iPhone app and attachable device called “Chat Perf” which allows you to send smells to people with compatible devices.
  • Not confident in the virility of your own pheromones?  Companies like Spellbound Rx are putting pheromone-based “persuasive” perfumes on the market – and guaranteeing results (I’ll let you decide how that “success” is measured”). Bonus: The perfume names are as appealing as the pheromones in them.  Options include “Crave,” “Enchanting Lure,” and (my favorite) “Armani Leather.”  Warning:  The potentially devastating combination of Spellbound Rx and Axe has not been tested.  Double-up at your own risk.
  • Don’t live in a city that’s banned scents in public?  Not to worry.  Just slip on an ’odor removing face mask’  and block the odors when needed.