Love at first sniff.

Ever went on a first date and returned thinking about how good or bad they smelled? The influence of smell on attractiveness and romance is far greater than we give it the credit. A lot of animals, such as dogs depend on olfactory cues to choose their mating partners and it is true that human beings also partake in a similar process, unconsciously. The adrenal medulla releases high levels of dopamine and norepinephrine when we are attracted to someone. These hormones make us excited, giddy and give us what we call the ‘butterflies-in-the-stomach’ feelings. But let’s look at the real reason why certain smells can turn us on so easily and create a sense of instant attraction.

I personally love how newborn babies smell and this is true for a lot of people I talked to as well. Newborn babies and mothers recognize each other just by smelling in months after birth. So here’s the funny thing: sometimes when you see a dog or human being so cute, you want to gobble them up. This may be because the same areas of the brain light up when you have feelings of extreme anger and adoration. Hence, wanting to eat or squish someone super cute is totally normal! (obviously, as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone)

Your smell is determined by the Human Leukocyte Antigen (HLA) which is a group of proteins that are encoded by the Major Histocompatibility Complex (MHC) gene. These are the same set of genes involved in the regulation of the immune system. These genes help attract two people whose genetic makeup is different. This could also mean the more you’re attracted to someone, the more likely it is for you both to be unrelated.

A researcher at The University of Oxford, Kate Willis, ran an experiment years ago on whether men could tell if a woman was ovulating or not based on smell alone. In this experiment, six women were asked to wear the same T-shirt when they were menstruating and a different T-shirt when they were ovulating. To avoid any contamination of smells, the women had to be non-smokers, avoid eating any strong, smelly/spicy foods and stop using any perfumed soaps. Surprisingly, when 80 men were asked to rate the smells, the majority of them rated the ovulation-time T-shirts as pleasant smells as compared to the menstruation-time T-shirts. This result might not be as surprising to you if you keep up with the smell research in other mammals, such as monkeys and baboons. Women and other female mammals use olfactory signals to attract men/males when they are ovulating.

Our noses have about 400 types of olfactory receptors and 6 million in total. Smell doesn’t just play a part in sexual attraction, but also in memories of our childhood, of someone we loved, of places we lived in, etc. You know what I’m talking about. The sense of smell induces emotional responses and marketers of companies such as Tide (laundry detergent) are aware of its usefulness. Using smell to attract consumers is known as scent marketing.

*sniffing my way into your approval*

Influence of HLA on human partnership and sexual satisfaction. (2016). PubMed Central (PMC).

Spence, C. (2020). On the Ethics of Neuromarketing and Sensory Marketing. SpringerLink.

Engle, G. (2017, February 23). Why Your Partner Smells So Freaking Good, According To Science. Bustle.

Dunbar, R. (2018, March 22). Love is in the air: the best way to sniff out your perfect partner. The Guardian.

No Two People Smell the Same. (2013, December 13). Duke Today.

Brocca, J. (2021, February 8). The Science Of Attraction: Falling In Love Through The Sense Of Smell – Technology. Cc.

Smell Dating Pheromones Romance. (2016, July 13). TIME.Com.