Archives of Sexual Behavior

, Volume 47, Issue 5, pp 1333–1339 | Cite as

Olfactory Function Relates to Sexual Experience in Adults

Invited Paper

Abstract

The olfactory system contributes significantly to human social behavior and especially to mate choice and empathic functioning. In this context, previous research examining individuals with impaired olfactory function indicated an influence of the sense of smell on different aspects of sexuality. However, the applied samples, methods, and results are diverse and an involvement of confounding factors, such as breathing problems, depression or social insecurity cannot be ruled out. The present study examined the potential correlation between odor threshold in healthy participants and their sexual desire, sexual experience, and sexual performance. In 70 adults (28 male, 42 female; mean age 24.8 ± 4.1 years), odor threshold was assessed using the “Sniffin’ Sticks.” The participants also responded to a battery of questions on sexual desire (Sexual Desire Inventory), sexual experience (orgasm frequency, perceived pleasantness of sexual activities on a visual analogue scale) as well as sexual performance (frequency of having sex, average duration of sexual intercourse). Odor sensitivity correlated positively with sexual experience: Participants with high olfactory sensitivity reported higher pleasantness of sexual activities. Further, women with high olfactory sensitivity reported a higher frequency of orgasms during sexual intercourse. These findings were exclusively present for sexual experience; no significant correlations were detected for sexual desire or sexual performance. The experience of sexual interactions appears to be enriched by olfactory input. We discuss that the perception of certain body odors may contribute to the concept of sexual pleasure by enhanced recruitment of reward areas.

Keywords

Sexual pleasure Orgasm Olfaction 

Notes

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare no conflict of interest.

