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Are men attracted to smell?

Smell plays an important role in human attraction. Studies have shown that we choose partners based partly on how they smell to us. But does smell matter more to men or women when it comes to attraction? Let’s take a look at what science says.

Do men care about how a woman smells?

Research suggests that smell does factor into male attraction. In studies where men are asked to rate different female body odors, they consistently show preferences for some scents over others:

  • Men rate the scents of ovulating women as more attractive and pleasant than the scents of non-ovulating women.
  • Scents associated with fertility and reproductive capability tend to be rated as more pleasant.
  • Men show preferences for scents that indicate genetic compatibility.

So yes, it appears that scent does play a role in male assessment of female attractiveness. The most attractive odors tend to be those associated with fertility.

Body odor preferences

Body odor isn’t just a simple issue of good vs bad smelling. There are nuances to odor preference:

  • Men rate the natural scent of a woman as more attractive at certain points in her ovulation cycle.
  • Birth control pills may influence scent and change attractiveness ratings.
  • Scents are rated as more attractive when there is genetic compatibility with the man smelling them.

This indicates an evolutionary basis – scents that signal fertility and genetic suitability tend to be rated as most pleasant.


Pheromones – indiscernible chemical signals – are also believed to play a role. Androstenone, a pheromone produced in male sweat, has been found to influence female perception of male scent attractiveness. It’s possible that other human pheromones impact male scent preferences as well.

What scents do men find attractive?

So men do appear to find some female scents more attractive than others. But what exactly makes a scent irresistible? Here are some of the key scent factors that research has uncovered:

  • Fertility cues – Scents associated with ovulation and fertility are rated as most pleasant.
  • Genetic compatibility – Men rate scents as more attractive when there is an odor-based genetic match.
  • Health – Scents indicating health tend to be deemed more attractive.
  • Lack of sickness – Scents that do not indicate illness or infection are perceived as better.

Keep in mind that scent preference is subjective and personal. But in general, research shows that scent cues to fertility, genetic suitability, and health hold sway.

Fertility keys

Cues of fertility in scent seem to be particularly important. Around ovulation, women produce more estrogen, which can change body odor. Studies find that men rate the scent of ovulating women as more attractive. The days right before and during ovulation elicit the highest attractiveness ratings.

Genetic match

Men also tend to rate scents as more pleasant when there is a genetic match. Studies allow men to smell T-shirts slept in by women. Results show that men consistently rate shirts of genetically compatible women as nicer smelling. This may be the sense of smell picking up on genetic immunity differences.

How much does scent drive attraction?

Now the question is, how influential is smell in male assessment of female attractiveness? The impact is real, but modest. Here’s what research indicates about the role of scent:

  • Scent seems to be most important in initial assessment of attractiveness when first meeting.
  • After the initial meet, scent plays a lesser role compared to other factors like visual appearance.
  • Scent contributes to attractiveness ratings, but is not the sole determining factor.
  • Other cues like facial symmetry and clear skin play a larger role in long-term attraction.

So scent makes a difference, but visual cues tend to trump odor over the long haul. Smell contributes to first impressions more so than long term attraction.

First impressions

Studies using speed dating exercises show scent matters most for initial impressions. When men briefly interact with women, odor pleasantness guides attractiveness ratings.

But once visual and auditory cues come into play, they exert more influence. In live speed dating, odor became less of a factor compared to being able to see and hear someone.

Long term attraction

For long term partners, scent seems to fade into the background. Facial symmetry, clear skin, vivaciousness and other visible factors take over as main drivers of attractiveness.

So scent contributes to that all-important first impression. But the impact diminishes as relationships progress and other sensory factors gain prominence.

Do women also find scent attractive?

Thus far we’ve focused on male scent preferences. But scent also matters for female attraction. Studies find that women also rate certain male odors as more pleasant and attractive. The key influences on women’s ratings are:

  • Symmetry – Scents of men with symmetric features tend to get high marks.
  • Masculinity – More masculine body and facial scents are deemed attractive.
  • Genetics – Women prefer scents indicating genetic immunity differences.

For women, indiscernible scent cues to masculinity, symmetry, and genetics help drive scent assessments.

Symmetry cues

Even without seeing a man, women can pick up on facial symmetry through scent. In scent studies, odors from more symmetric men get higher attractiveness ratings. Symmetry indicates developmental stability, fitness, and good genes.

Masculine scent

Odors associated with testosterone and masculine features also get thumbs up from women. Higher testosterone and masculine face shapes are linked to scent attractiveness levels.

But this doesn’t extend to all masculine scent cues. For example, men with extremely high testosterone levels produce less pleasant odors to women.

Genetic scent

Similar to men, women rate male scents as more attractive when there is an opposite genetic makeup. Scents indicating genetic differences in the immune system tend to be rated as nicer.


To sum up, research indicates that scent does contribute to human attraction for both men and women. Key findings on the role of smell in attractiveness include:

  • Men rate scents associated with fertility and genetic compatibility as more attractive.
  • Women also prefer scents indicating symmetry, masculinity, and genetic suitability.
  • Scent has the biggest influence in initial impressions when first meeting.
  • In long term attraction, scent plays a lesser role compared to visual and auditory cues.
  • Scent preferences are influenced by evolution, with favorable cues being those indicating health, fertile potential, and genetic appropriateness.

So science confirms that scent does factor into human attraction. Smell preferences appear based partly on biological drivers to select healthy, fertile mates with suitable immune genes. While not the sole factor, scent contributes to that vital first impression and initial attraction between potential partners.