What do men find attractive about a woman's smell?

Research indicates men seem attracted to "bakery" smells like pumpkin pie and cinammon rolls on a woman. See more men's health pictures.

If you've gotten unexpected attention from the opposite sex, it's only natural to wonder what prompted the reaction. But before you give too much credit to your new stylist or personal trainer, keep this in mind: The attraction could be a purely chemical one.

Your body unwittingly secretes chemical compounds known as pheromones (the term comes from Greek words meaning "transfer" and "excite") that play a profound role in sexual communication. We rely on cells inside the nose to detect pheromones. Known as the Vemeronasal Organ, these cells detect pheromones and transmit the information straight to the brain [source: Jacob]. Even animals and insects emit pheromones -- which probably explains how they manage to procreate without verbal cues. (Imagine a dragonfly saying, "How ya doin'?")


Still, the science behind pheromones is still up for debate -- especially when it comes to determining what men find attractive about a woman's smell. Thanks to free will, it's difficult to test whether pheromones alone play a critical role in mate selection. But don't tell that to perfume manufacturers or the firms that advertise the scented products; they're locked into selling the sexiness of scent. Unfortunately, it turns out a woman's pheromone-laced perfume may affect her more than it does the man for whom she intends it. For example, women who apply musk-type perfumes to attract men are actually making themselves more aroused. That's because a woman's sensitivity to musk is 1,000 times greater than a man's sensitivity -- and she may send off a host of nonverbal cues that give off a "come hither" vibe [source: Fox].

So, if perfumes don't really do the trick for men, what then? Try some good old-fashioned pumpkin pie. Researchers discovered more male erections when the scents of pumpkin pie, doughnuts, lavender or cinnamon rolls were wafting through the air [source: Hirsch]. However, before you set a lavender bouquet on the kitchen counter and start baking, note this: The jury's still out on whether other variables, such as a partner's perfume, made the men more receptive to these stimulating smells.

Scent preferences are also affected by region. In Ethiopia, for example, the odor of cows is more powerful than any manufactured perfume -- no matter its price per ounce. In fact, the bovine scent's association with fertility and status is so powerful the men smear manure on their bodies and the women rub butter onto their heads [source: Fox].

Of course, you could always opt for an over-the-counter synthetic pheromone spray. These odorless sprays are advertised to subconsciously attract potential mates by helping them sniff you out, thanks to the Vemeronasal Organ in your nose. However, there's no scientific evidence these pheromone-infused aerosols actually work, so you'll probably have better luck simply selecting a pleasant-smelling perfume. It may not directly attract a man, but if the scent makes you feel more sexual, it can't hurt.


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  • Fox, Kate. "The Smell Report." Social Issues Research Centre. (Sept. 20, 2010). http://www.sirc.org/publik/smell.pdf
  • Hirsch, Alan. "Human Male Sexual Response to Olfactory Stimuli." aanos.org. (March 29, 2015). http://aanos.org/human-male-sexual-response-to-olfactory-stimuli/
  • Jacob, Tim. "Human Pheromones." cardiff.ac.uk. Nov. 29, 2005 (Sept. 10, 2010). http://www.cf.ac.uk/biosi/staffinfo/jacob/teaching/sensory/pherom.html