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Is scent really what attracts us to one another? Dr. Read examines how your spouse's scent can change your perception.

Is your nose hard-wired to your libido?

A few months back, a reporter asked my opinion on whether scent can really increase a woman’s libido. It’s true that using scent for romance and seduction is nothing new. In ancient Egypt and Rome, bathing with essential oils was part of the preparation ritual for lovemaking. Today, the perfume industry is a multibillion dollar business.

The reporter’s question was prompted by the North American launch of the new product Scentuelle (myscentuelle.com). Their website says, "Scentuelle stimulates the libido by delivering a sensuous blend of aromas directly to the smell receptors in the brain. Smelling the aromatic patch frequently throughout the day encourages sexy thoughts and feelings."

Now, I’ve read enough hocus-pocus, get your libido revved-up by our witch-doctor potions to be immediately skeptical. Scentuelle goes on, "Our nose merely acts as a vehicle for channeling the odors to the right place. This is to the smell receptors located on the edge of our brains at the top of the nose. These receptors go straight into our limbic system—the part of the brain that deals with feelings of happiness and pleasure, including our sex drive. So, in effect, our nose gives us a direct route into our 'pleasure center."

Alright, this statement is fact. Scent is the only sense out of the five that can bypass the rational brain. The limbic system is also in charge of your memory and emotions.

The relevance? You have a cache of "scent memory" which has the power to trigger and pull you through a past event, eliciting the same guttural emotional response. The slightest whiff of patchouli instantly throws me back twenty years to a turbulent and extremely steamy university fling. Eternity for Men, coming off the warm skin of a man’s neck, is enough to send my libido through the roof.

Ahem… getting back to Scentuelle, "When a smell molecule arrives, its size, shape and electrical charge determines where it fits on our smell receptors. And where it fits tells our brain what the smell is and how it should react to it. Certain smell molecules cause the brain to behave in certain ways. For example, dopamine molecules tell it to release 'happy hormones' the ones that make us feel good—and even aroused. Our most powerful feelings are brought into being when the emotional centers of the brain are activated by the precise stimulation of hundreds of different smell receptors."

Now that’s a pretty big claim with sketchy evidence. Here are some things we know are scientifically true with the help of senseofsmell.org.
  • No two people smell the same odor the same way.
  • According to neurophysiologist, Robert Bonkowski, a person never experiences one smell the same way twice.
  • Your ability to detect odors changes daily and depends on your physiological condition.
  • You have the ability to distinguish 10,000 individual scents
As far back as 1703, scientists were aware of an organ in the nasal cavity of mammals known as the vomeronasal organ or VNO. This organ is used to detect pheromones and was thought to be an evolutionary leftover in humans.

For many years, scientists have been studying why scent, combined with pheromones, has the effect it does on human arousal. Neurologist Alan Hirsch studied the effects of 30 different scents on the state of arousal of 31 men (measured by their penile blood flow). Although all the scents produced some level of arousal, the winner was a combination of lavender and pumpkin pie, producing a 40 percent increase in arousal. Hirsch found women preferred baby powder and a combination of Good and Plenty licorice candy with cucumber.

Hirsch proved that, even though scent is intangible, it does have a real effect on your state of arousal.

Where the libido line gets fuzzy is when a couple has been going through tough sexual times. Smelling something, even if it is highly arousing, isn’t going to turn that couple’s sexual experience around any time soon.

On the flip side, I am forever pontificating that in our go-go-go society, we become floating heads leaving our bodies numb. When it comes time to jump in the sack, our minds are going ninety miles an hour and our bodies miss out on a whole lot of pleasure.

Perhaps the benefit of smelly products like perfume or Scentuelle is that it reminds us to stay in our bodies. It is a nice pick-me-up in the middle of a crazy day. It sets a healthy intention that our body is sexual and should enjoy the sexual experience instead of going from zero to orgasm in sixty seconds.

Final assessment: why scent works to increase your libido is a little fact and a little hocus-pocus. If it gets you or your spouse jacked up and good to go, that’s all that really matters.

Dr. Trina Read has a doctorate in human sexuality. Dr. Read is also an international speaker and offers a free sex audio tip weekly on her website www.trinaread.com/t-sextips.

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Over 1 million couples turn to Hitched for expert marital advice every year. Sign up now for our newsletter & get exclusive weekly content that will entertain, educate and inspire your marriage.

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