The Scientific Reason Your Partner Smells Amazing

Looking and smelling like a snack.

by Gigi Engle and Jay Polish
Originally Published: 
A couple cuddles in bed. Doctors explain why smelling someone you love is so intoxicating.
Sophie Mayanne/Photodisc/Getty Images

It doesn’t matter what kind of perfume, cologne, or shampoo your partner uses — whatever it is, it’s probably one of your top favorite scents. Case in point: you used to roll your eyes at a whiff of Axe body spray because it reminded you of overly-enthused teenage boys. But it became your personal catnip when your girlfriend started wearing it; the smell of her skin is intoxicating. When you’re smelling someone you love, logic goes out the window and their scent of their skin becomes more alluring than a fresh-baked pie wafting from an open window.

“I loved the smell of my ex," one anonymous man tells Bustle. "I would actually nuzzle into her armpit. It was comforting, maybe even reassuring.”

That sweeping sensation of comfort you feel when your partner is out of town and they left their scent on your favorite sweater? It’s not just you. But why does your partner so incredibly good? Is it primal? Is survival instinct? Are our bodies telling us something? Science and experts have the answer.

Pheromones: The Hidden Key To All Things Sexy?

Some people think their partner smells so good because of pheromones, which are chemicals that act like hormones outside of the body, influencing others’ behavior, Dr. Navya Mysore, M.D., a provider at One Medical. In animals, pheromones signal that it’s time to mate, or warn that an enemy is approaching. Naturally, lots of people assume that humans, being animals, are subject to those same olfactory cues and are ready to jump into bed as soon as they smell their partner in a clean t-shirt (swoon).

But Dr. Mysore explains that pheromones just aren’t the answer to “Why does my boyfriend smell so good?” “It’s unclear how pheromones work in humans, and currently there is no evidence to show that there is a clear-cut link between human pheromones and an individual’s reaction or behavior.”

“Pleasant smells such as your favorite food, your partner’s natural scent, or smelling cologne or perfume on your partner can actually stimulate the production of larger amounts of saliva than looking at that person.”

That doesn’t mean your brain chemistry doesn’t have anything to do with why smelling someone you love is such an intoxicating experience. “When we recognize the smell of a loved one, this can release oxytocin, which is a hormone and a neurotransmitter that is involved in childbirth and breastfeeding,” Dr. Mysore explains. “This hormone is sometimes referred to as the ‘love hormone,’ because levels of oxytocin that are released with hugging and orgasm” in folks of all genders.

So yes, your brain physically loves the scent of your partners — but it’s probably not because of pheromones.

Why Do I Want To Bite My Partner, Though?

There’s always that awkward moment when you see a baby, puppy, or hot person and think, “They're so cute, I could just eat them!” Wanting to eat or bite things that are adorable, precious or attractive is called “Cute-Aggression,” and it is actually a normal thing most humans experience. But it has less sexy origins than you might think when you’re dying to sink your teeth into your favorite person.

“The senses of smell and taste are directly related because they both use the same types of receptors,” Dr. Mysore says. “If you smell something that you relate to being delicious, this triggers the same area of the brain that activates our salivary glands.” Hence your mouth watering when you feel like your partner is a literal snack.

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“Seeing an object, food, or even a person that is pleasing to the eye can cause people to slightly salivate or produce saliva," says Takeesha Roland-Jenkins, Ph.D., professional consultant for the sex online therapy program Between Us Clinic. “Pleasant smells such as your favorite food, your partner’s natural scent, or smelling cologne or perfume on your partner can actually stimulate the production of larger amounts of saliva than looking at that person. This process can initiate feelings of wanting to eat or bite.”

Everything is connected. You just may have not realized it because it makes sense to want to eat a delicious piece of cake, but not a puppy. “The same process is initiated by seeing or smelling someone you find attractive, like your partner, our brains typically tells us that it is not acceptable to eat or bite people that we think are cute,” Roland-Jenkins explains. “Nevertheless, this doesn’t always stop partners from engaging in playful nibbles and this is of course harmless as long both individuals do so carefully.”

Right. “Playful nibbles.” For sure. Totally. Not at all-consuming hunger for your partner’s skin.


Dr. Navya Mysore, M.D., provider at One Medical

Takeesha Roland-Jenkins, Ph.D., professional consultant for Between Us Clinic

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