scents

Blood, Semen, Poop and Whale’s Ass Are the Scents Your Partner Really Wants for Christmas

According to a noted fragrance expert, that is

Forget whiskey and sawdust — experts say it’s the blood, sweat and semen base notes you really want to watch out for when selecting your fragrance.

It’s true: Perfumer Oxana Polyakova believes the smells that actually turn us on are the ones that speak to our sense of indecency. And so, for sex toy company Lelo’s 15th birthday celebration, she collected scents considered the biggest aphrodisiacs, including smells drawn from semen, sweat, blood, feces and sperm whale ass blubber. For a firsthand look (smell?) at her theory, I visited her at bespoke perfume lab Bloom in London to find out what exactly a whale’s butt fat smells like, and how you go about putting blood into perfume anyway.

“Not whale sperm, sperm whale,” she corrects me when I ask my first (erroneous) question. Essentially, the whales feed on squid but struggle to digest the beaks, which get stuck in their guts while fat grows around them. Sometimes this lump of fat grows too large and the whale dies: The fat rises to the surface and matures in the saltwater and sunlight, resulting in ambergris, a prized commodity since the 13th century that acts as a fixative for other fragrances, as well as bringing its own salty, fecal tang (if you’re beginning to think whale sperm might be preferable, you’re not alone).

“People used to think whales puked it up, but no, it comes from their butt,” Polyakova tells me, happily. So why on earth is this foul substance considered an aphrodisiac? “It’s a bit like a taste-enhancer,” Polyakova explains. “It gives the perfume a kind of irradiant, sour-shiny character.”

The perfume she shows me that contains the ambergris, Censored by Voronoi, has grown on me as we’ve been talking, although I do wonder how likely I’d be to fancy someone wearing it. But then, the way we react to scent in general is a weird and unpredictable thing. Research suggests that women value the way people smell in both sexual and non-sexual contexts. Meanwhile, other studies have shown that when a dude knows he smells good, his body language alters, which itself makes him more attractive.

For straight men, we can surmise, the way they smell is a factor in whether they’re likely to get laid. But if whale’s ass is a little out of your comfort zone, there are other options: Secretions Magnifiques, by Etat Libre d’Orange, draws on sperm, blood, sweat and adrenaline, creating the effect, Polyakova says, of an orgy. “It’s not real blood, of course, it’s chemicals. It’s got sandalwood, which is milky, and nitrile, which has a metallic edge.”

The perfume is musky, intimate and definitely sexual. “It’s when you go to the bathroom after sex and then come back to the bedroom and it’s like, ‘Oh yeah, sexy times happened here,’” says one friend. “Oh my God,” says another, when I offer him my fragranced wrists. “I fully want to have sex with you.” Given that he prefers men, I’m taking this as a sign the eau d’orgy works.

The next aphrodisiac in the collection gets a more muted reception. Civet by Zoologist contains synthetic civet musk so it smells like, well, cat secretions. “People believe that what works for a cat might work for them. Cats secrete to mark their territory and find a mate, so…,” Polyakova shrugs. To me it smells a bit too reminiscent of litter boxes (not surprising, considering how powerful civet poop can be), but Polyakova is unfazed. “Our imagination is 50 percent of the fragrance,” she says. In other words, I dislike it because I was expecting to dislike it.

“When people ask about aphrodisiacs, they imagine whoever they desire will just…” She clicks her fingers. “Of course not. What you can do is highlight that you’re sophisticated. You can make yourself seem sweeter or more approachable.”

One such failsafe odor, she says, is vanilla, and Anima Dulce by Arquiste contains Mexican wild vanilla alongside cumin. But before you think we’re finally going to talk about a scent that’s a little more, well, vanilla, think again. “Scientists think vanilla is reminiscent of breastmilk, which we’re attracted to before we can see,” Polyakova says. “Cumin smells like sweaty skin, which reminds us of sex.”

Of course.

When I wear the scent, one friend comments that it smells like cake, which we agree isn’t necessarily anathema to sexual arousal. What about guys, though? Could they get away with a fragrance that sweet? “They are always sold tobacco and dry wood, but men are ready for candy!” Polyakova insists. As an example, she cites the visitors to her perfume lab, where they design their own fragrances. This gives her a nuanced insight into what people really find sexy. “Last week I had a builder who used half of his formula for chocolate. Another guy made one with 30 percent vanilla, and he still wasn’t sure it was enough.”

Obviously, what makes something smell appealing will always be divisive. Partly it’s to do with culture — Polyakova points out that finding sweat and cum alluring is too taboo for some people to even contemplate — but also our life experiences. “Your sense of smell is located in the same part of the brain that processes emotion and memory,” psychologist and neuroscientist Rachel Herz told Marie Claire.

This, perhaps, explains why the final aphrodisiac is the most challenging to get my head around. Indole is a compound found in human poop but also in plants and flowers such as French jasmine. Jasmine et Cigarette by Etat Libre d’Orange is sweet and smoky and — yes — intensely sexy. My friend Sonia sprays it onto her forearm and spends the rest of the evening sniffing it surreptitiously. “It’s so good!” she says. “I can’t believe I’ve ended up liking the one that smells of crap.”

As with all fragrance composition, balance is key: A drop too much, cautions Polyakova, and it really does smell like shit. “Indole isn’t straightforward. It’s the smell of the orifices, of naked bodies. It’s an indecent smell. Whether that disturbs or excites you is very personal.”

It’s entirely possible, therefore, that my friends like indole simply because they’re dirty-minded. Or that I find Secretions Magnifiques sexy because I want to be the kind of person who finds it sexy, rather than because it has any real arousal triggers. I’m still not sure how my husband would feel if I switched out the Chanel in his Christmas stocking for one of these sweat, cum or butthole-inspired scents, but I’m keeping back a few samples, just in case.