Scent of a Woman

If you've ever had the chance to see or read the Vagina Monologues by Eve Ensler you'll probably remember who Bob is. He's the man who loves vaginas. He's a true connoisseur. He loves the way they look, the way they feel, the way they taste, and most of all, he totally adores the way they smell...Read on to learn more about natural womanly scents and why they really are an incredible aphrodisiac.

Bob is the sort of man who can help a woman to see her bits 'down there' in a new light and with more love. He may even help her to appreciate the huge powers her own natural aromas can hold over a lover.

After seeing the Monologues in London, I took a deep breath, and started nosing around. Well not literally, but I became curious and started asking questions. Of friends, friends of friends, and just about anyone who would consider entering into this intimate territory of discussion with me, for the sake of 'research'. And from my growing sample of men and women, it turns out that the world is fairly populated with its share of Bobs. Men who relish and get turned on by a woman's intimate parts and their odours and who are grateful if we don't try to mask them or pretend they're not there. "Don't wash, I'm coming home!" reputedly said Napoleon to Josephine on his way back to Paris from the front.

So while many men savour a woman's unique cassolette, not many women I've spoken to can admit to having a healthy relationship with their own body odours. This isn't surprising, really, in light of the brainwashing . All those media messages to deodorise, mask, block or spray a bit of eau du vamp on all the bits you might expect someone to get close to. Then there's those lame fishy smell jokes which can help to back up our insecurities from an early age. The message is, "It's a swamp down there," and an odiferous one at that.

The last intimate taboo

Scent-of-a-WomanI warn you. This is not a subject to bring up lightly at your next dinner party. According to Astrid Longhurst, author of Body Confidence: Loving Your Body Is Only a Thought Away talking openly about our own natural body odours may well be breaching one of the last intimate taboos. "It is something which never gets discussed or explored in more intimate detail, and if it does, it is often in whispers that someone should really use a deodorant or pay more attention to personal hygiene." she says.

But maybe not in every social circle. I have a friend who attended a 30th wedding anniversary celebration in California. In front of their friends, family and God, the hubby gave this toast: "There are two things that have gotten me through the last 30 years. My children and the smell of my wife's pussy." Well it was California after all. I'd think twice before trying this in Stoke-on-Trent.

What's healthy and what's not

Make no mistake, all armpits and crotches smell at the end of the day. When sweaty skin is confined under layers of clothes, the atmosphere is like a hothouse, breeding millions of bacteria which start to decay and turn a pleasant natural essence into something rank. Deodorants, sprays and wipes can help to keep the bacteria count in check, but if there's a bad smell coming off you, the first thing worth paying attention to is soap and water.

Now washing on the outside (highly recommended), is not the same as washing on the inside. Douching, which was big in our mothers' days and then again in the 60s and 70s, has now pretty much gone out of fashion, which is just as well as it disturbs your own vaginal ecosystem, killing off the beneficial bacteria and paving the way for take-over by the nasty ones. So in effect, trying to make your insides cleaner by washing will in fact will make them dirtier by encouraging a nasty bacteria invasion. It's better to trust your vagina to do its own housekeeping, advises Stuart Stanton, professor of uro-gynaecology at Portland hospital, London. "The vagina is an amazing organ which is totally self cleaning. After menstruation all traces of blood within the cervix and vagina disappear within 24 hours."

According to Dr. Ian Kerner, a sexolologist and author of She Comes First every woman smells and tastes different. "Some are sweeter than others, some a bit more pungent, and still others are more neutral and nondescript," he says.

Some of these differences could be down to what you like on your pizza - or other things you eat or drink, says Dr. George Dodd, an aroma scientist and biochemist based in Wester Ross, Scotland. "In countries like Thailand and Cambodia, where they eat lots of green peppers and lemon grass, their body odour is remarkably different than in the west. And research shows that eating truffles, which has had a reputation for being an erotic food, temporarily increases the level of one particular attracting pheromone in your body," he says.

If you haven't gone through the menopause and you're not on the Pill, your smell will also vary with your cycle, and your least smelly time of the month will be straight after your period until ovulation", according to Elizabeth Topp, author of Vaginas An Owner's Manual "In this stage, vaginal secretions tend to be clear and thin, like egg whites. After ovulation, however, your secretions become creamy and I'm sorry to say, a little more stinky. Finally, as you approach your period, the Ph or acidity balance of your vagina changes, and so does the smell," she says.

Your menstrual blood will have its own earthy aroma, and this will remain a subtle one so long as you don't forget to change tampons or pads. It shouldn't be embarrassingly strong or something to worry about, unless, that is, you're planning to swim in some shark-infested waters during your period. Word has it, that that's not such a good idea, as a shark's nose is apparently far more sensitive than a human's.

Then there's the delicate matter of unprotected sex. Semen has its own unique smell and will vary a bit from man to man. (Something about marking his territory comes to mind.) But whatever your man's fluids smell like, they will be highly alkaline, with a PH of around 8. This makes it more alkaline than any other body fluid, including blood, sweat, spit or tears. So for several hours after unprotected intercourse, the overall PH of the vagina shoots up, and so does the strength of its smell. "It's OK for the male, he just walks away," comments Professor Stanton. "But the woman's vagina has to contend with 2 or 3 ccs of fluid which is a lot if you were to look at in a syringe - and this can have quite an impact on the way your vagina will smell for a good 24 hours or so."

Should your pleasant natural smell change from something like fresh peach yoghurt or a good Merlot to something more like two day old fish - or skunk - your body is trying to get your attention, so take notice, advises Professor Stanton. "Infection changes a healthy pleasant vaginal odour, and some infections have a very fishy smell to them. Take this cue from your body and go see a doctor."

