Making scents of it all: A brief look at sex, smell and olfactophilia
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.
Farting company: The strange world of eproctophilia
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 shouldn’t be surprising that in some cases there should be an association with sexual behaviour. The erotic focus is most likely to relate to body odours of a sexual partner, including genital odours.
One bizarre sub-type of olfactophilia is eproctophilia. This refers to a condition in which people are sexually attracted to flatulence. Therefore, eproctophiles are said to spend an abnormal amount of time thinking about flatulence, and have recurring intense sexual urges and fantasies involving flatulence. In trying to research this article, I did a complete literature search and couldn’t find a single academic or clinical paper that has ever been published on the topic – not even a case study. Therefore, all of the material here is based on non-academic sources. There are also examples of this practice on sites like YouTube where some people have uploaded their videos of farting on faces. Based on this anecdotal evidence, it would appear to be the domain of heterosexual men being farted upon by females.
Like most paraphilias, eproctophilia appears to be found mainly in men, although the anecdotal evidence suggests it is mainly found in heterosexual males particularly attracted to female flatulence. The accounts that I came across suggest that farts are typically targeted at the face, and sometimes more specifically at the mouth, the ear, or nose. Some claim it is a “softer form” of coprophilia (in which people are sexually aroused by faeces). Treatment for eproctophilia is generally not sought unless in some way it becomes problematic for the person. It appears that the majority of eproctophiles accept their fetish – particularly as there are no published treatment case studies in the sexology literature. However, it may be the case that people have this type of fetish but are simply unable to engage in it, even if they are in a stable relationship.
For instance, I came across was in the columns of Dan Savage who has a regular type of ‘agony aunt’ feature called “Savage Love” in ‘The Stranger’ newspaper based in Seattle (USA) but which focuses on more quirky and extreme aspects of human behaviour. This letter was sent into his column:
“My wife doesn’t understand or approve of my sexual needs. I would like her to pass gas in my face. It’s a common enough sexual interest that it has a name (eproctophilia). My wife does break wind from time to time, but she refuses to let me enjoy this natural functioning of her bowels no matter how often I discuss my needs with her”
The reply by Savage wasn’t very complimentary but the letter highlights the condition appears to exist. Another interesting snippet I found was this brief confession of someone asking for help on a fetish bulletin board:
“I’ve been a sufferer [of eproctophilia] for as long as I can remember. I can’t stop myself from getting turned on whenever someone leaves a long, loud fart in my presence. It’s starting to become a real problem for me as I am required to give a lot of enemas in my line of work, and as we all know, enemas provide gas before the ride”
One of the most detailed accounts of eproctophilia I came across was this online confession from an American eproctophile (most notable because Americans refer to flatulence as “gas”). The only demographic information given was that he was a male student at university, in his early twenties, and studying a biological subject:
“I first realised that I had eproctophilia when I was 15 years old. I was at my [female] friend’s house, to do a school project and she had terrible gas. We had known each other for about seven years so she felt more than comfortable to let her gas out in front of me. At that point I was really turned on by the fact that she was a hot girl farting around me but I didn’t know why. As we where sitting on her bedroom floor sticking pictures to a poster she got up and went to the other side of the room to get a piece of paper. When she came back she said ‘Hey John’, and forced my face onto her bum. She then sat on me and she let out a loud, warm, smelly fart on my face. Then she laughed and said ‘Doesn’t that smell delicious hehehehe!!’
I don’t know why but I found that very sexy. I was too embarrassed to tell her how I really felt about what she did, so I just pretended I found it disgusting and that I didn’t care. However, after a while I told her how much I loved when she did that to me and she found it hilarious and was totally OK with it. When we are alone, she always tells me when she is about to fart and if I want her to do it in my face again. I say ‘no’ because that would be too awkward, but I get closer and sniff them anyway. I feel really embarrassed that she knows how I felt about her farting and I feel like she thinks I am some kind of creepy fart freak. But she says its cute, and if she had a boyfriend who had this fetish she would find it fun farting on his face.
Out of all the girls I’ve dated in my whole life, I have never told any of them about this fetish, even when they felt comfortable farting around me. My [female] friend is probably the only hot girl in the world that would do that to their guy friend. I imagine it would be very hard to find a nice, and attractive, girlfriend I actually love that would be OK with my fart fetish. So tell me girls, what would you do if your boyfriend told you he found it hot when you fart? Would you break up with him? Let him smell your gas? Or break up with him and tell the whole world? I know this may be an odd subject but try to be open-minded. Some people might say I am sick and crazy but I’m a pretty normal person, I am mentally and physically fit, [and educated].
Why do I think I like this? I think I find this really sexy because girls don’t usually fart around guys and feel good about it, so when they do I feel like the girl is so comfortable around me that she would let out her nasty flatulence in my presence and not just in front of anyone, and that gets me really turned on. To me, this is the one of the sexiest things a woman can do. My perfect fantasy would probably be for my [female] friend and her other hot friend to be farting on my face in her room. You probably find this really disgusting but it’s not my fault. I have this fetish. I have heard about other fetishes I find to be even worse than mine, so I don’t feel so bad about it. Flatulence is made out of nitrogen, carbon dioxide, oxygen, methane, and hydrogen sulfide, which is completely harmless to the human body. So there is nothing dangerous about this fetish.”
This account seems to echo most of the scientific research on the development of fetishes and paraphilias that such behaviours originate from behavioural conditioning – in this case classical conditioning where being sexually aroused by an attractive women is paired with something that is not inherently sexual (in this case, flatulence) and then starts to become an erotic focus in and of itself. As this male eproctophile notes himself, there is nothing ‘dangerous’ about his activity and it certainly appears to be less stomach churning than compared to paraphilias that appear to be similar (such as copraphilia).
Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK
Gilbert, Avery N. (2008). What the Nose Knows: The Science of Scent in Everyday Life. Crown.
Love, B. (1992). Encyclopedia of Unusual Sex Practices. Fort Lee, NJ: Barricade Books
Money, J. (1986). Lovemaps: Clinical concepts of sexual/erotic health and pathology, paraphilia, and gender transposition in childhood, adolescence, and maturity. New York: Irvington.
Van Toller, S. & Dodd, G.H. (1992). Fragrance: The Psychology and Biology of Perfume. London: Elesevier.