Miss March on the Human Scent

After my infatuation with Wedding books yesterday I decided to check out the local bookstore to see what was available. I love my bookstore because it mixes used books with normal priced books, so you never know what you’re going to get. I stumbled into the “Self Help” section and saw all the relationship help books, books on how to find your soulmate, how to get a second date, etc…and then I came across Anatomy of Love: The Mysteries of Mating, Marriage, and Why We Stray by Dr. Helen Fisher. It was an older copy for $3.50 so I picked it up, got an iced tea, and went outside to read. I was blown away. Not only is Dr. Fisher a sociologist (NB: Dr. Fisher is the brains behind things such as Chemistry.com and other major dating advances) but she’s actually an anthropologist, so the whole book is not only discussing human mating behaviors, but humans compared to animals. It’s truly fascinating. I couldn’t put it down. If I had the money I’d buy every one of my readers a copy.

So there was this one part which I just had to share because I was sitting there in bed last night reading it and saying, “Holy crap, this is outstanding and makes perfect sense!” She discusses falling in love and what causes us to fall in love with one person over another–one reason, she says, is odors. Everyone has a personal “odor imprint” and we’re simply more attracted to one person’s odor over another (say that three times fast). Human odors (we’re talking the ones caused by the “apocrine” glands in our armpits, nipples, and groin; the scent that disseminates from these glands is different than the “eccrine” glands which cover the rest of the body) have played a huge role int the history of romance and the study of human behaviors; Napoleon has been known to say to Ms. Bonaparte, “I will be arriving in Paris tomorrow evening. Don’t wash.” Even today, in parts of Greece and the Balkans, some men, while dancing at festivals, will carry a handkerchief in their armpit and then give it to the woman they want to dance with. In America, we would view this as not a good first date. In fact we’d probably blog about this man and call him something disgusting. Sweat is one of the main ingredients in many love potions too; back in Shakespeare’s day, a woman would hold an apple under her armpit until it became saturated with her scent and then she would give the apple to her potential lover to inhale (it didn’t say to eat, simply inhale). And I’ll quote Dr. Fisher on this last one here,

“A contemporary recipe concocted by some Caribbean immigrants to the United States reads, ‘Prepare a hamburger patty. Steep it in your own sweat. Cook. Serve to the person desired.'” Yum.

Sweat seems to be the way to go, huh? She discusses other scientific experiments in which smelling men’s sweat everyday for a long period of time seemed to normalize women’s periods; this makes sense because from a survival standpoint, women have perceive smells better than men do. They have to in order to find someone to reproduce with. During ovulation a woman’s sense of smell becomes even greater; she’s searching out her partner, even unconsciously (I mean, I doubt many women perform this olfactory practice now in order to mate with someone). More interestingly, during ovulation women are more susceptible to becoming infatuated with the man that they can smell. Sometimes we forget that deep down we’re all still just trying to survive.

However, if sweat plays such an important role in mating, why do we cover up our sweat? It’s like by putting deodorant and perfumes on we’re masking who we really are. How can we attract our perfect person if they can’t smell us and we can’t smell them? We’re so socialized about scents: sweat is bad, cover it up, someone that smells is unclean, and therefore can’t provide for us and won’t be a good mate. But, maybe it’s the complete opposite? A man that does sweat, works. He can “provide” (I’m talking in terms of anthropological providing here) for us because he knows how to work and sweat. It’s like the rough hands theory: a man with soft hands doesn’t work outside, perhaps he may not know how to “survive”; whereas a man with rough hands, does. If you think about sex for a minute, it’s one of the only places that it’s okay to sweat and not worry about it; you’re working together for pleasure. In sex, sometimes, perhaps it is the smell of the other person’s sweat which releases the unadulterated passion and feelings. But, we don’t realize that. Yet, we still use scented things to mask our smells. We’re embarrassed by our smells, and by other people’s smells. If we go on a date with a man who smells like sweat, I can almost guarantee that you wouldn’t ask him out again. In our culture, sweat is bad. But, sweat is what attracts us to each other…so perhaps we’re all being attracted to the wrong people for the wrong reasons simply because we can’t pick up their actual scent. Perhaps if we all stopped wearing deodorant the divorce rate would go down?

Have you ever gone out with a man who smelled of sweat? Did you mind? Do you mind your own sweat?

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3 responses to “Miss March on the Human Scent

  1. i feel ashamed for wearing perfume- i guess, once you have someone you’re allowed? ie attract with scent and then change. i love you, you’re perfect now change?

  2. this is VERY deep.

    you should totally watch “someone like you” with ashley judd. it does a FANTASTIC job of dealing with this issue.

    except, you know, without the sweat.

    plus, it also stars hugh jackman. yum.

  3. great post!

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