Good Reasons to Love the Way You Smell

  • Despite the millions of pounds spent by the perfume industry to convince us otherwise, pheromones are nature's love drug, which trigger our animal instincts of attraction. "A woman's natural smell is designed to arouse men who are biologically compatible, so it'll help you find the guy of you're dreams," says Emily Dubberley, author of Things a Woman Should know about Seduction. At its root, this is all about producing healthy and robust offspring, but even if you are well past the time of wanting babies, it still sends powerful signals of attraction which work on libido and sexual compatibilities.
  • Take a good sniff of yourself when you're in need of some confidence boosting, as your pheromones don't just work on your partner, says Dr. George Dodd. "Inhaling your own smells can help you to feel more emotionally warm, receptive and powerful with the opposite sex, and will even work to change your behaviour to be more outgoing," he says.
  • During sexual arousal, your apocrine glands, found in the armpits and the genital regions, emit a special sexual fragrance to keep your man turned on and his libido on full throttle, which is part of a primitive odour-signalling system, according to Desmond Morris, the well-known expert on mammalian behaviour, in his recent book The Naked Woman. "Although males are not consciously aware of the erotic odours these glands produce, their secretions do make a massive unconscious impact that aids sexual arousal."
  • Our sense of smell has a direct connection to the part of the brain responsible for pleasurable emotions and libido, called the limbic system. It's also strongly associated with memory, so if you always keep things natural with your lover, or wear the same perfume, then eventually, just smelling one of your T-shirts (or your underwear!) will trigger a strong romantic reminder of you with your partner, suggests author Emily Dubberley.
  • It's the ultimate form of self-acceptance, says Astrid Longhurst. "Being okay with your own smell is essentially about being okay with who you are. It's about owning all of you - the good, the bad and the downright whifffy! It's about using fragrance to accentuate your own sense of pleasure and enhance your mood, but not having to mask or disguise the way you smell."

Here's what some of you think:

Strong perfume conjours up memories of hugs from elderly, big-bosomed, Aunties. Well-meant gestures, but "icky", and a real turn-off for me. By contrast, a gentle whiff of a woman's natural scent, or the slightest hint of a very very subtle added fragrance, which you only discover when you press your nose into her hair or neck, is lovely. It's a shared, intimate, secret - a whisper rather than an announcement.

- Mark Dealtry, 51, Liphook, Hampshire.

There's nothing wrong with sweat. It's a sign of life and vitality and can be very pleasant on a woman. It's the smell of stale sweat on clothes that grates on the nostril. Having said that, I'd still prefer a bit of armpit essence to an overdose of heavy perfume. A little subtle scent is fine if it makes you feel better but once you've left the room, the scent should too. If not, you've put on too much. That's why perfume costs so much. To encourage you to go easy on the stuff! As for the smells 'down there,' if girls are made of sugar and spice why do they smell of anchovies? A lot of women don't want men to give them oral sex not because, I assume, not because they don't like it, but because they're worried about the smell. But the best bet is NOT perfume - anchovies plus the scent of fruit, flowers or the animal secretions used to make perfume merely creates a smell not unlike that of an unplugged fridge in a student house. Yuk. Just have a quick shower beforehand.

- Jim Pollard, editor of

I first lived with someone at the age of 22 and remember the sheer delight of sharing a bed, the cuddles, the hugs, the warmth of just being together. One of the first things I noticed about the rhythm of our new life was the way in which the smell of her breath changed on occasions. It was not long before I realized that this was tied into her periods. It was not an unpleasant smell, just different in some subtle way. Eventually I plucked up the courage to mention this and soon she relied on me to tell her, two or three days in advance, just when her period was coming. Very handy - as she was not entirely regular - and amazingly intimate.

- Robert Blackburn, 50, Clapham, London.

Eating the tropical fruit papaya makes my girlie bits smell and taste very fruity indeed even at period time. Ever since my partner and I discovered this, he keeps buying me this delicious fruit, which I believe is loaded with vitamins A and C.

- Ruth Posnanska, 48, North London.

I love the scent of a woman, and celebrate it in all its guises, and especially those smells that come from all her secret parts, even when she is at an inconvenient part of her cycle. I almost never find any smell from a woman offensive, unless she is grubby and unwashed. Covering her lovely natural smell with strong cheap perfume will annoy me, I don't enjoy being around a chemical factory, and a cheap one at that! However the right perfume that accentuates her natural bodily smell will drive me wild, every time.

- Tony Batchelar, Brighton.

I think its quite mad the way our society tries to erase our smell. If it's not deodorant, it's hideously strong perfume or scented panty liners. I love my smell and men have commented to me that its lovely to smell me. The only scents that I can tolerate are natural ones, such as a gentle dab of essential oils. Most perfumes make me want to heave and move away from anyone wearing them. Natural odours are best, but never stale ones. Only fresh, clean ones!

- Julia Trainer, age 47, Hove.

As I was growing from a black girl into a black woman, I was taught to scrub everything as hard as I could. The idea was to disinfect every bit of me which had an odour, and then dust on the talc so I would smell sweet and fresh and powdered. The message was that my natural odours were not nice and needed to be eliminated. My attitude changed in my 30s with my politics. I stopped wearing stilettos, turned to more comfortable shoes, stop straightening my hair, and stopped all that over-the-top scrubbing! I found that it's wonderful to smell fresh and clean and to breathe in all my natural aromas without powdering over them or trying to eliminate them.

- Yvonne Ritchie, Age 40, Hammersmith

I notice that when I work in corporate office environments, my armpits, particularly my right one, start to give out a disgusting metallic smell of onions, which no deodorant or amount of washing can control. The solution to this problem has been, not to work in corporate offices! I have decided I am allergic to that environment.

- Marion McCarthy, 43, Edinburgh