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Olfactophilia (also known as osmolagnia, osphresiolagnia, and ozolagnia) is a paraphilia where an individual derives sexual pleasure from smells and odours. Given the large body of research on olfaction, it is unsurprising that in some cases there should be an association with sexual behavior. The erotic focus is most likely to relate to body odors of a sexual partner, including genital odors. One of my favourite papers examining sex and smell was a 1999 paper by Dr. Alan Hirsch and Dr. Jason Gruss published in the Journal of Neurological and Orthopaedic Medicine and Surgery. As they note in the introduction to their study, sex and smell have a long association:
“Historically, certain smells have been considered aphrodisiacs, a subject of much folklore and pseudoscience. In the volcanic remnants of Pompeii, perfume jars were preserved in the chambers designed for sexual relations. Ancient Egyptians bathed with essential oils in preparation for assignations; Sumarians seduced their women with perfumes. A relationship between smell and sexual attraction is emphasized in traditional Chinese rituals, and virtually all cultures have used perfume in their marriage rites. In mythology, rose petals symbolized scent, and the word ‘deflowering’ describes the initial act of sex…Dramatic literature abounds with sly references to nasal size as symbolic of phallic size, as in the famous play Cyrano De Bergerac…Psychoanalysis has made much of these associations. Fliess, in his concept of the phallic nose, formally described an underlying link between the nose and the phallus. Jungian psychology also connects odors and sex”.
In contemporary society, perfumes for women and colognes for men are marketed aggressively because it is a multi-billion pound business and are advertised in a way that suggests sexual success for those who use such fragrances. Hirsch and Gruss argue that:
“The prominent connection between odors and sex among diverse historical periods and cultures implies a high level of evolutionary importance. Freud suggested that odors are such strong inducers of sexual feelings that repression of smell sensations is necessary to civilization. Anatomy bears out the link between smells and sex: the area of the brain through which we experience smells, the olfactory lobe, is part of the limbic system, the emotional brain, the area through which sexual thoughts and desires are derived. Brill  suggests that people kiss to get their noses close together, so that they can smell each other (the Eskimo kiss). Or possibly they kiss to get their mouths together so they can taste each other since most of what we call taste is dependent upon olfaction”.
One of the research areas that I have published a couple of papers with Dr. Mark Sergeant (see ‘Further reading’ below) in is on the area of pheromones (i.e., chemical substances “produced and released into the environment by an animal, especially a mammal or an insect, affecting the behaviour or physiology of others of its species”). Pheromones are known to exist across the animal kingdom from insects to primates (possibly including humans but most robust scientific studies have shown the evidence is relatively weak, and if pheromones do exist in humans the effects are likely to be very subtle). As Hirsch and Gruss note:
“Inside the human brain, near the top of the nose is an anatomical feature that gives us reason to believe that human pheromones exist: the vomeronasal organ. Its function is unknown, but in subhuman primates, this is the area where pheromones act to increase the chance of procreation…When we exercise, we sweat through endocrine glands. But when we are embarrassed or sexually excited, we sweat through apocrine glands that release high-density steroids under the arms and around the genitalia; their role is unknown. In subhuman primates, the same apocrine glands release pheromones”.
Other evidence for the existence of pheromones are the studies showing that women’s menstrual cycles tend to synchronize over time when living or working closely together (the so-called ‘McClintock Effect’ named after Martha McClintock, the person who first reported it in a 1971 issue of the journal Nature). Other research by Dr. Hirsch has shown evidence that links smell with sexual response. For instance, in one of his studies, 17% of patients that had “olfactory deficits” had developed some kind of sexual dysfunction.
In Hirsch and Gruss’ 1999 study, they examined the effects of 30 different smells on male sexual arousal of 31 American male participants (aged 18 years to over 60 years). They underwent various (question-based) smell tests and their sexual arousal was assessed experimentally by measuring penile blood flow with a penile plethysmograph. The smells comprised 24 different odourants in addition to six combination odourants. All 30 odours produced an increase in penile blood flow (Table III). They reported that:
“The combined odor of lavender and pumpkin pie had the greatest effect, increasing median penile-blood flow by 40%. Second in effectiveness was the combination of black licorice and doughnut, which increased the median penile-blood flow 31.5%. The combined odors of pumpkin pie and doughnut was third, with a 20% increase. Least stimulating was cranberry, which increased penile blood flow by 2%…Men with below normal olfaction did not differ significantly from those with normal olfaction, nor did smokers differ significantly from nonsmokers”.
