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.
One Saturday night while my family was watching Strictly Come Dancing, I found myself idly Googling looking for inspiration for a new blog. One of the pages I found myself on was Kinkopedia’s ‘Kink of the Week’ website. This particular page made reference to ten “paraphilias you may never heard of”. The list (in alphabetical order and the website’s definition) included bromidrophilia (sexual attraction to body odours and smells), genuphilia (sexual attraction to knees), mechanophilia (sexual attraction to cars), mythophilia (sexual attraction to myths, stories, or gossip), nasophilia (sexual attraction to noses), onomatophilia (sexual attraction to words, or a certain word), rupophilia (sexual attraction to dirt), sitophilia (sexual attraction to food), spectrophilia (sexual attraction to ghosts) and vorarephilia (sexual attraction to eating or be eaten by another).
Regular readers of my blog won’t be surprised to know that I was aware of almost all the paraphilias on the list (in fact I’ve written blogs on most of these). However, the one that jumped out at me (no pun intended) was genuphilia. Given the fact that (i) there is absolutely no scientific research on genuphilia, and (ii) genuphilia does not make an appearance in either Dr. Brenda Love’s Encyclopedia of Unusual Sex Practices or Dr. Anil Aggrawal’s Forensic and Medico-legal Aspects of Sexual Crimes and Unusual Sexual Practices suggests one of two things – either that this particular paraphilia does not really exist, or that it is a relatively newly realized fetish. It’s also another paraphilia where the name appears to have been derived as the opposite of a known phobia (i.e., genuphobia – an irrational fear of knees).
In researching this article, I have to admit that I almost gave up on trying to put a blog together given the lack of material (academic and anecdotal). I read an online article about sexual paraphilias in the new (fifth edition) of the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders that referred to genuphilia being related to gender but then quickly realized the article was a funny April Fool’s Day spoof (still worth a read though! See ‘Further reading’ below for a link to the article). Over at the Psyche Time-Lapse website, genuphilia made an appearance in their regular ‘Word Of The Day’ column. The writer of the short article noted:
“Getting on your knees is usually a prelude to some sexy fellatio initiation or submissive roleplay. But sexiness isn’t always just coded into the act of falling to your knees; it can be on the knees themselves Genuphilia refers to a special, sexual attraction for knees: knock-kneed, knobby knees, replaced knees, any one of the jumbly joints that allows our legs to move efficiently and helps support body weight. The area right behind the knee can be a sensitive, often-ignored erogenous zone, and light, tantalizing strokes on and around them with your fingers can bring shivers to a partner’s body. And with fall approaching, showing off your knees with a variety of knee socks, boots, and fall-length coats has never been easier!”
As a last resort I went online searching on various forums and discussion groups and only located a handful of self-admitted accounts of people claiming to have a knee fetish:
Extract 1: “I think I must have had something like this for as long as I can remember. When I was aged 12 [years old] I was nearly always in shorts and there was a near neighbour who was a girl of about the same age who had a mix of boys and girls as friends and she liked us to show our legs as she thought it was cute that boys were in shorts and that we boys showed more leg than the girls. As I got older I always thought that boys in school shorts looked cute and was jealous that their uniforms allowed shorts while the school I was at would not allow shorts. I was attracted to my ex-boyfriend when I moved to another school and saw a guy in shorts which showed off his long sexy smooth legs. As he and I saw each other out of school, he encouraged me to shave my legs so that we could rub our bare legs together. I noticed in particular his knees were turning me on and we took it in turns to feel each other’s legs and I concentrated on rubbing his knees with mine. I love to show off my knees as much as possible and when I see both guys and girls showing theirs, I feel very aroused. There is nothing so good as a pair of sexy knees”
Extract 3: “Hairless Inside Knees on gay men are amazing! That we are agreed that is why you are here at the internet’s premier Hairless Inside Knee Gay Fetish Website! Don’t get us wrong we love hairy legs on our gay men. But there is something about the inside of the knee that when it’s hairless sends our pulses racing. Here at THIKFG you’ll find sexual tips to satisfy your hairless inside knee gay partner as well as fantasies and the best photos and videos of the best hairless inside knees around. So sit back and enjoy!”
Extract 4: “I haven’t explained what my happy page is about yet. Knee Fetishes!…I know you guys are thinking. THIS IS WEIRD! But [you] know what? It is weird. It’s the next big thing. Haven’t you heard? Pretty soon everyone will be having knee, elbow and ankle fetishes…So I would just like to take this moment to tell all you people, look around. There are many knees. Some are ugly, some are beautiful, some are hairy, some are lumpy, some are squishy. Just enjoy yourself. Stop and look at the knees”
Presuming these extracts are genuine (and I have no reason to suspect they’re not), a few tentative conclusions can be drawn (even from such a few extracts). Firstly, based on these accounts, knee fetishes (and genuphilia paraphilias) genuinely exist. (I would also argue that the existence of dedicated websites such as The Knee Pit Gallery also suggest there is an audience and niche market for sexualized knee enthusiasts). Secondly, it appears that both men and women may have this fetish/paraphilia. Thirdly, it appears that genuphilia may occur within different sexual orientations (i.e., heterosexual and homosexual). Fourthly, it appears that genuphilia may overlap with other more established sexual paraphilias (such as hand, leg and foot fetishes [podophilia]). Finally, it would appear that childhood experiences may be critical in explaining the etiology of gunuphilia. The most detailed extract appears to suggest that the sexual liking for knees may be explained by conditioning processes (i.e., classical conditioning). I seriously doubt we’ll see academic research on genuphilia any time soon but that doesn’t mean it’s not a genuine sexual fetish/paraphilia.
