5 Surprising Things You Can Learn From Body Odor

by Emma McGowan
exercise, outdoors, woman
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My dad refuses to wear deodorant and indoctrinated us kids from a young age into the idea that there are a whole load of surprising things your body odor can tell you. While as teenagers my brothers and I did the usual teenage thing of over washing and over drenching ourselves in deodorant, I’ve taken a more middle-of-the-road approach to body odor as an adult. Basically, if I’m going to be out and about in hot weather, I’ll wear deodorant. And if not? I kind of like the way my pits smell most of the time.

Because despite the fact that my dad was (and still is) kind of extreme when it comes to his preference for BO, he did have a point: There really is a lot you can learn about your physical and psychological state from your body odor. I know, for example, the way my armpits smell when I’m turned on versus when I’m angry or the difference between stressful workout sweat and amazing night dancing sweat. I also know that I love the way my boyfriend’s pits smell and even though he’s much, much more into showering and hygiene products than I am, he’ll sometimes go without deodorant post-shower, just for me.

Now, I know that some of you reading this are like my boyfriend and are scrunching up your faces in disgust, but more than a few of you are nodding your heads like, “I totally feel you, girl.” That’s because despite our culture’s very serious effort to curb, mask, or hide anything about our bodies that might be even slightly animalistic, we are still, in essence, animals. And animals rely on smell for a whole lot of different things.

Don’t get it twisted, though: I’m grateful for soap and indoor plumbing and washing machines. After living with my dad for 17 years, I can’t imagine what it’d be like if everyone was so deodorant-adverse. (Pungent, to say the least.) My feelings these days are that body odor is very personal and intimate and just like I don’t share other intimate parts of my body with everyone I come across in my daily, I’m not interested in sharing my body odor either. But when I’m home alone or with my partner? That stick of deodorant stays on the vanity.

A lot of my BO-related beliefs are not scientific but rather an accumulation of stuff my dad told me and things I’ve experienced on my own, but here are five surprising things that science says you can learn from body odor.

1. You’re Attracted To Someone

Even if you’re not so sure about whether or not you’re into a new person, your nose might know. That’s because we actually react differently to the body odor of people we’re attracted to.

One famous study conducted by Swiss researchers in 1995 and published in Proceedings. Biological Sciences asked men to wear t-shirts for two consecutive days and to not use any product that could mask their natural smell. Women were then given the shirts and asked to rate how pleasant or unpleasant they found the smells. The researchers found that women were more likely to rate the shirts of men with a genetic profile that was different from their own as “pleasant,” suggesting that we may be using smell for mating in ways that we weren’t even aware of. There's even a dating service called Smell Dating that's based off attraction to body scents.

2. You’re Turned On

Because arousal comes with a huge range of hormone and body chemistry fluctuations — not to mention the fact that a lot of people’s bodies quite literally heat up when they’re turned on — it only makes sense that your BO would shift too!

3. You’re Angry

A study conducted by researchers from the University Hospital Aachen in Germany and the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia and published in the journal Chemical Senses found that people who smelled the sweat of men who had been doing something aggressive, like boxing, became more anxious than they did after smelling the sweat of men exercising non-aggressively, like on a stationary bike. The researchers hypothesized that this could be a reaction left over from our more animalistic past, when it was important to know just how likely a person may be to kill you.

4. You’re Stressed

When your body is stressed, it produces a different kind of sweat. Specifically, you’re pumping out sweat from your apocrine glands, which produce a sweat that’s heavier on the fats and proteins that your usual, more watery sweat. The bacteria in your pits goes on a feeding frenzy, which creates that particular hella stressed scent.

5. You’re Sick

In her post about body odor, JR Thorpe pointed out a few different illnesses that are associated with changes in body odor, including metabolic disorders, diabetes, and liver, kidney, and thyroid problems. So take a good whiff and ask yourself: Does that smell healthy? If the answer is no, it may be time to schedule a check-up.

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