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.
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The study design represents a larger examination of sensory input on sexual behavior, including a psychophysical stroking experiment as well as the determination of features of discriminative touch and hair follicle density on the forearm (Jönsson et al., 2017). For reasons of clarity and comprehensibility, the method section will solely elaborate the determination of olfactory function with the “Sniffin’ Sticks” and the applied questionnaires.
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Conflict of interest
The authors declare no conflict of interest.
This is an invited paper, which was peer-reviewed, from the Presidential Symposium (Chair: Heather L. Hoffmann) at the meeting of the International Academy of Sex Research, Malmö, Sweden, July 2016.
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Bendas, J., Hummel, T. & Croy, I. Olfactory Function Relates to Sexual Experience in Adults. Arch Sex Behav 47, 1333–1339 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10508-018-1203-x
- Sexual pleasure