The Eroticism of Odor

In her book, Anatomy of Love: A Natural History of Mating, Marriage, and Why We Stray, anthropologist Helen Fisher notes that during Elizabethan times it was the custom for a woman to keep a peeled apple under her arm long enough for it to absorb her scent. Once the apple was fully saturated with her odor, she would offer the ‘love apple’ as a gift to her boyfriend, who could then enjoy his lovers’ smell during her absence.

Fisher further explained that “Today in parts of Greece and the Balkans, some men carry their handkerchiefs in their armpits during festivals and offer these odoriferous tokens to the women they invite to dance; they swear by the results. In fact, sweat is used around the world as an ingredient in love potions.”

To us this seems strange, if not downright gross, and there’s a reason why we feel like that. In the next post we will explain why we feel like as we do about body odor, and why other societies find body odor to have an erotic charm. Unpacking this question will lead us into a discussion of some fascinating recent discoveries about the human brain.

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