Various Aromas Found to Enhance Male Sexual Response


Folk wisdom suggests that various aromas are sexually enticing, but no data exists demonstrating the actual effects of specific odors on arousal. Dr. Hirsch and colleague Dr. Jason Gruss initiated a study to investigate the impact of ambient olfactory stimuli upon sexual response in the human male.


1) The team recruited volunteers literate in English through solicitation on classic rock radio broadcasts. Thirty-one men, aged 18 to 64 years, signed up.

2) All subjects underwent olfactory testing with the University of Pennsylvania Smell Identification Test (UPSIT), a 40-item, forced choice, scratch and sniff odor detection and identification test. They were queried on sexual preference, sexual practices and odor preferences.

3) Dr. Hirsch selected 24 different odorants for the study. In addition, six combinations of two of the most well-liked of these were also chosen.

4) The effects of the 30 odors on penile blood flow were assessed by comparing a subject’s brachial penile index while wearing an odorized mask to his average index while wearing an unodorized mask. This was done for each subject for each odor.

5) The men underwent assessment as follows: After being attached to a plethysmograph (which measures penile blood flow), three minutes were allowed for acclimation. Then a blank, nonodorized mask was applied for one minute while a baseline brachial penile index was recorded.

6) After the blank mask was removed, an odorized mask was applied. Thus, 30 odorized masks were randomly applied in double-blind fashion, with a three-minute hiatus between masks to prevent habituation of the odors. Each mask was worn for one minute while brachial penile index was recorded.

7) Finally, an additional blank mask was applied for one minute and brachial penile index once again recorded.


Each of the 30 odors produced an increase in penile blood flow. However, not all increased arousal to the same degree. The combined odor of lavender and pumpkin pie had the greatest effect, increasing median penile blood flow by 40%. Next in effectiveness was the combination of black licorice and doughnut, which increased arousal by 31.5%. And so on, all the way down to cranberry, which only increased penile blood flow by 2%. Depending on the man’s age, they may have reacted differently than their counterparts to certain smells. For instance, older men tended to respond strongly to vanilla.

Increase in Penile Blood Flow Produced by Top 10 Odors in 31 Male Volunteers

Odor or odor combination

Lavender and pumpkin pie
Doughnut & black licorice
Pumpkin pie & doughnut
Lavender & doughnut
Black licorice and cola
Black licorice
Doughnut & cola
Lily of the valley
Buttered popcorn

Average Increase



Dr. Hirsch’s team theorized that pleasant odors, since they tend to positively increase other behaviors, would likely increase penile blood flow. Their data supported this hypothesis. However, a multitude of mechanisms could be at play. The odors could induce a Pavlovian conditioned response reminding partners of sexual partners or their favorite foods. Odors could have evoked nostalgic recall. Or the odors may simply be relaxing. The odors could also awaken the reticular activating system, making the men more alert to any sexual cues, thus increasing penile blood flow. The odors may also act neurophysiologically. A direct pathway connects the olfactory bulb to the septal nucleus, which in turn induces blood flow and erection. Other possible explanations exist, but the direct connection between odors and sexual response cannot be denied. Homologous studies on vaginal blood flow have also been carried out.


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