If something (or someone) doesn’t smell right there’s a good reason –one that is ignored at your own peril…
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About a year before I met my partner, I wrote down a detailed description of the woman with whom I wanted to share the rest of my life. My Dream Woman Project covered every aspect of physicality, emotional temperament, cognitive style and values that I felt were crucial for a compatible mate. I thought I had identified every possible attribute that would be important for me in an intimate relationship. As it turns out I inadvertently excluded one of the more crucial elements –her scent. Not the smell of her perfume, redolent body soap or aromatic shampoo –but her real, unadulterated body scent. This one quality alone is so important that it can be an absolute deal-breaker even if a prospective mate ticks off 100% of the other desired quality boxes. And if you are not careful, you could end up falling for someone who eventually doesn’t pass the smell test, which more often than not, will lead to relationship failure.
A Whiff of Interest
When my partner and I first met it was hardly love at first site. While we found each other interesting, there was not an initial strong attraction. This ultimately was a good thing because this gave us time to establish a firm foundation of emotional connection before we became physically intimate. In looking back however, the one thing my partner remembers most clearly about our first encounter was my scent. In fact, she was with a similarly aged female friend when we first met and I asked directions to a meeting I wanted to attend. After thanking them both for their help I turned and walked away. As soon as I was out of earshot my partner turned to her friend and said “Did you smell him?” to which her friend responded: “Smell what? What are you talking about?”
Fortunately, in addition to meeting all of my desired qualities in a life-long mate, we are both highly attracted to each other’s scent as well. I say fortunate because partner scent is one thing you are either compatible with or not. As you read on you will see there is no known way to determine ahead of time what a compatible scent would even be until you experience it directly. And, there may be things you are doing right now that masks your natural scent that could be sending misleading signals to potential partners. Eventually however the real you will waft its way to your other’s nose. And if you see it wrinkle in reaction, that is not a good sign for the longevity of your potential relationship. My partner made it very clear that even if she found me very attractive in every other way, if I didn’t pass the smell test then, at best, we would just be friends.
It’s All in the Genes
There has been a fair amount of research done on the importance of scent in terms of determining mate compatibility within heteronormative intimate relationships. Claus Wedekind is a biologist at the University of Lausanne in Switzerland. He conducted an experiment by giving 44 men new T-shirts and instructed them to wear them for two consecutive nights while using odor-free toiletries so as not to mask their natural scent.
In the second half of his experiment 49 women were given the shirts to sniff and rate their attractiveness (I’m assuming here that they were not allow to view images of the men who actually wore the shirts). With a frequency far greater than chance, the women preferred the T-shirts of those men who were most immunologically dissimilar from them. Apparently there are over 100 genes called the Major Histocompatibility Complex (MHC) that code for proteins that help the immune system recognize pathogens. And in terms of breeding, parents with highly dissimilar immune systems will produce offspring who are more resistant to disease. It has been shown that women tend to be much more sensitive to differences in MHC than men. This could be because, anthropologically speaking, they spend more time and energy caring for and nurturing the resulting offspring.
Here is yet another example of how the default Sexual Operating System, which is driven mostly by the procreative imperative, continues to highly influence in largely unconscious ways who we are attracted to and likely be most compatible with.
Your Nose Knows – If You Give It a Chance
With respect to determining a potential partner’s scent the only way to really tell is to bury your nose in it, literally. I can’t help but smile when I think about the times when my partner and I are making love and we almost always sniff each other’s armpits which seems as natural as kissing and fondling. We both find that the musky scent is almost overpowering in the way it enhances our mutual arousal. According to other research, the chemical 4-16-androstadien-3-one, or ‘and’ for short, is an androgen-like chemical found in the underarm sweat of males and females, which humans tend to be very sensitive and erotically responsive to.
It has also been found that women who use hormone-based birth control (i.e. the Pill) actually prefer the scent of men whose MHC is most similar to their own –the opposite of what menstruating women experience. Whether this could become a factor in eventual relationship failure is still up for debate, but it would be understandable if it was eventually shown to have this impact. And, it has been found that men typically find women who are not on the pill more attractive. Geoffrey Miller, an evolutionary psychologist at the University of New Mexico studied the impact exotic dancers had on men watching their performance. He used the amount of tips received by each dancer as a defacto indicator of attractiveness. What he found was that non-pill using dancers made about 50 percent more in tips than those on the pill. While his study did not determine conclusively whether these women’s scent was somehow perceived differently by men depending up on whether they were on the pill or not –there is strong evidence for it.
Let Them Smell the Real You
Unfortunately, our culture’s obsession to mask over any semblance of our natural odor can make sniffing out who is most compatible for us a bit more challenging. So my suggestion is this. When you do meet someone you find to be attractive in every other way, insist that you give each other the opportunity to fully take in your respective true scents. On first blush this may even seem contrite or silly, but trust me on this one. When it comes to lasting, fulfilling relationships there really is something to be said for the sweet smell of success. This is very much part of the “chemistry” of sexual chemistry. Clearly, this alone is not enough for ongoing relationship success. However, by making sure you have mutual olfactory compatibility you at least won’t be fighting an otherwise stinky situation to stay together.