Scent is a powerful tool. Studies show that it’s linked to memory and emotion, even more so than our other senses. But did you know it also plays a significant role in our love lives?
Throughout history, people have used aphrodisiac scents to set the mood. Ancient Indians mention using certain oils and spices in the Kama Sutra and Egypt’s famous Queen Cleopatra is said to have used perfumes to seduce her lovers. Even the word itself is linked to love; “aphrodisiac” is derived from the Greek goddess of love, Aphrodite.
As such, it should come as no surprise that scents are still commonly used for their erotic qualities. What’s more, studies show that many of them actually work. Below, you’ll find a list of 15 scents that can enhance desire, heighten the senses and boost vitality — all backed by science. If you’d like to skip ahead to the condensed visual you can do so here.
Aphrodisiac scents are fragrances that arouse sexual instinct, bring desire or increase pleasure or performance. While aphrodisiacs can be found in some foods, drugs and even in our bodies, this section is going to focus on external aphrodisiac scents. These include flowers, herbs and even the scent of some foods.
Despite some skepticism around the use of aphrodisiacs, studies show that many of these aromas do work — they can be easily incorporated into anyone’s fragrance routine. Check out our list of scientifically proven aphrodisiac scents below.
Pumpkin pie: This traditional Thanksgiving dessert increases arousal in men. In fact, one study found that the scent of pumpkin pie mixed with lavender increased blood flow to the nether regions by 40 percent when sniffed.
Additionally, the smell of pumpkin pie mixed with the smell of doughnuts increased blood flow by 31.5 percent. Scientists speculate that the men might be reacting to the vanilla and cinnamon in the pie, both of which also made our list.
Lavender: As mentioned above, the smell of lavender mixed with pumpkin pie was shown to increase arousal in men by 40 percent. However, lavender can stand on its own — the flower’s scent has been proven to relax and arouse at the same time, which is a wonderful way to set the mood.
Vanilla: In a study of male Wistar rats, a 200 mg dose of vanillin demonstrated aphrodisiac properties. The aphrodisiac qualities of vanilla should come at little surprise, since vanilla’s soothing scent has also been shown to increase arousal by 9 percent in men.
Strawberry: In one study, the sweet scent of strawberry increased arousal in people who were told the smell had that effect. While we would normally chalk this up to the placebo effect, the same results were not reported when subjects smelled other fruits, suggesting the smell may affect the body after all.
Jasmine: A study that tested several men’s and women’s fragrances for aphrodisiac properties found that the “winning blend” was the aroma of jasmine. Its rich, sweet smell has been used for centuries to improve libido and promote intimacy, which makes it one of the more well-known aphrodisiac scents.
Ginger: Warming and spicy, ginger has been used throughout history as an aphrodisiac; more recently, ginger essential oil has been found to be energizing and uplifting. A recent study of Chinese folk medicines found that ginger acts as a circulatory stimulant and that it can aid in erectile dysfunction.
Black licorice: The scent of the controversial candy has been shown to increase arousal in men by 13 percent; when combined with the scent of doughnuts that number jumped to 32 percent. The sweet smell, which comes from anise, has been rumored to work on women as well.
Cinnamon: While cinnamon has several documented benefits including antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects, it’s also widely known as an aphrodisiac. To back up these claims, researchers found that the scent of cinnamon increased sexual function in aging, male rats, suggesting it might be an aid in erectile dysfunction.
Doughnuts: In the study of the Human Male Sexual Response to Olfactory Stimuli, the scent of doughnuts were found to enhance the arousing effects of other smells on the body.
The smell of doughnuts on its own increased blood flow to the groin by only 7 percent, but the scent of doughnuts mixed with black licorice increased blood flow by 31 percent. Mixed with lavender the doughnut smell increased blood flow by 18 percent and mixed with cola it increased 12 percent.
