Fragrance and seduction have gone hand-in-hand for centuries. From the story of Cleopatra’s ship, heavily perfumed to seduce Marc Anthony, to Marilyn Monroe’s provocative revelation that to bed she wore nothing “but a few drops of Chanel No. 5,” the world has been captivated by the supposed powers of perfume.
So can fragrance actually spark desire or enhance passion? In short, yes. But it’s complicated.
The hunt for a bottled version of Cupid’s arrow has led to some interesting finds: in studies across the board, lavender has demonstrated calming effects, while peppermint aromas have shown stimulating properties, and notes of citrus and vanilla inspire a notable boost in mood. As for the idea of “seduction by scent,” Dr. Alan R. Hirsch, M.D. F.A.C.P., and a team of researchers at the Smell and Taste Treatment Research Foundation in Chicago measured the arousal levels of 31 male subjects in response to 30 different odors (as marked by a measure of blood flow to their, ahem, nether regions). Researchers found that while each scent triggered some degree of arousal, a blend of lavender and pumpkin pie scents produced the most significant response with a 40 per cent increase in blood flow.
Still, while clear patterns certainly exist, there are no absolute universals. According to Dr. Rachel S. Herz, a psychologist and cognitive neuroscientist, factors like individual history, personal associations and even age can play a role in a subject’s reaction toward a particular scent.
Notes associated with pleasant nostalgia are likely to induce feelings of calm or happiness— and calm, happy people are more likely to become aroused in the first place—while those associated with negative memories can have the opposite effect. “If an individual does not like the scent of lavender, she will not find it relaxing, regardless of how well and widely lavender aroma has been marketed as ‘relaxing,’” says Herz, in the International Journal of Neuroscience. So, depending on our culture, personal experience, gender and even personality, our reactions to particular scents are something we each create for ourself.
Fragrances that make us feel good can have a significant affect on our mood, and that sets the groundwork for desire. The simple act of wearing perfume in the first place—particularly one that moves us on a personal and emotional level—can boost confidence, self-esteem and happiness, thus, setting the stage for us to feel more seductive, and to act the part. In turn, those around us are more likely to associate our scent with a feeling of desire.
The idea of using fragrance to promote attraction and to enhance passion isn’t really that complicated after all, we’ve just been focused on the wrong recipient. If we can find the right fragrance to seduce ourselves, there’s a good chance the rest of the world will be next.