Why do we get turned on by underarm odor?

Underarm odor is not all bad, and in fact many people are turned on by the natural scent of their partners armpits. Despite its reputation as an unpleasant scent, many people find themselves strangely drawn to it. There are even a small group of people who have developed a fetish for it. Oh the wonders of nature.

The underarm and genital region are hotspots for hormones and pheromones. They are secreted by the apocrine sweatglands, which only reside in those areas. In several of our studies, we have detected a wide range of pheromones, androstenones, estrogens and derivates. These are chemical substances produced by the body that trigger social responses in others of the same species. Particular hormones play a role in sexual attraction and communication.

From an evolutionary point of view, these hormones are important for mate selection and reproduction. The underarm scents can provide valuable information about an individual’s genetic compatibility, health and reproductive fitness. Cats and dogs still go around and sniff each other. Scents are still very important for many animals and non-vertebrates. We human do not go to other people to sniff each other, although we have not lost this feature. Napoleon Bonaparte once wrote to his wife, while he was campaigning abroad: ‘Please don’t wash, will arrive in three days’.

Research showed that Tshirts worn by women are rated as more pleasant during the ovulation and less pleasant during menstruation. Other research showed that the underarm odor of women during ovulation led to an increase in testosterone levels and a decrease in cortisol levels in men who smell them. Underarm odors signaling women’s levels of reproductive fertility lead to specific endocrine responses. Other studies found correlations between perceived attractiveness and the genetic diversity of individuals’ immune systems. As such, humans prefer genetically dissimilar partners based on scent. Oh the wonders of nature.

Underarm odor contains a multitude of different chemicals, of which a range of attractants. Although nowadays we seem to mask or block underarm odor, it is still an important form of non-verbal communication. Hormones, pheromones and evolutionary instincts play a significant role. Whether we find underarm odor enticing or repulsive, it remains a fascinating aspect of human behavior. Happy sniffing!

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