American Psychiatric Association (2013) Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (Fifth Edition). Washington, D.C.: American Psychiatric Association.
Love, B. (2001). Encyclopedia of Unusual Sex Practices. London: Greenwich Editions.
Molay, J. (2011). Crossdreamers, April 1. Located at: http://www.crossdreamers.com/2011/04/paraphiliphilia-makes-it-into-dsm-5.html
Many people are sexually attracted to particular parts of the human body but these usually relate to those body parts that are traditionally sexualized (e.g., genitalia, buttocks, breasts, etc.). When individuals have a sexual interest and/or sexually aroused by very specific and exclusive body parts it is known as partialism. It may additionally be described as a fetish if sexual arousal is only possible when the particular body part is present (e.g., viewed, touched) during sexual behaviour.
One of the more unusual forms of partialism is nose fetishism (or known as nasophilia if it is in the form of a sexual paraphilia). Nasophiles can be sexually aroused by the sight, touch, and/or the erotic sucking of human noses. Less common (although I have not seen any empirical evidence to back this up) are those who are sexually aroused by having their nose stroked, felt and sucked. Some nasophiles claim they are sexually excited by placing their nose into the closed eyes of their sexual partner (and may therefore have overlaps with oculophilia). In very extreme cases, it has even been claimed that some nasophiles are sexually aroused by the picking of noses.
Sigmund Freud famously interpreted the nose as a penis substitute. Although I personally have little time for Freud’s theories, the nose – like genitalia – has vascular (erectile) tissue, which has the capacity to become engorged during sexual arousal. There are certainly explicit links between sex and the nose in the scientific literature that I wrote about at length in a previous blog when I examined sex and sneezing (and the relationship between sneezing and orgasm) and sneeze fetishism. Maybe I have an unhealthy professional interest in noses as I also wrote a blog on nose picking and snot eating.
Nasophiles typically experience sexual attraction to very specific physical nose variations based on shape, size, nostril shape, etc. It is claimed that most nasophiles are extremely against rhinoplasty (plastic surgery on the nose) because it removes many of the features that they find sexually desirable Although there is little empirical research, it is believed behaviour can manifest itself in a desire for actual physical and sexualized contact and interaction with the nose of the person, and/or specific fantasies such as wanting to sexually penetrate the nostrils. In an article published on the Nose Network website it was noted that:
“Although most Nasophiliacs are men, there are some women out there who do enjoy the sight of big nostrils, well shaped wings, cute button noses or anything else that tickles their fancy. Most people will not admit to this fetish, however, due to it not being very acceptable to society. This is really due to a lack of understanding about the whole thing. No one knows exactly where this fetish came from or why it even exists. Some people will admit that they have fantasies about penetrating the nostrils (mostly men), while others have admitted to wanting to suck and lick the nose. As it turns out, the nose is a very erogenous zone, if for no other reason having the knowledge that the partner is very turned on by this act”.
Nasophiles may also be sexually aroused by fantasies involving transformation the nose (i.e., a transformation fetish). These can also be varied such as the nose changing into the nose of another species as a form of sexual humiliation (e.g., the snout of a pig), or the nose growing in size very quickly. Such sexual fantasies can be facilitated via role-playing, the use of props, transformational fiction (e.g., Pinocchio-type stories), and/or animated or photo-shop transformation (e.g., modifying and morphing photographs). For instance, check out the ‘Big Nose Appreciation’ website that is “devoted to women who do not conform to the stereotypical ideal offeminine beauty and whose beauty is enhanced by their larger or uniquely shaped noses”. Alternatively, type ‘nasophilia’ into YouTube and see for yourself the kinds of things that nasophiles love (nostril faring seems to be a much liked activity).
In a previous blog on fetishism, I mentioned a study led by Dr G. Scorolli (University of Bologna, Italy) on the relative prevalence of different fetishes using online fetish forum data. Their results showed that body part fetishes were most common (33%), followed by objects associated with the body (30%). Feet (and objects associated with feet) were by far the most common fetishes. They also reported that some of the sites featured references to nose fetishes but that this particular fetish accounted for less than 1% of all fetishes
As with many other fetishes and paraphilias, treatment for nasophilia is generally not sought by the individual unless it becomes problematic for the individual in some way and/or they feel compelled to address their condition. It is thought that the vast majority of nasophiles happily accept their fetish.
Bhutta, M. F. & Maxwell, H. (2008). Sneezing induced by sexual ideation or orgasm: An under-reported phenomenon. Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, 101, 587-591.
King, M.B. (1990). Sneezing as a fetishistic stimulus. Sexual and Marital Therapy, 5, 69-72.
Love, B. (1992). Encyclopedia of Unusual Sex Practices. Fort Lee, NJ: Barricade Books
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.