Dating Great! with advice by

Heaven Scent By Sarah Fielding (Lavalife columnist)

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Smell and the rules of attraction

News flash! The way you smell plays a big part in your ability to attract a mate! So says a recent Canadian poll which found that 55 percent of those surveyed said they would be turned off by a date that "smelled bad."

By comparison, only 22 percent said they would lose interest in a poor conversationalist. The survey, conducted in 2005 by Decima Research for AXE Canada, sheds new light on the importance of invisible cues that influence attraction.

Nice to smell you

While not a conscious act, humans systemically sniff one another when meeting, a hangover perhaps from our tree-dwelling days. Smell researchers Barbara Sommerville and David Gee of the University of Leeds in England observed that smelling one another's faces is a nearly universal human greeting; the Eskimo kiss is not just a quaint rubbing of noses but the opportunity to give one another a good sniff. In the Western world, this custom is not part of our social etiquette, but we still get the chance to surreptitiously consider another's scent — when we kiss their cheek to say hello.

The power for perfume

Since ancient times, people have worn fragrance as a way of boosting their sex appeal. The word perfume comes from the Latin per meaning "through" and fumus meaning "smoke" — hinting at the origin of perfume as we know it in the form of incense. During the Renaissance, perfume was a sign of affluence — and an absence of plumbing. Aristocrats routinely doused themselves with scent to mask their body odour. These days perfume is big business; scents are mass-marketed around the globe with scantily clad celebrities and models promising more romance, increased sex appeal and irresistible powers of seduction. In the '70s, Jovan Musk Oil used none-too-subtle claims of boosted sex appeal in their advertising, claiming: "Sex appeal. Now you don't have to be born with it." And consumers, quite literally, bought it. Sales of the scent escalated from US$1.5 million in 1971 to a staggering US$77 million by 1978 — driving the poor musk deer, from which the musk essence is extracted, to the point of extinction.

The Lynx effect

But it's not just perfume marketing that can have a profound affect on consumers. Unilever, makers of Lynx deodorant, have developed a global advertising initiative that has captured the imagination and dollars of its target audience — single men. The campaigns for the deodorant expound the irresistible powers of attraction bestowed upon the wearer, transforming the meek and bespectacled into όber-Lotharios who leave a trail of swooning, gorgeous women in their wake. The so-called Lynx effect.

The Lynx effect in action

I can attest to the power of the Lynx Effect. Whilst working for a media organisation in London, I was inexplicably drawn to a male colleague who displayed not one of the characteristics I usually found attractive in a mate. Despite this, I was compelled to pass his desk several times a day when in fact I had no business being anywhere near his workstation. A dalliance soon followed. Once, when cosied up against his spectacularly un-muscular chest, nostrils filled with the heady, vanilla-y scent of his cologne, I asked what aftershave he wore. "None", he replied. "Just Lynx Africa." The Lynx effect in action.

The MHC effect

Irresistible as synthetic scents can be, there's nothing more powerfully attractive than our very own bodily scent. Researchers have learned that a segment of our DNA called the major histocompatibility complex (MHC) can be detected by smell and that women use this as a means of choosing a mate with whom they share the least genetic similarities — all part of nature's way of ensuring we don't breed with our brothers and sisters.

A team led by Claus Wedekind at the University of Bern in Switzerland decided to see whether MHC differences in men's apocrine gland secretions affected women's ratings on male smells. Around 100 male test subjects were asked to wear a T-shirt for two consecutives days, during which time they were advised not to wear deodorant, have sex or eat spicy foods. After this time, the T-shirts were presented to a group of women test subjects who were asked to sniff them and rank them according to "sexiness," "pleasantness," and "intensity of smell."

Wedekind and his team found that women preferred T-shirts that had been worn, and thus scented, by men whose MHC profiles were most different to their own. The researchers also found that women taking the contraceptive pill were, conversely, attracted to men who had similar MHC profiles to their own, the pill masking their innate drive to choose a genetically different mate.

There's no doubt that fragrances can make you smell good, elevate your mood and boost your confidence — all very important factors when it comes to making a good first impression with a potential mate. But when it comes to finding a single scent that has the power to make you more alluring to members of the opposite sex, you just can't go past your natural scent. Invisible, free ... and utterly irresistible.

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