Skip to Content

Why does my partners smell turn me on?

A partner’s natural scent can be an incredibly powerful aphrodisiac. There are several reasons why we may find a loved one’s aroma sexually stimulating.


Pheromones are natural chemicals that animals, including humans, secrete from their skin. These pheromones send signals to others, especially potential mates, that can trigger strong social and sexual responses.

Research suggests humans secrete pheromones linked to sexual attraction. When we inhale a potential mate’s pheromones through their natural scent, it can stimulate parts of the brain associated with sexual arousal.

Specifically, smelling natural human pheromones has been shown to:

  • Increase physiological arousal in the opposite sex
  • Change hormone levels to prime us for bonding and reproduction
  • Affect nervous system reactions to make us see a partner as more attractive

Studies show both men and women rate the scents of partners as more pleasing and seductive around ovulation, suggesting pheromone detection helps facilitate mating at key times.

Scent and attraction

Body odor provides a unique identifier of our partner. Smell is deeply linked to memory and emotion in the brain.

When we’re attracted to someone, their natural scent can imprint strongly in our neurology, connecting to the reward and pleasure centers of the brain. Being re-exposed to their smell triggers this conditioning, making us perceive the person as more alluring.

Research has shown heterosexual women experience heightened brain activity in reward regions when smelling the natural scent of a male partner they are bonded with versus male strangers.

MHC genes

Genes called the major histocompatibility complex (MHC) regulate our immune systems. MHC genes also influence our body odor.

Studies show people prefer the smell of potential partners whose MHC genes differ from their own. Smelling someone with dissimilar immunity can indicate they will provide healthier offspring by mixing beneficial genes.

The MHC-based odor preference also applies to couples. Those with more varied MHC genes find each other’s natural smell more pleasing and sexy.


The longer we’re with someone, research indicates the more attractive we tend to rate their natural scent, even if we don’t consciously notice it.

Repeated exposure to a partner’s body smell can forge neural pathways in the brain’s limbic system, linking their aroma with feelings of comfort, care, and sexual reward.

This effect is so powerful that studies have found women who smell the underarm sweat of an unfamiliar man for several nights rate his scent as more pleasant and less intense after repeated exposure.

Natural vs. artificial

Natural human scents produced by our bodies can contain pheromones and other compounds that serve as innate social and sexual signals.

Artificial fragrances we put on, like perfumes and deodorants, mask our natural skin chemistry and associated subconscious cues.

So smelling true body odor may be more arousing than artificial scents because it provides information about attraction, arousal, MHC compatibility and bonding on a biological level.

Context dependent

Smells do not objectively turn us on. Their effect depends heavily on context and our relationship with the person emitting the scent.

An unfamiliar or unappealing body odor you smell out of context, like on public transport, does not register as sensual. But when smelled in an intimate setting, your partner’s natural scent can drive arousal.

The smell needs the right situation to be encoded erotically in the limbic system and linked to sexual reward pathways for it to have an arousing effect.


Research suggests smell plays a powerful if subconscious role in attraction between partners. The ways a loved one’s natural aroma can spark arousal include:

  • Pheromones triggering biological arousal
  • Imprinting their scent in the pleasure pathways of our brains
  • Indicating genetic compatibility
  • Becoming associated with intimacy through repeated exposure

So long as the context is right, the natural scent of a bonded partner can be a heady aphrodisiac and turn-on due to this complex interplay of biological, psychological, and associative factors.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are pheromones?

Pheromones are natural chemicals secreted by animals that send signals to other members of the same species, influencing their behavior and physiology. In humans, pheromones are linked to attraction and can sexually arouse the opposite sex.

How does my partner’s scent imprint emotionally?

When attracted to someone, the limbic system in our brains links pleasure and reward to their natural scent. Repeated exposure strengthens these neural associations, so their smell subconsciously registers as comforting and sexy.

Can scent indicate genetic compatibility?

Yes, studies show people rate the smell of partners with more dissimilar MHC genes as more attractive. MHC genes shape our immune function, so seeking different MHC scents may increase chances of healthier offspring.

Why is natural smell more arousing than artificial scents?

Natural human scents contain pheromones, attraction cues, and bonding signals. Artificial fragrances mask this information. A partner’s true body odor provides biological data that synthetic scents do not.

Does context matter for arousal from scent?

Context is very influential. Smelling a partner’s scent in an intimate setting forges neural links between their aroma and sexual reward. But smelling the same scent in unfamiliar circumstances would not have the same effect.

The Science of Arousal From Scents

Here is a summary of some key scientific findings on how and why a partner’s natural smell can be arousing:

Study Findings
Zhou et al (2014) in Nature Communications Heterosexual women showed more reward system activation when smelling their male partner’s scent versus stranger’s scent
Lundstrom et al (2003) in Psychological Science Ovulating heterosexual women rated men’s scents as more pleasant and sexy, indicating scent helps detect mate quality at peak fertility
Wedekind et al (1995) in Proceedings of Biological Sciences Women preferred the scent of men whose MHC gene complex differed from their own, suggesting scent indicates genetic compatibility
Miller & Maner (2010) in Psychological Science Repeated exposure to male underarm sweat increased its pleasantness rating in women, showing how scent links to reward over time through exposure

Tips for Enhancing Arousal From Scents

Some tips for boosting arousal from your partner’s natural scent include:

  • Getting close and taking deep breaths when intimacy allows to detect pheromones
  • Going scent-free yourself so their aroma imprints clearly during close contact
  • Letting natural odors build up between washings for stronger arousal cues
  • Focusing on their scent during cuddling, massages, and sex to strengthen neural links
  • Mentioning when you especially like how they smell to reinforce it as a turn-on

Of course, personal hygiene remains essential. But allowing more of a partner’s true scent to come through at intimate times can boost arousal if desired.