Archives of Sexual Behavior

, Volume 47, Issue 3, pp 661–668 | Cite as

Influence of Body Odors and Gender on Perceived Genital Arousal

  • Patrícia Alves-Oliveira
  • Joana Carvalho
  • Jacqueline Ferreira
  • Laura Alho
  • Pedro Nobre
  • Mats J. Olsson
  • Sandra C. Soares
Original Paper


Olfaction is often linked to mating behavior in nonhumans. Additionally, studies in mating behavior have shown that women seem to be more affected by odor cues than men. However, the relationship between odor cues and sexual response—specifically, sexual arousal—has not been studied yet. The aim of this study was to evaluate the impact of the exposure to human body odors (from individuals of the opposite gender) on perceived genital arousal, while these were presented concomitantly to sexually explicit video clips. Eighty university students (40 women) rated their perceived genital arousal (perceived degree of erection/genital lubrication) in response to an audiovisual sexual stimulus, while simultaneously exposed to a body odor from an opposite-gender donor or no odor. Participants also rated each odor sample’s (body odor and no odor) perceived pleasantness, intensity, and familiarity. Findings indicated that odor condition had an effect on women’s (but not men’s) perceived genital arousal, with women showing higher levels of perceived genital arousal in the no odor condition. Also, results showed that women rated body odors as less pleasant than no odor. Notwithstanding, the odor ratings do not seem to explain the association between body odor and perceived genital arousal. The current results support the hypothesis that women, rather than men, are sensitive to odors in the context of sexual response. The findings of this study have relevance for the understanding of human sexuality with respect to chemosensory communication.


Olfaction Human body odors Gender Perceived genital arousal Mating behavior 



This work was supported by national funds through Fundação para a Ciência e a Tecnologia (FCT). P. Alves-Oliveira acknowledges a FCT Grant Ref. SFRH/BD/110223/2015. This study was also supported by the Swedish Research Council (Grant 421-2012-1125) and The Swedish Foundation of Social Science and Humanities (Grant P12-1017) to M. J. Olsson. The authors show their gratitude to Elisa Pinto, Liliana Perdigão and Marta Rocha for their support during the body odor collection, to Dr. Pedro Bem-Haja for the data analysis support, and to all the participants for their involvement in the study.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical Approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Instituto Universitário de Lisboa (ISCTE-IUL)CIS-IULLisbonPortugal
  2. 2.Escola de Psicologia e Ciências da Vida Universidade Lusófona de Humanidades e TecnologiasLisbonPortugal
  3. 3.Centro de Psicologia da Universidade do PortoPortoPortugal
  4. 4.Department of Education and PsychologyUniversity of AveiroAveiroPortugal
  5. 5.Center for Health Technology and Services Research, Faculty of MedicineUniversity of PortoPortoPortugal
  6. 6.Institute for Biomedical Imaging and Life Sciences, Faculty of MedicineUniversity of CoimbraCoimbraPortugal
  7. 7.Faculdade de Psicologia e Ciências da EducaçãoUniversidade do PortoPortoPortugal
  8. 8.Division of Psychology, Department of Clinical NeuroscienceKarolinska InstituteSolnaSweden
  9. 9.Instituto de Engenharia de Sistemas e Computadores - Investigação e DesenvolvimentoPorto SalvoPortugal
  10. 10.William James Center for ResearchISPA University InstituteLisbonPortugal

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