We perceive the world through our five senses – sight, hearing, touch, taste and smell. Although they seem to work independently, as five distinct modes of perceiving the world, in reality they collaborate closely to enable the mind to better understand its surroundings.
Generally, about all perception, we can say that a sense is what has the power of receiving into itself the sensible forms of things without the matter, in the way in which a piece of wax takes on the impress of a signet ring without the iron or gold. – Aristotle, On the Soul
We get a lot of information about other people through scents. Smell is probably the most intimate of all the senses. Would you agree that smelling a perfume of your ex brings back memories of the time spent together? Or, would you say that there’s nothing more enjoyable than smelling a person you love?
When we smell another’s body, it is that body that we are breathing in through our mouth and nose, that we possess instantly, as it were in its most secret substance, its own nature. Once inhaled, the smell is the fusion of the other’s body and my own. – Jean-Paul Sartre
Nothing revives the past so completely as a smell that was once associated with it. – Vladimir Nabokov
Why does it work that way? Because the smell connects with your memory and emotion centres and trigger feelings to be associated with them. Essentially, the smell is giving off molecules. When we smell an odorant molecule, it is volatile and small enough to reach deep into the nose cavity, diffuse through a 10–40 μm thick mucus layer, meet one of tens of thousands of hair-like projections called cilia that project from the olfactory sensory neurons, and absorb onto one of the approximately 347 receptors. Those receptors are either exclusively or not, ‘tuned’ to odorants. In this manner an odorant molecule message becomes an electric signal. The electric signal generated is projected onto the olfactory bulb that is connected to the part of the brain responsible for emotions and memory.
Although many odorant molecules give off distinctive smells that evoke emotions, they may also be too weak to consciously detect. A good example for that are pheromones, the “love molecules” that pass through air after evaporation by the heat of the body. When you wear clothes, your body heats the air around you. This causes the air to rise toward the highest opening in your clothes. As the heated air rises, it picks up the pheromones secreted from your skin, and delivers them to people around you, causing the reactions in their brains.
Each one of us seems to have one-of-a-kind odor prints, or personal signature smells. In close interactions we can through scent evaluate a potential partner, whose immune system is optimally different from our own. Thus personal smell influenced by pheromones plays a huge role in how people get attracted to each other. Just like adding spice to your favorite food, pheromones are believed to increase one’s natural appeal. Scientists as well as perfume companies have been hoping to find a human sex pheromone but so far the search has failed.
Nevertheless the number of studies has been done on pheromones and how they influence people’s behaviour. For example, it has been proven that pheromones might be a potential cause for physical attraction and fertility. According to this study, in which 18 professional lap dancers recorded their menstrual cycles, work shifts and tip earnings for two months, researchers found that during the phase when the women were most fertile, right before ovulation, dancers earned about $335 per shift, compared to $260 during other parts of their cycle. When they were menstruating, they only earned about $185 per shift. Interestingly, dancers who took birth control pills, which contain hormones that prevent ovulation, didn’t experience this fertile peak in tips.
Alan Hirsch and Jason Gruss studied the effects of numerous scents on sexual arousal of men and women by comparing their blood flow in sexual-aroused tissues (penile or clitoral blood flow) while wearing scented masks and while wearing non-odorized, blank masks. The research concluded that scents may act on the brain (1) by reducing anxiety, which inhibits natural sexual desire, or (2) increasing alertness and awareness, making the person more aware of sexual cues around them, or (3) by acting directly to the septal nuclei, a portion of the brain that induces sexual arousal.
Interestingly, the perfumes increased blood flow by only 3%. In contrast the combined smell of lavender and pumpkin spice resulted in 40% higher blood flow in male genitals. Women were also tempting to pumpkin spice as well as liquorice and baby powder. In this study on the mood associations of aromas, the scientists were able to prove that clementine and vanilla aroma influence sedative effects, but the former is more stimulating and the latter more relaxing.
The studies focused on the effects of different foods and natural scents, as well as perfumes but they unfortunately did not test many other pheromones with reputations as bonding smells such as ylang ylang, Asian Oud and other essential oils. Yet it is widely believed that different essential oils on various parts of the body may enhance the body smell not by stimulating production of pheromones but by amplifying pheromones already secreted. Below are the most effective plant oils that produce pheromones similar to human sexual pheromones.
Ylang-ylang, is a woody, evergreen climbing plant widely used in the traditional medicine of Malaysia, Indonesia and Philippines. Research has proven that ylang-ylang essential oils possess sedative effect and certain degree of physiological influence on human. It is used to enhance euphoria feel during sex and also reduce sexual anxiety. Plus, ylang-ylang has been reported to be used as antidepressant to treat depression and nervousness and anti-inflammatory agent.
Jasmine flowers widely used in cosmetics and perfumes, as well as traditional medicines in China to treat a variety of diseases. Aromatherapy with jasmine oils results in significant increases of breathing rate, blood oxygen saturation, and systolic and diastolic blood pressure. Plus, it provides the relief of depression and uplifting mood. This study has shown that people who regularly used jasmine oil have rated themselves as more alert, more vigorous and less relaxed than those who didn’t.
Sandalwood is an evergreen small tree, growing to a height of about 10 meters. Essential oil is usually distilled from the roots and the heartwood of the tree. Sandalwood aroma oxygenate the pineal gland, responsible for releasing melatonin. It is considered one of the most calming incense, enhances mental clarity, peaceful relaxation, openness. Plus, it is said to improve interpersonal relations.
Nutmeg essential oil is obtained by steam-distilling the dried kernels of the ripe seeds of the nutmeg, evergreen tree widely grown in Indonesia. Nutmeg oil helps to remove exhaustion and treat anxiety-related symptoms. It may also enhance mood and concentration, and in combination with claw, has shown to increase sex drive in mice.
Guava leaf essential oil is produced from the young leaves of the guava plant and are widely used in traditional medicine in tropical countries. The leaves contain a number of beneficial substances, including antioxidants like vitamin C and flavonoids. The study done on fruit flies has shown that male sexual behavior and pheromone emission was enhanced by exposure to guava.