60-Second Science

Women Smell Better Than Men

Research at the Monell Chemical Senses Center finds that women have keener senses of smell than do men, and that men's body odors are harder to cover up than are women's. Christie Nicholson reports

[The following is an exact transcript of this podcast.]

A woman friend of mine recently commented about her guy: “He’s such a boy. His towels are stinky. And he doesn’t seem to notice!” Well, maybe he can’t smell the stinkyness. According to recent research from the Monell Chemical Senses Center, women have much sharper noses.

Scientists collected microdroplets of perspiration, and had men and women sniff the vials. According to both, the odors were equally rich. Subjects were then asked to rate odor strength when sniffing the sweat mixed one by one with 32 different fragrances. Only two of the fragrances stopped women from smelling the sweat. But 19 fragrances successfully blocked it from male noses.

Body odor is special—the authors note that in previous studies men’s and women’s scent detection did not differ when it came to other aromas. The researchers also concluded that men’s odor is harder to mask than women’s, regardless of who sniffs. Only a fifth of the fragrances could cover up male odor. But half of the scents masked female odor. The researchers suggest that for women there may be important biological information contained in male sweat. So maybe don’t wash those towels just yet.

—Christie Nicholson

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