One of my exes has the most seductive scent. I’d walk into his apartment and instantly connect my nose to comfort. I liked his cologne; a strong musk trailing two seconds behind. But his natural clean smell – the most intoxicating aroma. Our body scent compatibility made our chemistry spark. How does scent affect romance?
Sniffing out attraction
It’s complicated – research led me to various studies and several theories. Conclusively, we know hormones, accents, symmetry and parental similarity (icky, I know) influences attraction, and most of us have heard body odour plays a role in who we fancy.
According to Men’s Journal, some experiments show women are attracted to a man’s scent when his “immune genes” differ from hers. The piece links this to evolution theory: Different genes help offspring handle more “diverse threats.” We fancy people who can offer the best protection for potential kids.
A piece on GQ suggests the same: It’s not body odour that controls who we like – it’s our immune systems that influence our feelings. Cultura Colectiva explains how we feel attraction based on MHC (a group of genes vital to our immune response). Through smell, humans are able to recognise when a person’s MHC is similar to their own. Without getting too scientific, the website notes that these genes produce HLA molecules which “define the sicknesses we can fight off”; demonstrating how our bodies recognise biologically suited individuals. In summary, when we want kids with someone, it’s not just because we’re in love. Our insides can decide whether a person is well-matched.
Does this make perfume pointless?
Remember when I said it’s complicated? Some articles mention the science above but also discuss pheromones as an additional factor to body scent compatibility. Pheromones (chemical signals animals produce to trigger a social response) have long been packaged by the beauty industry as a way to make people more sexually appealing. If you picture pheromones as scent, animals use scents to sniff danger, mark territory, and to attract mates. For the short story, scientists discovered sex ‘attracting mate’ pheromones (used by animals) in humans, bottling the molecule as a scent to increase sex appeal.
However, publication The Scientist disputes this notion and suggests human pheromones may not exist. The idea you can put a molecule in a perfume to attract others doesn’t hold much science.
The perfume industry sells itself on lust and rarity. By wearing, we can create a beauty statement about who we are, add to our uniqueness and smell good to others. While research implies a beautiful fragrance won’t captivate a person to behold interest in you, perfume could enhance our natural smell.
Real Men Real Style detailed a range of studies on fragrance and its magnetism. There is research that shows perfume doesn’t hide a person’s natural scent and can actually help increase its appeal if we choose a complimentary fragrance. How do we choose you wonder – certain results say we’re able to detect scents that work with our natural odour. You simply have to buy something you like. But back to the complication:
Not all researchers agree with these lab results. On The Atlantic, an article on love and body odour puts all these theories on scent together including immune system attraction. Although the piece quotes scientists who aren’t entirely sure with today’s concepts on body scent compatibility, it does note that even if perfume did mask our natural smell, when we touch, kiss and have intercourse, our DNA combines and natural odours pull through. Meaning, whether you wear Chanel, Dior or Lady Gaga, your body will eventually figure its biological chemistry with someone.
Perfume may not contribute to gaining affection, though they can make us feel more confident which in turn, adds to our outer profile.
In conclusion, how does body scent compatibility affect love?
More tests in the future will prove 100% accuracy in all the assumptions detailed. What we can take from research, is how powerful our bodies are at finding us a genetically suitable partner. We can wear expensive perfume, glamorous makeup and fanciful nails – if we’re not gene compatible – does our beauty efforts matter?
Maybe it does with enhancing characteristics – creating symmetry and highlighting bolder eyes and healthy skin etc. I can also see how it might hinder love. Take fragrance – if a person wears a scent you love (perhaps vanilla or citrus), are you attracted to them or to the fragrance? We could easily believe it’s the person we’re initially liking. It’s an overall debate on physical appearance vs. skin deep. If you’re admiring someone for their clothes and image, are you missing out on a better match? Is it important what actually creates initial attraction if end results all lead to how well we get on?
Considering how in-depth body scent compatibility and attraction is, mixed in with society (some studies show the more we see someone, the more we find them attractive), it makes me question the complexities of finding romance online, in a bar, office or street corner. It can and does of course happens – you just need luck… the well-suited genetic jackpot.
On a final note, if humans like natural aromas, why do we go out of our way to change our smell? Scented shower gels, bubble baths, moisturisers and deodorants…