If you’ve ever been romantically involved, there’s a good chance that you were attracted to certain traits in your partner. In fact, we’d go further and bet good money that you were fond of your partner’s smell.
Well, there’s absolutely nothing weird about it because being attracted to one’s smell is completely natural, at least as far as science is concerned.
In fact, in a study conducted by dating service OkCupid, 81% of members stated that a potential partner’s smell mattered to them and 77% stated that they would want themselves to smell good when going on a date. So, as you can see, you aren’t the only one.
All of this ultimately boils down to the chemical we call “pheromone”. Pheromones are chemicals produced by animals that affect others of the same species on a psychological and physiological level. It is theorized that humans produce pheromones too.
Now, mind you, the science on pheromones isn’t conclusive. However, there are quite a few interesting insights here that allow us to form a rough picture of just how human attraction works.
One study, conducted by Swiss biologist Claus Wedekind, found that women were attracted to the natural scent of men who were immunologically different from them. When we say “immunologically different”, what we mean is that these men possessed 100 different immune system genes that form the MHC or Major Histocompatibility Complex. These genes provide the code for proteins that help identify pathogens.
So, to put it simply, men with different genes have better chances of finding a mate. What’s even more interesting is that the findings make sense even when seen from the perspective of procreation and furthering of the species. You see, men with immune systems that are different from that of their female partner’s, have been known to father children with better resistance to diseases. When there are more immune genes being expressed, the children tend to develop better immune systems.
But, that’s not all. There are other traits communicated via scent. For instance, a 2013 study found that women, who were in the fertile stage of their ovulation cycle, preferred the scent of men with symmetrical faces and bodies. But, the differences weren’t significant when compared to women who weren’t in the fertility stage of their ovulation cycle.
Of course, it’s not just women who seem to react favorably to the scents of the opposite sex. Even men can detect fertility through scent. In a Frontiers in Endocrinology study, it was found that men preferred the body and genital odor of fertile women to non-fertile women.
In fact, there were changes in the men’s testosterone and cortisol levels. These changes lasted longer when the men were exposed to the genital odors. However, the levels went down when after the men were made to smell the odors of women who weren’t ovulating.
So, can we trust our noses to help us find the right man/woman?
Well, as it is with such things, there is no conclusive answer. In fact, some of these studies didn’t do too well on peer reviews. We don’t even have enough evidence to prove that humans produce pheromones in the first place.
Then, there’s the fact that human attraction is far more complex than just “the right smell”. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to know that one. But, do natural scents play a small role in determining attraction? Well, they sure seem to. But, it would be foolish to place all your bets on smelling a certain way. There's a lot more work one needs to put in to find a viable partner.