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The Nose Knows



Did you know that women smell better than men? Let me rephrase that.

The question should have been “Did you know that women have a more acute sense of smell than men?” Apparently we do, which I learned while doing a little research about the truffle for “The Truffles Are Coming” (December 19, 2013). I discovered this information in a book titled The Scent of Eros by pheromone researcher James V. Kohl. He states that testosterone reduces and inhibits the sense of smell, so the more testosterone a man has, the worse he smells. Let me rephrase that   . . . Nevermind

Doing What We Do Better

Doing What We Do Better

I also learned that men produce a little estrogen and women produce a little testosterone. However, it is estrogen that enhances the sense of smell, which is why we smell better, I mean   . . . Oh well.

Apparently when women are ovulating and in mid-cycle, the sense of smell is the most powerful. Apparently, it can be a hundred or even a thousand times more sensitive to certain odors that may affect mating. (If they knew that, would men be on edge about whether to go musky or not?)

I am trying now to remember my early nose, and I do have one anecdote that pertains.

The time was my freshman year in college. I had already been enrolled for several weeks when my older sister, Ann, returned from an overseas campus. We didn’t have sororities, but you could be inducted into a certain “house,” and this was her choice. Something came up requiring me to find her room, and this is when my nose came into play.

When I arrived at the house, no one was there. I don’t remember even stopping to think about this; I just went around, room to room, smelling pillows until I found Ann’s bed. When I think back on it now, it’s kind of a no-brainer. Why would I not know how my sister smelled? But maybe I was ovulating.

And so it occurs to me that women do, in fact, live in a different universe of scent from men. I guess I just take it for granted that I go through life nose-first. When I learned about the power of the feminine nose, however, I was soon considering how much less there is in the world to stimulate the olfactory system.

Actually the point came home at the gym the other night when I went on high alert in the presence of a young woman who apparently rejected the concept of the antiperspirant. I had long forgotten how metallic stale sweat smells. The mind reels at the thought of going back in time to sample an earlier world of human odors. Not just sweat, you know. We’re talking unwashed bodies; dirty hair; ears filled with stale wax; breaths reeking of garlic, ale, and decaying, unbrushed teeth. Yech! The fact that people mated at all is amazing.

Santa Fe is especially pristine in the matter of scent. Due to all the alternative practitioners here and the wonderfully clean air, many people suffering from environmental sensitivities come here to live. Dressing rooms often have little signs, saying something like “Please be considerate and avoid fragrance.” One feels a responsibility to the community to be odorless. I have even learned to buy unscented deodorant.

In a nostalgic moment over my scented past a couple of years ago, I bought a perfume. However, I soon realized that I would need to travel to safely wear it. I’ve seen those glares at aromatic tourists from Dallas.

So where am I going with this? On the radio Monday, I heard an interview with a Harvard professor  named David Edwards, Ph.D., founder of Le Laboratoire, an experimental art and design center in Paris. He has come up with a new digital, olfactory concept called the oPhone. Loaded with scents, everything ranging from bread to the smell of 18th century Paris, the device will come out later this year. You can type a message and attach a scent.

Minds began immediately to race, as revealed in some of the comments posted on the NPR site.  One guy wrote, “And five minutes after the launch, the first Internet fart will be sent.”  Another was excited: “Now I can buy a phone for my dog.”  And to someone professing interest in becoming an investor in this exciting new technology: “Smell my finger.” All males, of course.

I don’t mean to belittle this concept, because it is amazing and probably will enjoy a moment of glory. I can even think of a further application in our increasingly scentless world. Maybe Dr. Edwards’s technology could be embedded in these digital readers so that you can be transported into a literary environment.

Maybe you could get in touch with the scent of Egyptian embalming, for example, or the stench of the bubonic plague or maybe the fragrance of a ballroom in War and Peace. And when you come to that moment in his autobiography when Albert Schweitzer makes his way through a herd of hippopotamuses, you could touch the screen and smell the great beasts. How wonderful.

Ah, but perhaps I say that most particularly because I am female and thus have an extraordinary sense of smell. I have been needing something like this to perk me up, and I intend to revel for a time in the discovery of an aspect of feminine superiority. I will go through every day just appreciating how great I smell. I mean . . .

2 Responses to “The Nose Knows”

  1. Kate

    What a fun article. I remember that story about Ann’s pillow. I don’t think I would have thought to try that and wonder if I would have succeeded. Maybe Ann’s scent would have been obvious when I smelled the other pillows.
    I was just thinking about fragrances last week when I walked down a street in Washington, D.C., and passed a young woman who wafted a really lovely scent in my direction. I thought I should consider enhancing my interface with the world with something delightful. And then I thought about all of the sensitives and their glares. Oh, well. I will leave well enough alone.