In the history of aphrodisiacs, a considerable space is occupied by fragrances which are believed to enhance sexual desire both among men and women. This may owe to the fact that the part of the human brain that is responsible for processing smells is directly connected to the limbic brain which is the part that influences emotions including those related to desire and sex. And since women possess a keener sense of smell as compared to men, they are more likely to being sexually aroused by certain fragrances.
Scents associated with food
Food and love are the two primal appetites in humans. Both need to be fulfilled and the gratification of both is enormously pleasing to the body and soul. However recent studies have shown that male and female libidos react differently to the aromas of various foods. One such study was conducted by Dr. Alan R. Hirsch, MD, neurological director of the Smell and Taste Treatment and Research Foundation in Chicago and the author of Scentsational Sex. The study exposed men and women to the smells of different foods and herbs and then evaluated the degree of sexual arousal by measuring the blood flow to the genital regions. Among women participants, the combined scent of cucumber and Good and Plenty, a licorice-flavored candy, ranked as the top potent aphrodisiac smell, most increasing the blood flow to the vaginal areas. Why these foods should emerge as most sexually suggestive probably lies in the interplay of a number of factors but according to Hirsch it is most likely due to a combination of physiological and psychological factors. Some smells like licorice are believed to affect sex hormones in the body while other odors may recall some pleasant experience in the past and thus act as sexually suggestive. The psychological aspect is also the reason why some smells may be more sexually potent for some women than others. Interestingly in the study conducted by Hirsch it was found that unlike men, women actually reported a drop in sexual arousal when exposed to certain smells like cherry, barbequed or roasting meats.
Body smells and sex
The close interplay of scents and sex among humans may be the genetic consequence of the descent from other mammals. The entire animal kingdom and even some plants send and receive smells through the exchange of pheromones. These are chemicals excreted by animals that have the ability to influence other members of the same species. There are two main types of pheromones – the slow acting ones known as primer pheromones and the ones that act immediately known as releaser pheromones. Among humans, an instance of the former type of pheromones is the phenomenon of menstrual synchrocity in which women living in close quarters tend to have their menstrual periods around the same time. However scientists are not sure that the other type of pheromones exists among humans, the most obvious example of which is the sex pheromone. In certain species of primates, the females are sexually attracted to the release of sex pheromones excreted in the sweat of male members. There have been numerous studies trying to find similar patterns among humans too. In one such study, a team from the University of Chicago and the Monell Chemical Senses Centre in Philadelphia found that chemical cues present in the sweat of nursing mothers could boost sexual desire among women. The study required a group of women to fill a questionnaire about their sexual moods after sniffing a pad that had been scented with the sweat of a breastfeeding woman. The results showed that in women with partners, sexual desire increased by 24 per cent, and the number of sexual fantasies increased by 17 per cent in women without partners. In a control group, women without partners reported a 28 per cent decrease in sexual fantasies. Researchers believe that the result can be traced back to the earliest days of human evolution when food was scarce. Since lactation requires consumption of additional food, the chemicals in the sweat of nursing women may have signaled to other women that food was abundant and this was a good time to breed, in other words, they could go ahead and have sex.
Yet another study on the interplay of male sweat and female sexual desire found that when exposed to various types of sweat from male bodies, women’s brains were able to differentiate between sexual sweat and neutral sweat without being overtly aware about it. While the results of the study, published in the 2009 January issue of The Journal of Neuroscience, holds tantalizing possibilities of sexual desire being affected by odor, this still does not mean that women will be attracted to men who haven’t showered for days.
Scents with various effects
Finally the secret to a scent acting like an aphrodisiac for women may lie in the unique characteristics of the particular smell. There are certain fragrances like vanilla which are believed to induce a positive effect on the emotions of women. Much like the taste of chocolate, the sweet welcoming smell of vanilla may help in uplifting the mood of women and make them much more open to enjoying love. Again rich warm scents like ylang ylang and rose are known to be deeply stimulating to the senses thereby signaling the brain to increase the activity of sex hormones and leading to enhanced sexual arousal. The scent of herbs like lavender and clary sage may help a woman to de-stress and lower her sexual inhibitions. In this way by relaxing the mind and soothing away tensions, certain aromas may help to create the right mood for love and in the process act like aphrodisiac scents.
Despite all the claims made in favor of aphrodisiac scents, the FDA warns that there is still no hard scientific proof that any of them can cure sexual dysfunction. What certain fragrances can do however is to create psychological conditions conducive to sexual pleasure and use the interplay of senses like smells, tastes and textures to evoke sexual desire among women.