Physiology & Behavior

Available online 12 April 2019

Highlights

• Partnered women blindly rated their partner’s body odor as smelling sexier than the body odor of unknown males.
• Partnered women blindly rated their partner’s body odor as smelling less strong than the body odor of unknown males.
• Partnered women were unlikely to rank their partner’s body odor as most preferred in a pool including six unknown males.
• Partnered women could reliably recognise their partner’s body odor.
• Body odor preference ratings appear to be driven by familiarity ratings.

Abstract

Despite evidence indicating body odor (BO) preference is an important driver in mate selection, previous studies have only investigated females’ preferences for the BO of strangers. Therefore, the aim of the current study was to determine if partnered females prefer their partner’s BO compared to that of others males’ BO. Forty partnered and 42 single, heterosexual women aged 18–35 years, brought to the laboratory a shirt their partner or male friend/relative (respectively) sweated in while wearing. The results indicated that both partnered and single women (blindly) rated their known donor’s BO as smelling significantly more similar, familiar and sexy compared to six unknown male’s BO, but rated their known donor’s BO as less intense smelling than unknown males’ BO. While participants indicated they liked their known donor’s BO more than that of unknown males’ BO, the difference was not statistically significant. Moreover, participants were unlikely to rank their known donor’s BO as their most preferred of seven BOs. Finally, partnered and single participants could reliably recognise their known donor’s BO and that of unknown males’ which was driven by their ability to indicate a stranger’s BO was not that of known donor’s. Overall, these preliminary findings suggest that partnered females may prefer their partners’ BO but this preference may not be due to mate selection but instead a consequence of repeated exposure to their partner’s BO.