More than a decade after we broke up, my first love still comes to mind whenever I catch a whiff of Acqua di Giò Pour Homme by Giorgio Armani, his favorite cologne. I haven’t spoken to him in many years, but to this day, if this fresh, unobtrusive fragrance happens to cross my path, I’m 18 years old again and a little weak in the knees.
Of course, this is the same guy who left me to marry another woman a month later. That’s how you know how powerful the sense of smell really is.
In fact, it appears we don’t give our noses enough credit when it comes to the role smells play in sexual attraction. According to a study published recently in the journal Archives of Sexual Behavior, women with a better sense of smell appear to have more orgasms.
Past research has found that people with health issues that impact their olfactory function—a fancy way of saying things related to smelling—also reported a reduced interest in sex. The German researchers behind the current study, however, wanted to investigate the relationship between smell and aspects of sex among healthy people.
Their sample size was fairly small: 42 women and 28 men. To assess how sensitive their sniffing capabilities were, researchers had participants take a “Sniffin’ Sticks” test—yes, really—where they had to smell three pens and guess which one contained a faint odor. Participants also answered questions that measured aspects of their sexuality, including how fiercely they desired sex, how “pleasant” their bedroom interactions were, and how frequently they’d got it on in the last month and for how long. Additionally, women were asked to share how often they orgasmed during intercourse.
In their analysis of the data, the study’s authors found no significant correlation between odor sensitivity and sexual desire or performance. But they did find that super-sniffers reported better sexual experiences; for women, that also meant more orgasms.
“The experience of sexual interactions appears to be enriched by olfactory input,” the study’s authors write. “The perception of certain body odors may contribute to the concept of sexual pleasure by enhanced recruitment of reward areas.”
In other words, it’s not that a person’s sense of smell really has anything to do whether or not they want to get their groove on; rather, inhaling the sweet smells of fluids and sweat “seems to enrich the sexual experience,” they write.
In an interview with The Sun, psychotherapist Phillip Hodson offered an interesting point. “The findings suggest having a head cold and blocked nose may make arousal more difficult. Clearing the nose may be a useful strategy. I know from my own sex therapy practice that you can improve sexual response among healthy women and men by getting them to consciously smell their partners.”
With flu season upon us, stocking up on Vitamin C, elderberries, or whatever remedies you use to stay healthy may take on a whole new sense of urgency. While there were some limitations to the study—for example, the authors did not assess the status of female participants’ menstrual cycle, which could affect a number of measures assessed in the research—the findings really suggest that maybe we shouldn’t be looking down our noses (pun intended!) at the role the sense of smell plays in women’s orgasms.