Sweat dreams: A brief look at osmophilia

In a previous blog on semen fetishes, I ended the article by mentioning that human sweat fetish was one of the few bodily secretion fetishes that I had yet to write about. Given that some of my colleagues and I (see ‘Further reading’ section below) have actually carried out research into human pheromones (i.e., an excreted or secreted chemical that triggers a sexual or social response in members of the same species), I thought I would use today’s blog to fill the gap.

In 2008, the newspaper Japan Today reported the story of a 22-year-old gay man (Torao Fukuda), who was arrested for stealing money and playing kits from eight locker rooms of football clubs in Osaka and Nara (Japan) over a four-month period. It turned out that the money stolen was secondary to the real reason for crime. It transpired that Fukuda liked male athletes’ sports uniforms and underwear with the smell of sweat. Based on this brief news report, it may have been that Fukuda was an osmophile.

Dr. Anil Aggrawal in his 2009 book Forensic and Medico-legal Aspects of Sexual Crimes and Unusual Sexual Practices defines osmophilia as a sexual paraphilia in which an individual derives sexual pleasure and arousal caused by bodily odours, such as sweat, urine or menses (i.e., menstruating females). Dr. Robert Campbell claims (in his 2009 Psychiatric Dictionary) that osmophilia is a parosmia (an olfactory dysfunction characterized by the inability of the brain to properly identify an odor’s ‘natural’ smell). Personally (and based on what I’ve read on osmophilia), there is no evidence that such people have any kind of ‘inability’ to identify natural smells). Other names for the same condition include osmolagnia, osphresiophilia, and ozolagnia. The Wikipedia entry defined things slightly differently:

“Osmolagnia is a paraphilia for, and sexual attraction to, or sexual arousal by smells and odors emanating from the body, especially the sexual areas. Sigmund Freud used the term osphresiolagnia in reference to pleasure caused by odors”.

It should also be noted that Fukuda may have arguably also been a salophile. Salophilia refers to individuals who derive sexual pleasure and arousal from salty things – especially body sweat. As far as I am aware, there is no actual paraphilia concerned with sexual arousal to sweat alone (as osmophilia and salophilia are not exclusive to body sweat). There is certainly a market out there for sweat fetishists including online sweat stores and online sweat fetish sites (such as the Sexy Sweat and Maverick Men websites).

According to Dr. Brenda Love in her Encyclopedia of Unusual Sex Practices, at one time perspiration was thought to have magical qualities and was used in potions to counteract love spells. She said “the male wore out a new pair of shoes by walking and then drank wine from the right shoe which naturally mixed with the sweat from his foot. This reversed the spell and caused the man to feel hate towards the enchantress”.

Research and academic writings on osmophilia are scarce. As mentioned above, the first psychological references to the condition were made by Freud. A 1959 paper by Dr. Paul Friedman in the Psychanalytic Quarterly noted that:

“Freud’s interest in the vicissitudes of olfaction, both in human evolution and in the psychosexual development of the individual, was documented as early as 1897. In a letter to Wilhelm Fliess he drew a parallel between the two and discussed the organic component of repression: ‘To put it crudely, the current memory stinks just as an actual object may stink; and just as we turn away our sense organ (the head and nose) in disgust, so do the preconscious and our conscious apprehension turn away from the memory. This is repression.’ This line of thought was developed further by Freud in 1909, when he stated that ‘…a tendency to osphresiolagnia, which had become extinct since childhood, may play a part in the genesis of neurosis’; and in a footnote added in 1910 to the Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality he said: ‘Psychoanalysis…has shown the importance, as regards the choice of a fetish, of a coprophilic pleasure in smelling”.

In a previous blog on fetishism, I wrote at length about a study led by Dr G. Scorolli (University of Bologna, Italy) on the relative prevalence of different fetishes using online fetish form data. It was estimated (very conservatively in the authors’ opinion), that their sample size comprised at least 5000 fetishists (but was likely to be a lot more). They reported that some of the sites featured references to osmophilia (with 82 members of such fetish sites – less than 1% of all fetish site members). However, osmophilia was included along with mysophilia (deriving sexual pleasure from filth often women’s soiled knickers) so there is no way of knowing how many of the 82 fetish site members were osmophiles.

