The Great (Though Largely Unsuccessful) Aphrodisiac Perfume Experiment

Rachel Krause
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Photo: Tom Medvedich

Photo: Tom Medvedich

I really don’t buy into all the drivel about “what men like.” I roll my eyes at every single press release I receive about “makeup your guy will LOVE” and every magazine cover at the grocery store checkout that proclaims they’ve finally discovered “what your man REALLY wants.” Men may be animals (just like us!), but there’s no secret code to crack when it comes to being attractive to men at large, and also, who cares?

The concept that you should alter the way you approach beauty is particularly ridiculous to me. It’s sad, kind of—I feel terribly for the women who do fall for this kind of shit, and I want to hold them in my arms and encourage them to wear as much “man-repelling” red lipstick on first dates as they please—and also fucking stupid, because just because the scent of vanilla makes one guy want to bone doesn’t mean it’s going to work that way on the rest of men.

But! It also kind of intrigues me, because where do these ideas come from … and is there any truth at all behind men reacting more favorably to one type of product over another? I have a live-in male boyfriend, access to a bevy of beauty products, a high sex drive, and a thirst for only slightly mean-spirited adventure, so naturally I felt myself most qualified to put some of these theories to the test. Well, one theory, which is that using the right perfume can make men find you sexier. (I do know of one scent that is proven to make men find you sexier. It is, of course, the scent of money.)

I chose only fragrances that explicitly used sexual attraction as a selling point: the elegant, gorgeous, and very expensive Back to Black by Kilian Aphrodisiac ($260) made the cut, as did the rich floral Tata Harper Love Potion ($40), a heady blend of “10 of the world’s most potent aphrodisiac essential oils,” and the O.G. (and difficult to describe) Kiehl’s Musk Eau de Toilette Spray ($42.50) which, as legend has it, was created as a “Love Oil” back in the ’20s. The musk was intended to act as a sort of control quantity, as not only do I wear it frequently in my regular non-walking aphrodisiac life, but my beloved once likened whatever perfume I’d just sprayed (this one) to “old people in a hot car.” Granted, it is a bit strong upon first spritz—but the drydown is so lovely!

tata harper love potion The Great (Though Largely Unsuccessful) Aphrodisiac Perfume Experiment

My intention was to wear each fragrance for three consecutive days, allowing for a day in between during which I wore no scent at all. I felt absolutely certain that my companion animal would react to or comment on each; to my very sensitive female nose, they all smelled dramatically different and, with the exception of the soft, inoffensive musk, very unlike the type of perfume I usually wear, which is hardly any at all.

I wore each of the fragrances, in turn, to dinners, movies, drinks, and even to bed. I gave the By Kilian a shot first, and while it didn’t strike me personally as something that hinted openly at, like, full-on intercourse, the deep, smokey scent definitely felt cozy and warm, which often implies cuddling, which often implies sex. I liked it! The Tata Harper Love Potion, which is very nice but “not for me,” was a bit confusing to me—the essential oils make it so brightly floral, with none of that soft sensuality that I associate with “sexy” scents. The musk (once it dried down, of course) just smelled like me.

And over the course of this undeniably very scientific two week long experiment, I learned one very critical thing. Really, it was something I needed to know. It wasn’t that Back to Black is worth every single one of those 260 cash dollars because it’s a guaranteed way to get laid, even though it smells incredible, or that, how sweet, my boyfriend prefers my natural human scent above all.

kiehls musk The Great (Though Largely Unsuccessful) Aphrodisiac Perfume Experiment

No—what I learned is that my boyfriend really, really can’t smell much of anything. I should have known, given how many times we’ve discussed his sinus problems and tried to get him an appointment with an ENT, and the fact that he is convinced that if he ever closes his mouth he will die because he can barely breathe through his nose. Needless to say, he did not comment once on the way I smelled, or god, just how strong that ylang ylang was. He did not seem any more or any less interested in having sex with me. Granted, he is almost always interested in having sex with me, which—surprise!—is true of almost all men in almost all situations.

That’s just the thing: Scent does have a lot to do with sexual attraction, but perfume? Irrelevant. It’s natural body odors—not bad body odor, but the odors that we register little more than subconsciously—and pheromones that seal the deal. Human beings, though we rarely think of it this way, are literally able to sniff out the genetic compatibility of a potential mate—not the individual compatibility, of course, but our olfactory system can make judgment calls on who has a stronger immune system, who has a higher stress tolerance, and much, much more. Shamefully, no perfume will ever be able to conceal the scent of my poor disease-fighting abilities, anxious disposition, and fairly regular crying jags.

I didn’t tell my boyfriend that I was conducting this research with him as a subject until after the damage has been done. “You know,” I say over Gchat, while he is at work, “I did an experiment a couple weeks ago where I wore different aphrodisiac perfumes around you all the time, and you didn’t comment once.” He replies almost instantly: “wtf?” A short conversation later, and we’ve concluded that his ability to smell is, indeed, lacking, and that regardless, we had plenty of sex while I was wearing these perfumes, and also while I wasn’t. (He’s totally into me.)

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