Monday, December 8, 2008

Smelly Mates

OK, so in a short break while trying to catch up on sketching homework tonight (after Life Drawing class - really, there's just only so much you can sketch before your hand rebels), I was perusing an Allure magazine someone had left in the cafe. Skimming through it, I came across this fascinating tidbit:

It's known that women who ovulate naturally prefer the scent of men who have immune-system genes that differ from theirs; such a pairing is believed to promote fertility and chidlren with healthy immune systems. Now, a study [...] shows that the Pill shifts women's preferences toward the scent of men whose so-called MHC genes are more similar to theirs. In theory, [the Dr.] says, this could "lead to the breakdown of relationships when women stop using the contraceptive pill, as odor perception plays a significant role in maintaining attraction to partners." Going on the Pill after comitting to a partner would prevent the risk.
OK, first off, that last sentence really bugs me. It's assuming that since you've already "committed" (whatever they mean by that) to a partner, that then it's not going to be a problem when you don't like the way they smell anymore, even though they're saying that's the basis of our attraction to them?

That aside, though, I'm someone who reacts very strongly to smell. It's always been said that it's one of the strongest ties to memories, and I completely agree - it's powerful. As a kid I had a blanket that I would fall asleep smelling. I have always loved the smell of my feather pillow, and sometimes would just bury my nose in it to feel better or just relax. When Andrew's traveling and away for the night, sleeping where I can smell his pillow helps me fall asleep - in fact, his smell is more reassuring to me than having something (like a body pillow) try to replace him sleeping beside me in bed. Houses carry smells that often we don't recognize, but somehow walking through the door holds that familiar, comfortable feeling that's not just from the physical surroundings. I came across a bottle of shampoo I used all the time in college, but the scent was discontinued years ago. But it all came rushing back to me with one sniff. For a long time, I couldn't smell a certain men's deodorant without thinking of a boy in high school I had a major crush on, who wore that deodorant all through high school. In fact, if I smelled that today, I'm sure he'd be the first thing I thought of, and that heartbroken feeling would rush back as well.

I'm sure a lot of people wear perfumes and colognes for this reason. But I prefer the smell of the person, and whatever soaps and shampoos they use - untainted by perfume. Maybe it stems from my parents, who I remember watching as long as I can remember, wearing short-sleeve shirts and absent-mindedly smelling the top of their forearm. It never seemed weird, although it sounds weird writing here. And they both had the same habit of doing it - I don't know if it developed individually or from each other. I asked my mom once why she did it, and surprisedly she answered that she didn't really know, she supposed she just liked the smell of her skin being warmed by the sun. It made sense to me, as when I tried it myself, it was oddly reassuring and pleasing.

I don't know about all the Pill stuff they're talking about here, but I got an odd image of single men and women in bars, noses in the air to find the scent of their mate. Are we really no more than dogs in the park, with perhaps a tad more self-control? They say that men react more strongly to women on their period - not because of the icky smell women are constantly trying to mask or get rid of, but something more hormonal and primitive. And then we haven't even started in on same-sex pheremones. Interesting stuff to ponder.


Clau said...

As long as we don't resort to smelling each other's butt in greeting...

vivzan said...

Best Title ever. I expected to read a blog post about dirty socks.

Ok, first thing: I smell my forearm too! Never really thought about it but it's pleasing. I wonder if this is common?

Yes, sense of smell is so powerful and tied to memories. In kindergarten, I had a teacher who wore a distinctive perfume. Never really smelled it outside of the classroom and then as a teenager every once in a while I'd be on the street and someone would pass with the same perfume and all these good feelings would wash over me. (I ended up stopping several ladies over the course of years to figure out what it was. Found out it was Shalimar.)

There are several colognes/perfumes that are closely associated with people that I know. My stepfather wears Grey Flannel and so did one of my exes. Weird collision of feelings there!

All that said, I wonder why so many people are turned off by body odors as it can be quite pleasant (unless it's not. I had a bf who smelled terrible. I should have dumped him immediately as it was a harbinger of things to come). I still remember the sweaty smell of my grandfather, who was an upholsterer and it brings back such good memories.

I find the whole pill/smell thing fascinating. Interesting that the pill changes not what you smell like but changes the preferences of what the other smells like. That seems totally crazy!


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