While researching this article I came across plenty of online self-confessions. I have no idea whether the ones I have selected are representative, and I deliberately included the third one because the individual concerned had clearly done their own research on the topic:

  • Extract 1: “Is it weird to be turned on by the smell of the opposite sex’s sweat? It sounds strange but I find the smell of my girlfriend’s sweat (underarms) really arousing and especially her feet too on a hot day. I accept I have a foot fetish but I’m guessing I must be turned on by the pheromones or something”
  • Extract 2: “I do not want to be judged, but honestly, for some reason I’m attracted to sweat. It turns me on…just the smell of it can make me get very aroused. I love to caress anything that has sweat glands on the human body with my mouth. Is there truly anything wrong with me?”
  • Extract 3: “I have one fetish I’ve recently discovered that caught me off guard: sweat. Sweat is arousing, under the right conditions. Not all sweat gets me excited, but, under the right circumstances, a body wet with sweat can be mind-blowing…I’m sure some of you are probably thinking that the idea is disgusting, and a few months ago, I would have agreed with you, but keep an open mind…all guys are not created equal. Each has their own, unique smell when they sweat…Androstenol is a hormone excreted by fresh male sweat, and is said to be arousing. Androstenone is the hormone emitted once that sweat becomes exposed to oxygen, and is said to be an unpleasant smell, but can still be arousing for some. The former, androstenol, is short-lived, (about 10 minutes after fresh sweat is produced,) and then becomes androstenone, which generally does not elicit a chemical reaction of arousal in a majority of people. So, basically, if you’ve just finished an exertive physical activity, you have 10 minutes of good sweat, before it becomes stale, malodorous sweat. This is why when some sweat, it smells unpleasant and strong, and when others sweat, it’s not so noticeable, or they smell good; it’s how you perceive their odor, and how old the sweat is” .

Research on osmphilia is sparse and we know nothing about the incidence, prevalence or etiology of such behaviour. The first two extracts above appear to suggest that they feel their sexual preference is unusual and are searching for validating support. However, for most osmphiles that are sexually attracted to human sweat, it is something that is simply not problematic in their lives (based on the anecdotal evidence I have collated from online forums). There is (of course) a whole separate research literature on human pheromones, and maybe I’ll cover that in a future blog. This blog was purely about the sexual attraction of sweat as a fetish and/or paraphilia.

Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Further reading

Aggrawal A. (2009). Forensic and Medico-legal Aspects of Sexual Crimes and Unusual Sexual Practices. Boca Raton: CRC Press.

Campbell, R.J. (2009). Campbell’s Psychiatric Dictionary (9th Edition). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Friedman, P. (1959). Some observations on the sense of smell. Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 28, 307-329.

Japan Today (2008). Arrested uniform thief says he has sweat fetish. September 2. Located at: http://www.japantoday.com/category/crime/view/arrested-uniform-thief-says-he-has-sweat-fetish

Love, B. (2001). Encyclopedia of Unusual Sex Practices. London: Greenwich Editions.

Sergeant, M., Davies, M.N.O., Dickins, T.E. & Griffiths, M.D. (2005). The self-reported importance of olfaction during human mate choice. Sexualities, Evolution and Gender, 7, 199-213.

Sergeant, M.J.T., Dickins, T.E., Davies, M.N.O. &Griffiths, M.D. (2007). Hedonic ratings by women of body odor in men are related to sexual orientation, Archives of Sexual Behavior, 36, 395-401.

Scorolli, C., Ghirlanda, S., Enquist, M., Zattoni, S. & Jannini, E.A. (2007). Relative prevalence of different fetishes. International Journal of Impotence Research, 19, 432-437.

About drmarkgriffiths

Professor MARK GRIFFITHS, BSc, PhD, CPsychol, PGDipHE, FBPsS, FRSA, AcSS. Dr. Mark Griffiths is a Chartered Psychologist and Professor of Behavioural Addiction at the Nottingham Trent University, and Director of the International Gaming Research Unit. He is internationally known for his work into gambling and gaming addictions and has won many awards including the American 1994 John Rosecrance Research Prize for “outstanding scholarly contributions to the field of gambling research”, the 1998 European CELEJ Prize for best paper on gambling, the 2003 Canadian International Excellence Award for “outstanding contributions to the prevention of problem gambling and the practice of responsible gambling” and a North American 2006 Lifetime Achievement Award For Contributions To The Field Of Youth Gambling “in recognition of his dedication, leadership, and pioneering contributions to the field of youth gambling”. His most recent award is the 2013 Lifetime Research Award from the US National Council on Problem Gambling. He has published over 600 research papers, four books, over 130 book chapters, and over 1000 other articles. He has served on numerous national and international committees (e.g. BPS Council, BPS Social Psychology Section, Society for the Study of Gambling, Gamblers Anonymous General Services Board, National Council on Gambling etc.) and is a former National Chair of Gamcare. He also does a lot of freelance journalism and has appeared on over 2000 radio and television programmes since 1988. In 2004 he was awarded the Joseph Lister Prize for Social Sciences by the British Association for the Advancement of Science for being one of the UK’s “outstanding scientific communicators”. His awards also include the 2006 Excellence in the Teaching of Psychology Award by the British Psychological Society and the British Psychological Society Fellowship Award for “exceptional contributions to psychology”.

Posted on July 7, 2013, in Case Studies, Compulsion, Obsession, Paraphilia, Psychology, Sex, Sex addiction and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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