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The Key To Knowing If Your Love Is Real? Your Partner’s Body Odor

Or rather, your reaction to it.
what are pheromones
PHOTO: Pixelshot

As human beings who sweat and stink, we spend an inordinate amount of time trying to mask our natural, sometimes très unsexy body odors with showers, deodorants, and overpriced perfumes. But what if I told you there’s a direct link between body odor and attraction? I’m not saying you should be drooling over your partner’s sweaty, post-gym armpit smell. (Just…no.) But I am saying that if you legitimately like the smell of your partner’s skin sans perfume or cologne, you’re most likely in love, and you’re in deep.

This concept is essentially just pheromones in action, aka the science behind being subconsciously attracted to the natural smell of someone with whom you’re likely to breed healthy babies. But it’s been making the rounds on TikTok as of late after people started (hilariously) posting videos of themselves being “addicted” to their partner’s natural smell.

@writingrelationships #stitch with @kendy.du pheremones and compatibility #therapytiktok #therapytok #relationshiptherapist #relationshiptherapy #pheremones #stinkypartner #pheremone ? original sound - Cat | Relationship therapist

@tresmauvaise he’s obsessed #fyp #couples ? original sound - tresmauvaise

Comments across these videos range from “the scent of his skin literally makes me FERAL” to “I’m finna be in the pit,” so it’s clearly an almost-universal experience. But is it concrete proof you’re meant to be together 4ever? And is your relationship doomed if you DGAF about your partner’s smell? What if you actually…hate it? I’m no expert on the subject—just a mere mortal with a TikTok account and formidable Screen Time report—so I turned to actual experts for the answers.

But First, a Little Background on Pheromones...

While, in part, pheromones still remain a mystery, here’s the gist of what we *do* know: they are substances secreted within our body odor that attract certain people to us based on genetic compatibility. According to a 2021 study published in the medical journal Brain Sciences, you might be more attracted to one person’s odor and pheromones over another’s because that person’s DNA makeup is different from yours in a way that’s optimal for mating. Essentially, human beings are subconsciously attracted to other human beings who would be a genetically good match for reproduction. Sexy!

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“[Attraction to body odor is] about assessing a mate for physical health and who would be more likely to produce healthy offspring with you,” certified sex and relationships therapist Sarah Levinson says.

What's Love Got to Do With It?

All of the above is why, scientifically speaking, you may be addicted to your partner’s body odor, but it’s also not the only reason you feel the urge to sniff their t-shirts before tossing them in the wash.

“It’s also possible that if you happen to be in love with someone, you can also get attached to their smell, their look, and everything about them. So then you have this association between love and this smell,” Levinson adds.

This is the caveat to those pheromone facts we were spitting earlier: Even if your partner isn’t your ideal genetic match (more on that in a minute), you might still find yourself obsessed with their smell simply because it’s a reminder of them. “Once we’re attached to that person, their body odor essentially becomes a reinforcement or reward,” says psychologist Pamela Dalton, PhD, MPH. Their smell is a reminder that you love them, and it can subconsciously trigger memories, emotions, feelings of love because you associate it with them.


How Important Is Pheromone Attraction, Really?

Not super, tbh! It isn’t a fool-proof, sure-fire way to know whether you’re in love, and definitely not the only or most important thing you should consider when deciding who to have kids with. Genetic compatibility does not equate to overall compatibility. (Check your horoscope for that.) We fall in love as a result of many factors. And while, sure, looks and smell and the resulting attraction plays a role, those things don’t override the more important variables like emotional, romantic, and even sexual compatibility. You’re probably not going to fall for someone who objectively sucks just because you like how they smell first thing in the morning.

@writingrelationships #stitch with @kendy.du pheremones and compatibility #therapytiktok #therapytok #relationshiptherapist #relationshiptherapy #pheremones #stinkypartner #pheremone ? original sound - Cat | Relationship therapist

Relationships therapist Cat Hoggard Wagley, LMHCA notes that while you may be pulled in by those pheromones and odor attraction, these elements—despite their supposed ability to produce healthy embryos—won’t sustain a relationship or necessarily serve as a bridge to love. And it’s also not a key indicator of a healthy embryo—so much goes into that beyond just an attraction to smell.


“If you’re looking for something really casual then maybe pheromones are all that should matter to you at that moment, but if you’re looking for something long-term, it’s important you’re connecting with someone who aligns with your values,” Hoggard Wagley says. “You are building a team and a support system together … if that’s what you want out of a relationship then it should be built on a foundation of shared values and trust.”

It’s important to find common ground on the things that matter—like how you define a relationship; viewpoints on spirituality and politics; whether you want children and how you would parent them; thoughts on finances; and feelings on sexuality and the role it plays in a relationship, Hoggard Wagley explains.

What If You Don’t Care About Your Partner’s Smell?

If you’re suddenly second-guessing your entire relationship simply because you’ve never had the desire to bottle up your partner’s scent and spritz it around the house like an air freshener, worry not. Not caring about their smell doesn’t mean you’re not in love or that your relationship is doomed—nor does it mean you won’t have perfectly healthy children! In fact, it likely just means you have a lot of other great factors going for your relationship like the romantic, emotional, and sexual compatibility we talked about earlier. Finding someone who you think smells good is nice, but finding someone who you’re compatible with in the ways that matter most is a much bigger deal.


“If you’re indifferent to a person’s smell, it’s likely not going to be a game-changer because once you have the opportunity to get to know the person, you find [other] positives and compatibility between the two of you,” says Dalton.

Hoggard Wagley echoes this: It’s okay if you don’t care about your partner’s smell as long as they’re not offending you and you’re happy, period!

Okay, But What If You Actually Hate It?

While an attraction to the smell of your partner’s skin isn’t an end-all-be-all indicator of compatibility, there is evidence that repulsion to it might be a sign things are headed south—especially if you used to love their smell.

“There is evidence that when, for whatever reason, that relationship isn’t working, that body odor is no longer pleasant or preferred,” Dalton says. “All of sudden, because of the association with negative characteristics, [the body odor] is changing. Your response is changing.”


We know being attracted to someone’s smell is a sort of side-effect to love because you associate the person you love with their smell. So, it only makes sense that when you no longer associate that person with love (or when you begin to associate them with negatives, like lying, cheating, or contention in the relationship), their smell no longer is pleasing to you. According to relationships therapist and professor of psychology Taylor Palmby, LP-MHC’s research, this is particularly true in women when they feel the relationship isn’t healthy or when it’s nearing the end.

In the same Brain Sciences study, researchers found that “anecdotal reports indicate that women dislike their partner’s body odor (BO) during the breakdown of a relationship.” This diminished attraction to body odor is associated with declining mate value—meaning subconsciously, you no longer see your significant other as a good match. What exactly contributes to that declining mate value is unique to each person and relationship, but much like the idea that attraction to body odor doesn’t automatically equate to a healthy, loving, lasting relationship, a deteriorating attraction to smell doesn’t necessarily signal its downfall either. Attraction to scent remains a singular data point next to a laundry list of other factors.


“This is just one thing,” Palmby notes. “There are many things that build a relationship and there are many things that contribute to the demise. A lot of this is unconscious and genetic.”

So ultimately, while the concept of attraction is still very much shrouded in mystery, there *is* a reason why you’re lusting after your partner’s body odor—or, more accurately, ~reasons~, plural. Maybe you’ve got the hots and want to create a few healthy embryos, or maybe (probably), you’re madly in love and the reason you can’t get enough of that pit smell is because those pits belong to the person you love. Aww. 


This article originally appeared on Minor edits have been made by the editors.

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