Smelling Sexy- Attraction, Scent and the Perfume Industry


1959 Chanel perfume ad

The annual revenue for the perfume industry is 27.5 billion dollars. Yes you read that right, billions. Like many things that the mass media markets to us, perfume and body sprays are mostly about promoting ideal beauty through print ads and commercials sporting sexy women pouting and flaunting while a voice over tells us how our lives can be changed by a smell in a bottle. And since only 17% of American women do not use perfume, it’s pretty important that we have a better understanding of perfume and the science of smelling sexy.

Perfume has existed since ancient times, when royalty used essential oils and plant extracts instead of bathing. Those of low income would not be anointed with perfume unless part of a religious rite or when they were buried.  Perfume as we know it did not exist until the late 1800s when the science of creating  synthetic smells first started. Chanel No. 5 became the first globally famous perfume through these techniques and its high fashion  creator Coco Chanel. Creating perfume in the lab made perfume less of status symbol and more accessible and expected of every woman.  This led to today’s perfume market of over 1,120 brands on the US market alone.  We have perfumes that cover everything from date night, to the office, to out in the club, vacation, beach, etc. If you’re not wearing the right sexy scent, you’re not doing womanhood correctly.  So where exactly does this obsession with smell come from?

Humans sense of smell has been important for as long as we have existed as a species. We have to know if our food is safe to eat, if there are dangerous predators nearby and recognizing the scent of our mothers when we’re born. People with bad body odor are avoided because in prehistoric humans, a bad body scent may signal contagious disease or someone who was not a suitable mate.

The science of scent and human sexual attraction has been explored more and more in the past few years. Scientists have found that our sweat actually carries smells that indicate our genetic code. Certain genes’ code for scents that indicate how distantly related we are to a person- the more distantly related we are, the more healthy our potential offspring will be, and the better that person will smell to us.

They’ve also found that women at different points in their menstrual cycles will be attracted to the scents of different men, depending on where they are at. Women are more attracted to the scent of physically symmetrical men (symmetry is an indicator of health in the animal kingdom- healthy male=healthy babies) when they ovulate (body is ready to make a body), and it’s been found that men prefer the scent of sweat of women who are ovulating- our noses are tuned to when it’s best to get to baby making.

And that’s what perfume is all about- synthetically creating a scent that will attract a suitable mate, with good genes or show that we are healthy, wanted member of a group. Perfume is one area where the patriarchy has capitalized on our innate need to feel included through a sense that is not necessarily under our control.  It’s troubling that the most organic way of bonding with each other, the scent of our sweat, is constantly bad mouthed and substituted. Women must smell the way the group wants them to, and not the way that nature made them. So I say, do what you want! Go with or without perfume, wear organic perfume or the most expensive you can find. Smell how you want to smell. I think you all smell delicious. ❤

Green alternatives to perfume 

Natural perfumes 

Babies Know Mother’s Smell

Birth Control and Sense of Smell 


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