The findings supported their hypothesis that positive smelling odours would increase sexual arousal, and then speculated a number of reasons why this might be the case:
“The odors could induce a Pavlovian conditioned response reminding subjects of their sexual partners or their favorite foods. Among persons raised in the United States, odors of baked goods are most apt to induce a state called olfactory-evoked recall. Possibly, odors in the current study evoked a nostalgic recall with an associated positive mood state that affected penile blood flow. Or the odors may simply be relaxing. In others studies, lavender, which increased alpha waves posteriorly, an effect associated with a relaxed state. In a condition of reduced anxiety, inhibitions may be removed and thus penile blood flow increased…Another possibility, odors may act neurophysiologically…Nor can we rule out a generalized parasympathetic effect, increasing penile blood flow rather than specific sexual excitation…The specific odors that affected penile blood flow in our experiment were primarily food odors…Does this support the axiom that the way to a man’s heart (and sexual affection) is through his stomach?…We certainly cannot consider the odors in our experiment to be human pheromones, therefore we believe they acted through other pathways than do pheromones”.
Shortly after this study, Hirsch and his colleagues repeated the study on females (assessing their vaginal blood flow) and found similar effects that they reported in the International Journal of Aromatherapy. In this second study they found that the largest increases in vaginal blood flow were from candy and cucumber (13%), baby powder (13%), pumpkin pie and lavender (11%), and baby powder and chocolate (4%). Obviously there are major limitations with both of these studies (such as small sample sizes, all the odours being selected by the researchers, and blood flow being the sole measure of arousal).
Odours that are sexually arousing are likely to be very specific and (in some cases) strange and/or bizarre. For instance, I published the world’s first case study of eproctophilia (sexual arousal from flatulence and a sub-type of olfactophilia) in a 2013 issue of the Archives of Sexual Behavior (a topic that I examined in a number of previous blogs such as those here and here). I’ve also come across anecdotal evidence of other strange smells that sexually arouse people. For instance, in an article on ’15 Surprising & Weird Fetishes’, number 11 in the list was ‘air freshener’ fetish:
“One Reddit user reports becoming aroused as a teenager whenever he walked into a room that uses a specific brand and scent of air freshener! After some questioning from other conclusions, he suspects that the scent has become associated withe the first time he watched porn. Other users report being turned on by scents such as perfume samples that were included in ‘Playboy’ magazine”.
Some paraphilias may have an element of olfaction. For instance, antholagnia refers to individuals who are sexually aroused by flowers (and the arousal may depend on the sight and/or smell of the flowers). The Kinkly website notes (without empirical evidence to back up any of the claims made):
“People with antholagnia typically have a preference for certain flowers, just as most people are sexually aroused by certain body types. They are likely to become aroused while visiting a florist shop, a floral nursery, or a botanical garden. They may also seek out images of flowers online for sexual gratification. Most people with antholagnia learn to manage their condition and enjoy healthy sex lives. They may even use the scent of flowers during foreplay or intercourse. However, if antholagnia starts to interfere with a person’s professional or personal life, he or she may wish to seek treatment. Treatment for antholagnia may consist of cognitive or behavioral therapies, psychoanalysis, or hypnosis”
I also came across an online 2013 article (‘Scents that trigger sexual arousal’) by Susan Bratton that summarized recent research (although she based most of it from material in Dr. Daniel Amen’s 2007 book Sex On The Brain). More specifically, the article note that:
“Current research also suggests the scent of musk closely resembles that of testosterone, the hormone that enhances healthy libido in both sexes. In scent studies at Toho University in Japan, floral and herbal essential oils were found to impact sexual arousal in the nervous system. But depending on whether you need to stimulate or relax your partner to get them in an amorous mood, you would use different scents. To stimulate the Sympathetic Nervous System use jasmine, yang-ylang, rose, patchouli, peppermint, clove and bois de rose. To relax the Parasympathetic Nervous System use sandalwood, marjoram, lemon, chamomile and bergamot…Many of these scents are also commonly found in tea such as peppermint and chamomile. Many candles are scented with rose, jasmine, patchouli, sandalwood and bergamot”.
There are plenty of websites that list various scents that turn people on and a lot of these appear to be based upon on the research carried out by Dr. Hirsch and his colleagues. Research into sex, smell and olfactophilia appears to be a growing area and hopefully my own research has played a small part in stimulating research into the area.
Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Behavioural Addiction, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK
Amen, D. (2007). Sex on the Brain: 12 Lessons to Enhance Your Love Life. London: Harmony.
