One of the most fun things about fragrance is its power to channel desire. But what exactly does desire smell like? Although scent is subjective, there is science behind what triggers arousal in both men and women. And while you are likely attracted to any scent that reminds you of your lover, there are certain notes that trigger a biochemical response. So while many fragrances may turn you on, these scents are proven aphrodisiacs.
“To me, there are two types of aphrodisiac scents: animalic and spice,” says Los Feliz Botanics Founder Kristen Quinn Castro. “We are animals at our core, and with the modern sterilization of our environments, the one area we can really connect to our instincts, our intuition, and our limbic system is within sex and sensuality.” Castro notes that animalic scents don’t necessarily have to be animal-derived musks. “Today,” she says, “There's more demand for botanical musks.” Many florals can be considered animalic because of the inherent grit in their profiles. Grit adds dimension to a scent, giving it an earthy complexity, which can heighten pleasure receptors in humans.
Spritz fragrance on the back of your neck or even into your hair—whenever you move, the scent will intensify.
You might be skeptical about the erotic power of naturally derived plants, herbs, and foods—all ingredients that form the basis of fragrances on the market today. But if you consider the fact that desire starts in the brain, it makes sense that there are definite neurological responses to olfactory stimuli. The following scents have been known for their aphrodisiac properties for centuries, and recent scientific studies prove their reputations are well-deserved.
A 2015 study found jasmine to boost libido. In Hindu and Muslim traditions, jasmine is known as the "perfume of love." This scent might be one of the strongest aphrodisiacs out there, with over 43 varieties that mimic animalic musk. A sweet and delicate floral. (P.S., these are the best jasmine perfumes).
Castro notes that rose contains indole, a fragrance molecule found in decomposition and fecal waste. Although it’s a little gross sounding, this aroma adds grit to the scent, making it an aphrodisiac. Plus, a 2015 study indicated that rose oil is a powerful stimulant for men and women. A natural relaxant, rose oil can also lower inhibition which makes it perfect for unleashing the pleasure principle. Rose is a velvety, pungent floral scent.
Native to Asia, ginger is a spicy root that stimulates male arousal, as indicated by a 2017 study. Ginger has many other therapeutic properties, and is known for increasing circulation, aiding headaches, and soothing stomach upset. A sharp and peppery scent.
This botanical musk, notes Castro, mimics animalic aromas associated with arousal. A 2015 study confirms musk as a powerful aphrodisiac. Native to Asia and Australia, ambrette is one of the most on-trend scents on the market. A complex scent profile with nutty undertones and hints of cognac and leather.
An exotic tropical flower related to flowering magnolias, champaca is so strong it’s used as a single note fragrance. Its warming properties make it a sultry scent, notes Castro. In Ayurvedic medicine, champaca is used as an aphrodisiac tonic. A pungent floral with cedar undertones.
Cultivated in Iran, India, and Greece, saffron has been found to increase sexual behavior, according to a 2013 study. Its spicy profile is energizing and saffron oil is known to treat depression. A surprisingly sweet floral scent with an aroma of honey and tobacco.
Ayurvedic medicine has long revered sandalwood for its stimulating purposes. A 2006 study confirms sandalwood’s aphrodisiac qualities. One of the more expensive essential oils, sandalwood has many therapeutic properties and may treat mood and digestive issues. A creamy and milky scent with smooth woodsy undertones.
Tuberous roots, like peony flowers are adaptogens, and have been proven to enhance male arousal, according to a 2013 study that looked at the efficacy of herbal aphrodisiacs. A soft floral fragrance with undertones of citrus.
A 2014 study indicated that lavender increased blood flow in males, proving its arousing properties. Reputed for its calming effects, lavender is also a soothing relaxant, which can help you feel comfortable and confident. A floral scent with a camphor-like base.
Studies have found peppermint can help women achieve multiple orgasms. Known for its invigorating qualities, peppermint is often used as an herbal stimulant. A buttery fragrance with menthol undertones.
A 2014 study found pumpkin, another zesty aroma, to stimulate an erotic response in men. Like vanilla, pumpkin is associated with nostalgia and comfort and can trigger feelings of home and hearth. A rich, creamy, and spicy scent.
Lily of the Valley
A famous and controversial study in 2003 indicated that sperm has olfactory receptors that respond favorably to lily of the valley. Its bell-like flowers are often associated with spring and are often used in wedding bouquets. A green, sweet, and creamy floral scent.
Spicy and revitalizing, cinnamon has been proven to activate arousal, as noted by a 2013 study. Cinnamon has many reputed benefits and is said to improve mood and lower blood sugar. A smoky and pungent scent with sweet undertones.
Although these proven aphrodisiacs have been around forever, Castro says perfumers are finding new ways of extracting essences that can add “new layers and dimensions to play with.” That means these scents might get even sexier. “Just as wines have been around for ages, there are still new approaches, farming methods, extractions, and aging processes,” she says.
When it comes to applying fragrance to enhance their aphrodisiac qualities, Castro encourages you to have fun and be creative. “Beyond your standard pulse points, taking time to apply fragrance to inner thighs and cleavage can set the mood,” she says. “Applying some to your palms and running your hands through your hair, focusing on your scalp at the nape of your neck will release the scent as you move. No matter where you apply your fragrance, take a few moments to breathe deeply and connect with the aroma and yourself.”