When the subject is romance, the nose knows. For years, scientists have been debating whether certain scents play a role in human sexual attraction. Now researchers in Germany have found that humans do respond strongly to a specific fragrance—in ways that could ignite a woman’s sex drive.

What’s more, you may already be wearing this particular floral jasmine-magnolia ingredient. It’s found in many high-end perfumes and men’s fragrances.

Remember this ingredient name—hedione. It comes from the Greek word for pleasure.


For decades, scientists have debated whether there are human pheromones. In animals, pheromones are chemicals that are released by individuals in a species to influence the sexual behavior of other members of the same species in predictable ways. When the female silkworm releases the molecule bombykol, for example, male silkworms drop everything and come hither.

We humans are more complex. Certainly, how we smell to each other affects our hormones, which may influence behavior, sexual and otherwise. For example, the odor of perspiration plays a role in the synchronization of the menstrual cycles of women who live or work together. In men, the scent of a T shirt worn by an ovulating woman leads to testosterone levels going up, while the scent of a woman’s tears of sadness causes testosterone levels to drop. Human odors are linked with behaviors as diverse as the fear response and mother/baby bonding.

The question, though, is whether specific molecules elicit these specific responses, especially sexual. That is, are there really human pheromones?

The authors of the new study out of Germany think the answer is…yes.


In the German study, researchers from Ruhr University in Bochum and their colleagues at the Technische Universität in Dresden examined how receptors in the nasal cavity and certain areas of the human brain responded when 17 healthy male and female volunteers smelled the scent of hedione (chemical name methyl dihydrojasmonate), a compound first synthesized in the 1960s by a chemist seeking to reproduce the intoxicating scent of jasmine. The researchers then compared the results with what happened when the same participants smelled a common floral fragrance, phenylethyl alcohol, which smells like rose water.

What they found is that the hedione scent activated the vomeronasal receptor (VN1R) that humans have in their noses. This is the organ that acts as a pheromone receptor in other mammals but hasn’t been shown to be active in humans—until now. Just as importantly, using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), the researchers also found that smelling hedione activated areas in the brain’s limbic system, which is associated with emotions, memory and motivation, significantly more strongly than phenylethyl alcohol did.

What’s more, hedione activated a specific region in the hypothalamus that’s associated with the release of sex hormones. The effect was much stronger in women than in men, and the women in the study rated the fragrance as “significantly more intense” than the men did.

In other words, it appears that this scent may be the first to be discovered that directly turns women on. Of course, there needs to be more research. This study wasn’t designed to measure actual hormonal changes, so whether hedione directly affects hormones will have to wait for the next study. Here’s a suggestion for the researchers next time: Ask the women whether smelling the fragrance makes them feel sexier. Just saying.


In the meantime, if you want to help a woman you love get in the mood, you might look to the example of the 1960s’ movie actor Steve McQueen. He was known to wear Dior’s Eau Savage, a cologne for men, introduced in 1966, that was the first product to contain hedione. It’s still available after all these years. Hedione is also an ingredient in the colognes cK One by Calvin Klein, Acqua di Giò by Giorgio Armani, and Voyage d’Hermes Parfum for men and women by Hermes.

Hedione is also in some women’s perfumes, including Diorella from Dior, First by Van Cleef & Arpels, Chanel No. 19 (by Chanel of course), Blush by Marc Jacobs, and L’Eau d’Issey by Issey Miyake. Like to make your own perfume or cologne? You can buy pure hedione directly from perfume ingredient supply companies such as CreatingPerfume.com. You may even want to add some to an existing perfume or cologne—the amount that professionals include ranges from just a few percent up to 35% by volume.

We’re already brainstorming names for our own concoction.