Bratton, S. (2013). Scents that trigger arousal. Personal Life Media, October 10. Located at: http://personallifemedia.com/2013/10/scents-that-trigger-arousal/
Brill, A.A. (1932). Sense of smell in the neuroses and psychoses. Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 1, 7-42
Gilbert, A. N. (2008). What the Nose Knows: The Science of Scent in Everyday Life. Crown.
Graham, C.A., & McGrew, W.C. (1980). Menstrual synchrony in female undergraduates living on a coeducational campus. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 5, 245-252.
Griffiths, M.D. (2013). Eproctophilia in a young adult male: A case study. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 42, 1383-1386.
Hirsch, A., & Gruss, J. (1999). Human male sexual response to olfactory stimuli. Journal of Neurological and Orthopaedic Medicine and Surgery, 19, 14-19.
Hirsch, A. R., Schroder, M., Gruss, J., Bermele, C., & Zagorski, D. (1999). Scentsational sex Olfactory stimuli and sexual response in the human female. International Journal of Aromatherapy, 9(2), 75-81.
Hirsch, A.R., & Trannel, T.J. (1996). Chemosensory dysfunction and psychiatric diagnoses. Journal of Neurological and Orthopaedic Medicine and Surgery, 17, 25-30.
McClintock, M. (1971). Menstrual synchrony and suppression. Nature, 229, 244-245.
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.
Thigh fetishism might appear a somewhat obvious topic to write a blog on given all the previous body part fetishes I have looked at (including foot fetishism, shoulder fetishism). However, there is no academic research on the topic and most non-academic articles that I have read tend to concentrate on thigh-boot fetishism rather than thigh fetishism in, and of, itself. According to the Kinkly website:
“Thigh fetish refers to a sexual arousal by or sexual interest in thighs. Typically, it is a male interest in female thighs. However, it can apply to a woman’s interest in female thighs, a woman’s interest in male thighs, or a male’s interest in male thighs. Usually the fetishist is attracted to the naked thighs. The thighs don’t even need to be extremely sexualized for the fetishist. Often it is the gap between a high boot and edge of skirt, or knee high socks and edge of skirt that arouse the fetishist more than sexualized images of thighs”.
The Self-Help Sexuality website adds that “some men have a thigh fetish where they are turned on by the glimpse of woman’s inner thigh or when a woman opens her thigh. Some men enjoy kissing and licking woman’s inner thigh”. Both of these descriptions are fairly commonsense and arguably don’t need empirical research to back up the claims made.
Thee one piece of empirical research I found with some reference to thigh sexuality was a paper published in a 2014 issue of the journal Cortex by Dr. Oliver Turnbull and colleagues who examined which erogenous zones are the most sensitive in males and females. They surveyed 800 participants (mainly British and Sub-Saharan Africans) and were asked to rate 41 body parts for erogenous intensity on a 10-point scale. Unsurprisingly, the highest rated body parts for sensitivity were the clitoris among women (mean rating 9.17 out of 10) and the penis among men (mean rating 9.0 out of 10). Inner thighs were rated as the fourth most erogenous zone by men (mean rating 5.84 out of 10; back of thigh 2.48 out 10; outer thigh 1.91 out of 10), and the seventh most erogenous zone by women (mean rating 6.7 out of 10; back of thigh 2.6 out 10; outer thigh 1.96 out of 10).
I also found details of a non-academic online survey among Japanese businessmen (mainly those in their thirties and forties) carried out by the marketing research company Goo via an article on the Japanator website. The focus of the survey was favourite “secret fetishes”. Top of the 20 listed fetishes was zettai ryouiki (which translates as “absolute territory”) and refers to the “leg exposure located between the hem of a skirt and the top of thigh-high socks”. The second-placed ‘secret fetish’ was also thigh-related and was being held in the vice-like grip of “athletic thighs”.
Regular readers of my blog will know that I’m fascinated by the sexual culture in Japan and have written many blogs on various aspects of Japanese sexuality. An article about thigh fetishes on the Venus O’Hara website specifically examined zettai ryouiki:
“In other words, they fantasize most frequently about that piece of exposed flesh between the top of a girl’s thigh-high socks and the bottom of a short skirt. This description fulfils the fetish principle in that no nudity is involved. Zettai ryouiki describes an otherwise mundane detail which, when used as a primer for arousal, assumes a sexual significance that is almost impossible to explain for non thigh-fetishists. The same principle applies to Western men and the expression of their own thigh fetishism when it comes to lingerie and hosiery. Stockings and suspenders make these men’s enjoyment of thighs and their understanding of thigh fetishism that much easier. The combination of panties, a suspender belt and stockings isolates the area of exposed thigh and almost draws a border around it. This focuses the attention on the naked skin as oppose to the erogenous zones that are covered, albeit by material that is often sheer. A garter belt is another magnet for thigh fetishists, as are knee-high socks, thigh-high boots and self-support stockings”.