Pink grapefruit: Vitality plays a large part in human attraction, which is why pink grapefruit is considered an aphrodisiac. Studies show that women who wear the scent of pink grapefruit are perceived to be six years younger on average and therefore more attractive to men.
Orange: Orange is another scent that’s proven to increase blood flow to the sexual organs, testing at 19 percent. The smell of citrus has also been shown to increase alertness, which makes a person more sensitive to the stimuli around them.
Sandalwood: Used in eastern Indian Ayurvedic medicine, Sandalwood has often been touted as an aphrodisiac. Recent studies back up these claims, showing that sandalwood elevates the pulse and exhibits antidepressant and relaxing qualities.
Lily of the Valley: This floral scent, which is used in many modern fragrances, has potent aphrodisiac effects. One controversial study found that sperm were attracted to the fragrance, making women more likely to get pregnant when wearing it during intercourse. Another study found that the scent heightened arousal in men by 11 percent.
Rose: The floral scent of rose has been used throughout time for medicinal reasons, and it’s known to fight depression and boost confidence, fertility and libido. Ayurvedic practitioners will also tell you that it helps regulate the nervous system, making people more responsive to touch.
Peppermint: Named after the Greek nymph Minthe, the mistress of Pluto, god of the underworld, peppermint has deep ties to forbidden desire. Recent studies have found it an aphrodisiac for women — increasing alertness, stimulating the brain and dilating blood vessels in the sexual organs.
A guide about aphrodisiac scents would not be complete without mentioning pheromones — the natural scents animals and humans secrete that induce activity. Pheromones are similar to hormones but work outside the body to affect the behavior of those around us.
Animals use these subtle scents to raise alarm, trigger instincts, mark territory, bond a mother and offspring, and induce arousal. However, the jury is still out with regard to how much human pheromones affect behavior
Studies show that androstadienone, a component of male sweat, can affect the mood and increase arousal. Androstenol, a secreted female pheromone, is said to attract males while other studies show that the types of pheromones humans give off help them attract a more compatible partner.
Many scent companies have tried to concoct synthetic pheromones to add to their perfumes, but there is no evidence to prove they actually work. However, that doesn’t stop people from trying their luck with synthetic pheromone fragrances.
Humans are driven by the smells around them, and desire is no different. In both ancient and modern times, these tried and true scents have proven the perfect addition to any date night, bedroom or fragrance. In fact, you can find many of these scents in popular perfumes and colognes.
To spice up your love life, simply pick and scent and incorporate it into your daily routine, from spraying it on yourself in the form of perfume or using it in a candle or essential oil.
Over the course of history, aphrodisiacs have been used to stimulate desire and lust. As we mentioned, ancient Egyptians used perfumed oils to set the mood. Cleopatra is said to have used cardamom, cinnamon and basil to seduce the likes of Mark Antony and Emperor Julius Caesar. It’s also said that she bathed in a mix of milk and saffron because the Egyptians believed it had aphrodisiac qualities.
Both the Torah and the Bible’s Old Testament mention using scents as aphrodisiacs, specifically calling out the erotic power of a fragrant “love-flower” found by Reuben to increase his mother Leah’s fertility. The particular flower mentioned in the ancient texts were mandrakes.
The Greeks and Romans coveted aromatic spices and perfumes for their pleasant odors and aphrodisiac qualities. They would bathe and sprinkle themselves with scented oils and floral scents like rose, jasmine, lavender and chamomile. They even added animal compounds to their perfumes like deer musk, ambergris (a secretion from sperm whales) and civet from civet cats.
During the Renaissance, women who wanted to increase fertility had midwives make them potions of herbs and spices. Shakespeare even referenced perfume as an aphrodisiac, as well as burning herbs and incense.
As humans became more hygienic around the 1800s, scents became associated with fashion and trendiness. Women and men began to spray perfumes on themselves before meeting their lovers to increase their level of attractiveness. Even today, people use scents like vanilla, lavender, cinnamon and jasmine in perfumes to set the mood.