Dirty Odor Reduces Genital Sexual Arousal In Men

Whether sexual stimuli excite people depends not only on how sexually exciting a stimulus is but also on the extent to which there are simultaneously active processes that actually counteract sexual arousal, such as feelings of disgust or fear. For example, earlier research has shown that sexual stimuli provoke less sexual excitement if these individuals are exposed to disgusting images shortly before. So, disgust seems to be able to inhibit the development of excitement.

This research focuses on the important follow-up question of whether its inhibitory effect also occurs when people are already sexually excited when they are exposed to disgusting stimuli (such as foul smells). If that is indeed the case, disgust could possibly also be used to prevent unwanted sexual advances (for example, by releasing a repulsive odor).

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In this experimental study, we initially focused on men (N = 78). To provoke sexual arousal, the participants watched a pornographic video. Four minutes and thirty seconds after the start of the video, the participants in the experimental condition were exposed to a very aversive/disgusting odor (n = 42) by means of an olfactometer, while the control group was exposed to an odorless solvent (n = 36). In both conditions, the scent was presented 11 times, and it was 1 second long and occurred at 26-second intervals. The video was not interrupted. Sexual arousal was measured via self-reports and with the aid of a resistance-sensitive stretch strip that could be used to determine a change in penis circumference (erection), which is a physiological measure of genital sexual arousal.

The disgusting odor (which was administered while the participants were in sexual arousal) resulted in a significant decrease in both subjective and, more importantly, in genital sexual arousal compared to the (odorless) control condition.

The results show that exposure to an aversive, disgusting odor can diminish existing genital and subjective sexual arousal. The finding that disgust has a negative influence on the sexual arousal that is already present is an indication that disgust could possibly reduce sexually motivated behavior (such as in sexual assaults). The results thereby also point to the possible practical applications of a disgusting odor as a method of self-defense (e.g. Invi Bracelet).

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Example of the Invi Bracelet. Credit: https://invi.world/

The research was initiated by the Dutch social enterprise Invi to investigate the effectiveness of the fragrance from their innovative self-defense bracelet, the Invi Bracelet. The research was conducted independently and without financial sponsorship by the University of Groningen. The Invi Bracelet is a non-violent means of prevention to prevent sexual violence. For more information, visit www.invi.world, or https://invi.world/press-kit/

These findings are described in the articles entitled The influence of olfactory disgust on (Genital) sexual arousal in men, and Feelings of Disgust and Disgust-Induced Avoidance Weaken following Induced Sexual Arousal in Women, recently published in the journal PLOS One. This research was aided by the help of Tamara A. Oosterwijk, Dominika Lisy, Sanne Boesveldt and Peter J. de Jong.

About The Author

Charmaine Borg works as a research scientist at the University of Groningen.

I have earned my MSc in Mental Health Studies at King's College London. My majors were in cognitive behaviour therapy & women's mental health. I conducted my PhD studies at the University of Groningen in experimental psychology and clinical psychopathology. My core research areas include sexual dysfunctions, arousal and disgust. Currently, I am a researcher/lecturer at the University of Groningen, and in 2015 I have been awarded the European Certification of Psycho-Sexologist (ECPS).