My own view is that thigh fetishism and other thigh-related fetishes (for thigh boots, thigh socks, etc.) while overlapping, are not the same. The article on the Venus O’Hara website then goes onto talk about another variant of thigh fetishism:
“Thigh fetishism has produced a new variation of itself recently and social media has had a lot to do with it. The trend for promoting and desiring a permanent clearance between the tops of the legs has become a social phenomenon and a modern yardstick for feminine health and beauty. This ‘thigh gap’ is more common, anatomically, in women who are naturally much taller and whose body mass index is lower than the average. The physiques displayed by contemporary fashion models are an obvious ideal where the ‘thigh gap’ is concerned. A much more democratic trend in relation to thigh fetishism has also arisen on social media almost in response to the ‘thigh gap’. ‘Thighbrow’ describes the naturally-occurring crease between the thigh and the hip that appears when you sit or kneel down. Two of these, when observed together, have been said to resemble eyebrows. Whereas the ultimate ‘thigh gap’ seems to be exclusive to young women who wear size 6 jeans, the ‘thighbrow’ is a fetish highlight that everyone can flaunt”.
There was also a recent exhibition in Japan devoted purely to thigh fetishism. A short online article about the exhibition noted that:
“In Japanese Culture there are so many different fetishes that are popular: Swimsuit Fetish, Doorknob Licking Fetish (it’s not a joke), Teeth Fetish…Amongst these Fetishes, there is also Thigh Fetish, and Todays Gallery Studio decided to dedicate an entire photo exhibition about it…More than 500 works and 1000 pair of thighs shot by artist Yuria will be exposed”.
In my own research for this blog I was unable to find any dedicated online discussion forum for thigh fetishism. This could either be because it’s so rare or be because it’s so common that it’s not worth creating a dedicated website to discuss such matters. I found very few first-hand accounts of self-admitted thigh fetishism, in fact I only located two individuals:
- Extract 1: “This is going to sound weird, but I sort of have a thing for women who have strong looking thighs. Size isn’t just what it’s about, but with a muscular tone along with it. It’s not like I get off on it, but I do find it very sexy and is a big turn on for me. It started when I seen a women at this gym who was wearing these spandex looking short pants and I couldn’t help but notice her thighs in them, and they were rather muscular. I don’t have a fetish for female bodybuilders, though I do find spandex sexy…but it wasn’t that, it was her thighs, and I just started noticing things like this more and more afterward”.
- Extract 2: Even before I hit puberty, I always had these strange, excited feeling in me…[When] I was 11, I would imagine these pretty girls getting out of their pants and revealing their legs…One night, I had an extremely arousing dream. It was odd, yet intense. I was hanging out in the park in my neighborhood. A bunch of ladies were hanging out…With no warning, all the ladies in the park started screaming. Their pants were undoing themselves. Afterward, all the ladies’ pants were being pulled off by something invisible and sex crazed. Something that wanted a bunch of ladies have no pants on. Now these scared ladies were in their underwear. The idea of these beautiful ladies going from having their pants on to being taken off them excited me to no end…My women’s thigh fetish was getting more intense…By the time I was 14, I imagined the sex crazed invisible creature taking off random women’s pants and making them cross their naked thighs together, like they were making out…When I was 14, I finally had found a girl…I told her all about my sexy dreams. About my women’s thigh fetish…I kept asking her really warped questions, like how she would feel if something took her pants off in school. How would she feel if her and another girl lost their pants together…[I] finally ejaculated and [was] happy that her legs were the reason…Even now…my women’s thigh fetish dreams were always my favorites to think about”.
I have no idea if these accounts are in any way representative of those who have a thigh fetish but both appear to be heterosexual males, and both can pinpoint where their interests in women’s thighs originated. As with many fetishes I have examined, I can’t see thigh fetishism being the topic of any in-depth empirical research simply because it has the ‘so what?’ factor. Who would be interested in such research and why?
Dr. Mark Griffiths, Professor of Behavioural Addiction, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK
Aggrawal A. (2009). Forensic and Medico-legal Aspects of Sexual Crimes and Unusual Sexual Practices. Boca Raton: CRC Press.
Love, B. (2001). Encyclopedia of Unusual Sex Practices. London: Greenwich Editions.
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.
Taktak, S., Yılmaz, E., Karamustafalıoglu, O., & Unsal, A. (2016). Characteristics of paraphilics in Turkey: A retrospective study – 20years. International Journal of Law and Psychiatry. doi.org/10.1016/j.ijlp.2016.05.004.