References

  1. Beutel, M. E., Stöbel-Richter, Y., & Brähler, E. (2008). Sexual desire and sexual activity of men and women across their lifespans: Results from a representative German community survey. BJU International, 101(1), 76–82.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  2. Blaustein, A. R. (1981). Sexual selection and mammalian olfaction. American Naturalist, 117(6), 1006–1010.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Brämerson, A., Nordin, S., & Bende, M. (2007). Clinical experience with patients with olfactory complaints, and their quality of life. Acta Oto-Laryngologica, 127(2), 167–174.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  4. Burke, S. M., Veltman, D. J., Gerber, J., Hummel, T., & Bakker, J. (2012). Heterosexual men and women both show a hypothalamic response to the chemo-signal androstadienone. PLoS ONE, 7(7), e40993.  https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0040993.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  5. Croy, I., Bendas, J., Wittrodt, N., Lenk, M., Joraschky, P., & Weidner, K. (2017). Gender-specific relation between olfactory sensitivity and disgust perception. Chemical Senses, 42(6), 487–492.  https://doi.org/10.1093/chemse/bjw163.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  6. Croy, I., Bojanowski, V., & Hummel, T. (2013). Men without a sense of smell exhibit a strongly reduced number of sexual relationships, women exhibit reduced partnership security–a reanalysis of previously published data. Biological Psychology, 92(2), 292–294.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  7. Croy, I., Nordin, S., & Hummel, T. (2014). Olfactory disorders and quality of life—an updated review. Chemical Senses, 39(3), 185–194.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  8. Croy, I., Springborn, M., Lötsch, J., Johnston, A. N. B., & Hummel, T. (2011). Agreeable smellers and sensitive neurotics—correlations among personality traits and sensory thresholds. PLoS ONE, 6(4), e18701.  https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0018701.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  9. Digman, J. M. (1990). Personality structure: Emergence of the five-factor model. Annual Review of Psychology, 41(1), 417–440.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Doty, R. L. (1991). Olfactory system. In I. V. Getchell, R. L. Doty, L. M. Bartoshuk, & I. B. Snow, Jr. (Eds.), Smell and taste in health and disease (pp. 175–203). New York: Raven.Google Scholar
  11. Ehrenstein, W. H., & Ehrenstein, A. (1999). Psychophysical methods. In U. Windhorst & H. Johansson (Eds.), Modern techniques in neuroscience research (Vol. 1, pp. 1211–1241). Berlin: Springer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Gower, D., & Ruparelia, B. (1993). Olfaction in humans with special reference to odorous 16-androstenes: Their occurrence, perception and possible social, psychological and sexual impact. Journal of Endocrinology, 137(2), 167–187.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  13. Graham, C. A., Janssen, E., & Sanders, S. A. (2000). Effects of fragrance on female sexual arousal and mood across the menstrual cycle. Psychophysiology, 37(1), 76–84.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  14. Gudziol, V., Wolff-Stephan, S., Aschenbrenner, K., Joraschky, P., & Hummel, T. (2009). Depression resulting from olfactory dysfunction is associated with reduced sexual appetite—a cross-sectional cohort study. Journal of Sexual Medicine, 6(7), 1924–1929.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  15. Herz, R. S., & Inzlicht, M. (2002). Sex differences in response to physical and social factors involved in human mate selection: The importance of smell for women. Evolution and Human Behavior, 23(5), 359–364.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Hufnagl, B., Lehrner, J., & Deecke, L. (2003). Development of a questionnaire for the assessment of self reported olfactory functioning. Chemical Senses, 28, E27.Google Scholar
  17. Hummel, T., Kobal, G., Gudziol, H., & Mackay-Sim, A. (2007). Normative data for the “Sniffin’Sticks” including tests of odor identification, odor discrimination, and olfactory thresholds: An upgrade based on a group of more than 3,000 subjects. European Archives of Oto-Rhino-Laryngology, 264(3), 237–243.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  18. Hummel, T., Sekinger, B., Wolf, S., Pauli, E., & Kobal, G. (1997). ‘Sniffin’sticks’: Olfactory performance assessed by the combined testing of odor identification, odor discrimination and olfactory threshold. Chemical Senses, 22, 39–52.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  19. Jönsson, E. H., Bendas, J., Weidner, K., Wessberg, J., Olausson, H., Wasling, H. B., & Croy, I. (2017). The relation between human hair follicle density and touch perception. Scientific Reports, 7(1), 2499.  https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-017-02308-9.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  20. Kobal, G., Hummel, T., Sekinger, B., Barz, S., Roscher, S., & Wolf, S. (1996). “ Sniffin’sticks”: Screening of olfactory performance. Rhinology, 34, 222–226.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  21. Kromer, J., Hummel, T., Pietrowski, D., Giani, A., Sauter, J., Ehninger, G., … Croy, I. (2016). Influence of HLA on human partnership and sexual satisfaction. Scientific Reports, 6, 32550.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  22. Kuhn, W., Koenig, J., Donoghue, A., Hillecke, T. K., & Warth, M. (2014). Psychometrische Eigenschaften einer deutschsprachigen Kurzversion des Sexual Desire Inventory (SDI-2). Zeitschrift für Sexualforschung, 27, 138–149.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Landis, B., Hummel, T., Hugentobler, M., Giger, R., & Lacroix, J. (2003). Ratings of overall olfactory function. Chemical Senses, 28, 691–694.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  24. Lang, F. R., Lüdtke, O., & Asendorpf, J. B. (2001). Testgüte und psychometrische Äquivalenz der deutschen Version des Big Five Inventory (BFI) bei jungen, mittelalten und alten Erwachsenen. Diagnostica, 47, 111–121.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Merkonidis, C., Grosse, F., Ninh, T., Hummel, C., Haehner, A., & Hummel, T. (2015). Characteristics of chemosensory disorders—results from a survey. European Archives of Oto-Rhino-Laryngology, 272, 1403–1416.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  26. Mondragón-Ceballos, R., Hernández-López, L., Cerda-Molina, A. L., de la O Rodriguez, C. E., & Chavira-Ramírez, R. (2013). Changes in men’s salivary testosterone and cortisol levels, and in sexual desire after smelling female axillary and vulvar scents. Frontiers in Endocrinology, 4, 159.  https://doi.org/10.3389/fendo.2013.00159.PubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  27. Passie, T., Hartmann, U., Schneider, U., & Emrich, H. M. (2003). On the function of groaning and hyperventilation during sexual intercourse: Intensification of sexual experience by altering brain metabolism through hypocapnia. Medical Hypotheses, 60(5), 660–663.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  28. Pfeiffer, C. A., & Johnston, R. E. (1994). Hormonal and behavioral responses of male hamsters to females and female odors: Roles of olfaction, the vomeronasal system, and sexual experience. Physiology & Behavior, 55, 129–138.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Savic, I., Berglund, H., Gulyas, B., & Roland, P. (2001). Smelling of odorous sex hormone-like compounds causes sex-differentiated hypothalamic activations in humans. Neuron, 31, 661–668.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  30. Schienle, A., Schäfer, A., Stark, R., Walter, B., Franz, M., & Vaitl, D. (2003). Disgust sensitivity in psychiatric disorders: A questionnaire study. Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, 191, 831–834.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  31. Shu, C.-H., Hummel, T., Lee, P.-L., Chiu, C.-H., Lin, S.-H., & Yuan, B.-C. (2009). The proportion of self-rated olfactory dysfunction does not change across the life span. American Journal of Rhinology & Allergy, 23, 413–416.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Sorokowska, A., Oleszkiewicz, A., & Sorokowski, P. (2018). A compensatory effect on mate selection? Importance of auditory, olfactory, and tactile cues in partner choice among blind and sighted individuals. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 47(3), 597–603.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  33. Spector, I. P., Carey, M. P., & Steinberg, L. (1996). The Sexual Desire Inventory: Development, factor structure, and evidence of reliability. Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy, 22, 175–190.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  34. Spitzer, R., Kroenke, K., & Williams, J. (2000). Validation and utility of a self-report version of PRIME-MD. Primary Care Companion to the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, 2(1), 31.Google Scholar
  35. Stevenson, R. J. (2010). An initial evaluation of the functions of human olfaction. Chemical Senses, 35(1), 3–20.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Psychotherapy and Psychosomatic MedicineTechnische Universität DresdenDresdenGermany
  2. 2.Smell and Taste Clinic, Department of OtorhinolaryngologyTechnische Universität DresdenDresdenGermany

Personalised recommendations