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The Sweet-Smelling Aphrodisiac Known as the ‘Sex Candle’

“I’ve found that the level of candle directly correlates to whether or not you’re going to have an orgasm,” says Caitlin, a 29-year-old who has run into her fair share of “sex candles.” “Organic and soy-based? You’ll probably get off, and he’ll probably lick it. Yankee Candle? You might kinda get off, but you’re definitely going to have to finish off yourself. Rite Aid-branded candle? Forget it. He’s going to pump three times and fall asleep on top of you.”

Right around the time men learn about IKEA frames for their band posters and the magic of lamps v. overhead lighting, they also learn about the sex candle. Not, however, the kind you drip on the body like in the “Livin’ La Vida Loca” video. This is a regular candle that doubles as a primitive step on the road toward seduction.

Obviously, candlelight is sexy mood-setting 101 and checks all the dating cliché boxes. Namely: It provides enough light for the highly visual among us to see what’s happening while also not being so bright that it highlights body insecurities. “If there’s a dimness, a woman might feel more comfortable,” says dating and intimacy coach Valerie Baber. “A man can still see her body, but she’ll be a little less aware of her stretch marks, pimples, freckles or whatever else it is she isn’t feeling good about. It’s just a much more flattering, peaceful and welcoming light than bright lights or natural light.”

That, though, is just one of the senses the sex candle lights up. The other is scent. “We need to feel comfortable — not just with our partner but with ourselves, where we’re at and what’s around us,” Baber continues. “And things like lighting and smells have more control than we may understand of how relaxed we can get.” As for specific smells, Baber recommends lavender, vanilla or licorice for their subtle, soothing quality. Similarly, rose or peppermint have been shown to help boost the body’s natural anxiety-management tendencies.

Strangely, while women know exactly what these candles are for, the men I spoke to were demur about it. Thirty-three-year-old Zac, for instance, calls them “normal house/smell-good candles” and says he keeps them burning, not to get laid, but “because I’m an adult.” (He prefers “indie brands” like Johnny Porter, Maison Louis Marie, and Square Trade Goods Co.) In fact, Aaron (not his real name), also 33, was the only guy I interviewed who copped to using sex candles for exactly that — sex. Since I’ve casually slept with him, I know about the ginger- and saffron-scented soy candle he keeps on his nightstand.

Me: When would you burn this candle?

Him: When I want it to smell good and not be completely dark, but provide a little amount of light in my room?

Me: Are you usually alone during those experiences?

Him: No.

Me: Who are you with, usually?

Him: Someone special.

Perhaps more than anyone else, the shop girls hawking Sydney Hale Co. candles know the power of the product they peddle. “My brother buys Sydney Hale candles by the case,” says Jessie, a former Atlanta boutique manager. “He’d tell you it’s so his house smells good, but I think it’s for when a girl comes over and they recognize the brand and the fact that it’s a $30 candle.” (Full disclosure: I used to work alongside Jessie at the same shop.)

Men like her brother aren’t exactly the norm — they roll by about every month of so — but they all have the same M.O: They float through, grab a couple heavy glass ensconced candles and occasionally ask inane questions to feign, “I never do this!” But their expertise is undeniable. One guy asked me, verbatim, about P.F. Candle Co.’s “scent throw,” which is apparently how the candle smells before its burnt (“cold scent throw”) and while it’s burning (“hot scent throw”).

Even if the effort is woefully transparent, most women still like it. “I appreciate the attempt to cozy up the vibe,” says Sarah, 29. Just as you’d get your body ready for a date with a shower and clean underwear, you should get your space ready with equally minimal measures — and the quickest way to do so is with a sex candle. “If a man were to be burning a candle when I came over, I’d definitely assume he was trying to have sex, and I’d be probably super impressed, TBH,” says Tiffany, 31. “It’s a ‘gesture,’ I think. It takes a hair of thought.”

Just don’t stop the thinking there. “Granted, several of these dudes [with sex candles] failed to have the foresight to have condoms on deck,” says Sarah. “Like, you can buy BOTH at Target, bruh.”