Turnbull, O.H., Lovett, V.E., Chaldecott, J., & Lucas, M.D. (2014). Reports of intimate touch: Erogenous zones and somatosensory cortical organization. Cortex, 53, 146-154.
The gambling industry has long been trying to perfect techniques that keep players on their premises and gambling on their games longer. In short, their aim is to introduce facilities that maximize their bottom line profits. In super-casinos around the world, restaurants are often positioned in the centre so that customers have to pass the gaming areas before and after they have eaten. Live entertainment areas for music or sporting events (e.g., boxing matches) are also positioned similarly.
This strategy is often combined with the deliberate use of circuitous paths to keep customers in the casino longer, the psychology being that if the patrons are in the casino longer they will spend more money. Large US casinos have got this down to a fine art. A number of years ago I remember going to a live music concert at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas and on entering the casino it took me a 20- to 25-minute walk past thousands of slot machines and gaming tables before I even arrived at the auditorium! Although I didn’t gamble during the 45 minutes I was exposed to the slot machines to and from the casino entrance, I did wonder how many of the thousands in the audience had succumbed at some point.
UK gambling venues are now increasingly offering other non-gambling services (such as snack facilities and live entertainment) in a bid to either attract new customers or to keep those already in the venue as long as possible. The 2005 Gambling Act allowed even more of this diversification. It is also worth noting that some forms of gambling (such as slot machines) are far more profitable than other forms (such as table games). What’s more, slot machines don’t need a croupier to deal or spin the roulette ball. This means that most casinos worldwide are now dominated by slot machines in preference to other forms of gambling (although there are places like Macao where table games are preferred over slot machines).
Two of the biggest changes that have occurred in casinos worldwide over the last 20 years that appear to aid such a ‘maximisation’ strategy are the introduction of cash machines onto the gaming floors and the introduction of note acceptors to electronic gaming machines. At a very simplistic level, facilities like these create and enhance convenience gambling.
Note acceptors are very popular in countries like US, Canada and Australia. The gaming industry argues that note acceptors are popular with customers and enhance the playing experience in that they make life a little bit easier for the punter when standing in front of a slot machine not to have to keep going to the cashier for change. However, there is a very fine line between customer enhancement and customer exploitation. Note acceptors have the capacity to increase spending in a number of direct and indirect ways. Firstly, note acceptors increase privacy for the punter. More specifically for the punter, it avoids the potential embarrassment of letting gaming staff, friends, family or even other customers know how much they are spending. Secondly, note acceptors can aid in suspending judgment whereby more cash is transferred to credit in one go. Thirdly, note acceptors minimise breaks as players do not need to leave the machine to get change. Not taking breaks minimises ‘time out’ periods where punters can think more rationally about the money they have spent. A study carried out in Canadian casinos showed that the amount initially put into a slot machine by punters was twice as high on machines that had note acceptors. Although this is only one study, it does seem to suggest that gamblers spend more when a note acceptor is present.
Like note acceptors, the introduction of automated cash dispensers onto the casino floor also increases privacy for the punter. Although studies have found that only a relatively small proportion of casino patrons seldom use cash dispensers at gambling venues, a significantly high proportion of problem gamblers do so. One study in New Zealand carried out by Professor Max Abbott found that only 2% of all adults interviewed in a national survey considered that greater access to these facilities led to an increase in their gambling. Among problem gamblers, this figure was over eight times as high at 17%.
In Australia, a study led by Professor Jan McMillen also found much greater cash dispenser usage at gambling venues by problem gamblers when compared to non-problem gamblers. They also found that problem gamblers withdrew larger amounts. Money accessed in this way was most often for the purchase of both alcohol and gambling. They concluded that convenient access to cash dispenders in gambling venues contributed to greater expenditure and was a contributory factor in the development and persistence of gambling problems.
A number of other studies have reported similar findings. Problem gamblers frequently mention that adjacent access to cash dispensers is one of the most frequently mentioned reasons for gambler’s exceeding their planned spending limit. Research has also shown that both problem and non-problem gamblers would prefer cash dispensers to be located away from gambling venues. It would seem that the only people who want cash dispensers on gambling premises are the operators themselves, mainly because they know it increases revenue.
Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Behavioural Addictions, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK
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Friedman, B. (2000). Designing Casinos to Dominate the Competition. Reno, NV: Institute for the Study of Gambling and Commercial Gaming, University of Nevada.
Griffiths, M.D. (2009). Casino design: Understanding gaming floor influences on player behaviour. Casino and Gaming International, 5(1), 21-26.
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