dec11 fragrance

December 10, 1998

fragranceBy KATE COLEMAN / Staff Writer

photo: RIC DUGAN / staff photographer

So you have a big date this weekend.

You want to look your best.

You probably want to smell wonderful, too.

Should you head to the department store for the cologne that has the most alluring advertisement promising romance and undying love? Or should you head to the bakery or candy store instead?

Get a whiff of this.

[cont. from lifestyle]

In the world of aromatherapy, several scents are considered arousal scents, according to Maria Spencer, owner of the Bath House, a shop and spa in Berkeley Springs, W.Va. These include ylang-ylang, jasmine, rose, sandalwood, geranium and patchouli. Generally, women are thought to prefer florals, and men prefer food scents including cinnamon and vanilla, Spencer says.


Dr. Alan Hirsch studied the link between odors and sexual arousal and got unexpected results. The neurologist and psychiatrist is neurological director of the Smell and Taste Treatment Research Foundation in Chicago and author of "Scentsational Sex, The Secret to Using Aroma for Arousal."

Aware of the link between sexual behavior and the sense of smell established in animal studies, Hirsch set out to learn if loss of the ability to smell can lead to loss of sexual functioning, and if odors might be necessary for sexual arousal.

In his first study in 1994, 25 male medical student volunteers wore surgical masks infused with one odor for one minute. Common floral scents and perfumes were used, as was the scent of baked cinnamon buns, included as a control to be compared with the other scents thought to be associated with sexual or romantic settings.

To Hirsch's surprise, the cinnamon buns caused the greatest amount of arousal.

He questioned his results, asking if they might mean that the medical students were hungry.

A 1995 study included 31 males ranging in age from 18 to 64. Thirty scents were used - some in combination - and the test subjects were exposed to a total of 46 scents.

The winner was a combination of lavender and pumpkin pie. Cinnamon buns did well again. Others included a combination of licorice and doughnuts and doughnuts and pumpkin pie. Older men in the study had a stronger response to vanilla.

Hirsch admits not knowing why men respond so strongly to food odors, but he has some theories. One is that the odors had a relaxing effect. Another is that the odors brought about what Hirsch calls a Pavlovian conditioned response: In a primitive way, the food smells reminded men of their lovers and stimulated arousal. Hirsch also theorizes that since some of the tested odors - jasmine and peppermint, for example - are associated with alertness, the men were more aware of their entire environment, including sexual clues.

Hirsch also offers an evolutionary explanation. Early humans spent a lot of their time looking for food. When they gathered at the site of animal kills, they had the opportunity to procreate.

How about women?

In 1997, the Smell and Taste Treatment Research Foundation undertook a similar study of 30 women, 18 to 40 years old, and got different, more complex results.

While no tested odor decreased arousal in the men, several smells impaired the women's arousal. Cherry and charcoal barbecue smoke were the biggest turnoffs. Male's colognes had minimal negative effect, female perfumes a tiny positive effect.

Most arousing odors were the same for most men in Hirsch's studies, but there were many more individual differences among the women in the study.

The odor of lavender and pumpkin pie stimulated some arousal in the women, but it was edged out by the aroma of Good & Plenty or Liquorice Allsorts candy and cucumber. Banana-nut bread, popular perfumes and baby powder also got positive results.

One possible explanation is a nostalgic response that tends to induce a relaxed mood and remove inhibition, according to Hirsch. The smell of baby powder made the women recall their childhoods, he believes.

Hirsch admits that his study has a light tone, but says that it was undertaken for serious reasons and has serious applications. It has tremendous application in impotence, he believes. He also thinks the research may benefit nonorgasmic women.

It makes scents.

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