How Much Does Smell Really Matter?
Updated: May 27
I remember the day I developed B.O. like it was yesterday. One moment I was blissfully and carelessly enjoying my time on recess in the scorching hot Georgia sun, then the next moment I was strongly encouraged to wear deodorant and grew increasingly insecure about developing sweat stains. My hormones had kicked in overnight and suddenly I had to care about the effect of my hygiene on others. Thankfully puberty is just a phase, but adulthood inherently brings with it an onset of stress sweat and constant marketing for toxic ways to keep things “fresh down there”. When I first became sexually active, I remember aggressively scrubbing my crotch before dick appointments then days later, pouting and wondering why my PH balance was completely thrown off. Since over-washing yourself can be the very thing that leads to poor hygiene, I’m wondering how much obsession with hygiene is too much obsession? And more importantly, how much does hygiene really matter?
If asked this question years ago, I would’ve said it matters plenty, but I’ve since began to speculate otherwise. This initial seed of speculation towards the science of scents was planted in a previous relationship with a lover who was obsessed with my smell. We got involved after meeting at a restaurant on a particularly stress-sweat inducing day for me as I had just left a nerve-wracking meeting with the first potential client of my online marketing business. And well, we hit it off instantly.
It wasn’t until later in our relationship when I discovered that he loved my B.O.. At times just before getting intimate, I would deescalate the situation and explain that I desperately needed to shower first, which would be met by him begging me not too. The first time this happened, I thought he was just mad horny. But the 4th time it happened, I realized this man had a lil’ fetish. Essentially, he’d be in heat after I had a long day working, after my workouts, or any day outside when it was hotter than 75 degrees. So was it my irresistible charm and premature business savviness that drew him to me? Or was he just suddenly overtaken by what appeared to him to be the world’s loveliest stench? Many people believe in love at first sight, but what about love at first scent?
“Well I believe in both,” said my friend Taylor, a successful yoga instructor and spiritual badass who swears her life on smells. We went for a walk along the beltline that afternoon and stumbled into conversation on scents. “I’ve always been very sensitive to smell,” she explained. “Every time I've fallen in love, it’s been a serendipitous feeling of knowing that person was for me and needing them in my life. It’s almost like I can sniff out my future partners. Not to mention, they all had the same numerology number. So I attribute our love to fate, but also to smell.” According to Taylor (and backed up by author Theresa L. Crenshaw, M.D. in her book The Alchemy of Love of Lust: How Our Sex Hormones Influence Our Relationships), smell is make-or-break for new encounters, and especially new relationships. Pheromones are very real and they are constantly firing off and influencing people around us — whether we realize it or not. Humans have evolved to instinctively use all five of our senses as determining factors for new connections, but just as it can be easily observed that animals rely on scent, basic human attraction originated from and still relies on scent and pheromones.
The topic of smell came up again on a recent phone chat with my long-term friend Steph, a full-time law school student and part-time IG model, after her quarantine bae expressed disgust for partners with less-than-par hygiene. “I make sure I’m at my best whenever he sees me,” she told me. “On the mornings after we f***, I get up while he’s sleeping to brush my teeth, touch up my makeup, and even give my Cat-illac a quick tune-up. My concern isn’t just with smell; it's with overall aura and appearance. And I’ll be damned if I ever let him catch me slippin’," she proclaimed.
Steph confirmed for me that, for many, it’s not just about hygiene but maintaining the status of “the well-kept woman”. I’ve never been the type to implement a post-sex or morning-after routine, so I couldn’t help but journey down a rabbithole of wondering if my disappointing relationship history was a result of my unknowingly unkept ways. Had I been naive to think that women across the world gave little to no f***s in the morning just like me? “Trust me, you're fine”, she reassured me. “Some women can pull off the ‘fresh-morning-bare-face-messy-hair-beauty-thing’ while the rest of us just look like trolls.”
Still feeling naive, I sought out my third and final opinion. “I’ve never smelled you, but obviously smell greatly depends on what you eat. That’s one of the great benefits of being vegan," said my friend Anika, a certified nutritionist and bonafide perfectionist. She’s the cleanest and healthiest person I know; if she could give me a stamp of approval for my hygiene, then I knew I was in the clear. My current main lover (we’ll call him “Boo”) is also a downright clean freak and while I totally admire this about him (the opposite scenario would be an absolute dealbreaker for me), I can’t deny that nights at his place make me incredibly anxious. I’m terrified of leaving crumbs on the table, forgetting to flush the toilet, or waking up with deadly morning breath. I’m hypersensitive that I won’t meet his cleanliness standards, let alone his hygiene standards.
But then there are days like last Monday when Boo and I were reminiscing on nights together over text and he told me that he loves the way I taste. A million fireworks set off inside my pussy at that moment, but I kindly responded with, I know ;). Yes, I eat a shit ton of fruit on a regular basis so obviously my juices reflect that. But it’s still incredibly flattering being told I taste good. Pheromones are known to leave a scentless cloud behind us wherever we go, but what many don’t realize is that pheromones are released at their highest quantities in genital secretions. So does that mean smell is synonymous with taste, or is that a completely different subject? How much of my partner’s attraction is towards me as a person or just his uncontrollable animalistic reaction towards my pheromones?
Anika added, “But different cultures place varying values on the senses. In certain parts of India, people just don’t give a sh**.” She was right. Americans are obsessed with smell. Fragrances are a multi-billion dollar industry. Whether it’s spiritual, cultural, or just different from person to person, scent undeniably plays a huge role in the connections that we form and keep. After all, we are animals at our core.
But as I progress into my womanhood, I’m becoming more intentional about all the ways I can take better care of myself. I’ve recently upgraded my life with an electric toothbrush, eased up on my overly radical feminist ways and started periodically shaving again, and if I’m ever feeling like things are a little off with my vaginal health, I know I can always pop in one of my ShePHresh vaginal suppositories and get snatched by the pussy gods. I think what actually matters is finding a daily hygiene routine that works for you then choosing partners who can’t get enough of it. I choose to take care of myself for the sake of not murdering every person close enough to get a whiff of my funk, but I do so mostly for me.