Good wine needs no bush

yǒu shè zìrán xiāng

After a few chapters describing sexual selection in men, we shall now devote our attention to the sexual psychology of females. In particular, the object of the following section is to illustrate how women’s mating desire (and therefore the distinguishing features they find appealing in men) is the result of an evolutionary process driven by their ancestral mothers to make judicious choices concerning their short- and long-term mates.

In this regard, it shall be noticed that such psychological adaptations are not only about bio­lo­gical procedures such as reproduction, but also affect aspects such as patterns of sexual attraction, mate preferences, sexual desires, the development of emotions (including affec­tion or love), and others. In fact, evolved psychological mechanisms are the mere mani­fes­tation of a solution to an adaptive problem faced by our ancestors. Accordingly, each major element of a female’s sexual psychology can be interpreted as a device contemporary women inherited as a gift and meant to support them, for example in the assessment of a potential partner’s health, the detection of deceptive behaviour by non-committed fellows, or the elaboration of plans to counter the moves of other females trying to seduce or “steal” their mates. Nonetheless, it would be wrong to view these human psychological adaptations as fixed, automatic or as overly mechanical instincts triggered in behaviour irrespective of the environment or the prevailing conditions. On the contrary, each response is only activated in specific situations, remaining highly flexible and excee­dingly sensi­tive to circumstance.[1]

One may ask what musk and fragrance have to do with all this.[2] Interestingly, it has been shown that women perceive odours significantly better than men do and that they subcons­ciously use these olfactory perceptions to evaluate the value of men, for example in terms of quality of their immune system or their genetic fit. Consequently, a male only has to smell “good”, or at least suitably, in order to be attractive and taken into consideration as a valid prospect for marriage (or coitus). Hence, the candidate has nothing to do but to be himself, in line with the adage that “good stuff need not be advertised, they advertise themselves”. In addition, the connection to wine is also quickly established, as, over the years, women have obviously become seasoned connoisseurs of male sweat.

According to research, the human body produces a personal “odour print” that differs from person to the other. It is just as distinctive as our iris, our voice, or fingerprint. For instance, new-borns use it to spot and tell apart their mothers. As briefly mentioned above, a study carried out at the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia showed that women have a significantly superior sense of smell compared to men, which impacts not only on their daily but also on their love life. Indeed, another research investigated whether the fragrance of a man had any positive influence on their attractiveness, appeal or sympathetic aura as perceived by women. The results were unequivocal: If she likes his smell, she will automatically assume him as more confident, sensing a positive nature in him.[3] At the same time, olfactory sensations convey all kinds of psychological associations – from the fra­grance of a drink reminding someone of a specific place or point in time to the sniff of a lover’s habitual perfume triggering romantic images and tender memories in one’s brain. Together with women’s sharp sense of smell, this intense link between scents and emotions, memory, and sexual behaviour[4], turns odours into one of the strongest ingredients in sex appeal. Many women seem to be aware of the importance of the olfaction anyway. Accor­ding to research conducted at Brown University, how someone smells is the most critical of the senses for women selecting a partner, ahead of sight, sound and touch. In other words, it is more important how her lover smells than how he (or she) looks! For men, on the other hand, the scent of a woman is far less fundamental when it comes to what turns them on (except perhaps for blind men). The reasons for this discrepancy are quite straightforward. Not only have males inherited a weaker sense of smell from their forefathers than women; what arguably matters even more is the overwhelming weight of visual cues (i.e., what men can see) in their sexual stimulation.[5],[6] Likewise, what is true for good body odours, applies to bad ones as well, namely that any form of human stench is a lethal love killer, spoi­ling both emotional attraction and sexual arousal. This phenomenon may explain the exis­tence of the locution “he really gets up my nose” (signifying “he really annoys me”)[7], which provides additional evidence of the subliminal influence the sense of smell exerts in our lives.


[1]    Meston / Buss (2009), p. xvii

[2]    Notice that this proverb is typically used to describe a person’s qualities and talent, implying that gifted people tend to be discovered sooner or later. Although its source remains unclear, the original expression (有麝自然香,何必当风立, yǒu shè zì rán xiāng hé bì dāng fēng lì) is mentioned in Ming dynasty gù Qǐyuán’s (顾起元) The Story of Jingling (客座赘语, kè zuò zhuì yǔ), as well as in Traditional Chinese Ballads and Proverbs (古谣谚, gǔ yáo yàn) a collection of ballads and proverbs compiled and annotated by Qing dynasty’s dù Wénlán’s (杜文澜).

[3]    Both studies cited in: Fischer (2008), p. 38

[4]    Brizendine (2006), p. 86

[5]    Meston / Buss (2009), p. 6

[6]    See chapters 3 “Men like, women love” and 14 “Fair lady is what gentleman seeks”.

[7]    Similar expressions are also found in French (“Je ne peux pas le sentir”) and German (“Ich kann ihn nicht riechen”), both signifying “I cannot stand him” or “I hate his guts”.

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