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Dirty smell reduces sexual arousal

Disgust as a tool for self-defence
13 March 2019
Subject is exposed to aversive, disgusting odour in a controlled environment

Delivering a disgusting odour reduces sexual arousal in men. This is shown in a recent study by the University of Groningen that was recently published in PLOS ONE. Subjects were exposed to a disgusting odour while watching a pornographic video. As a result, sexual arousal decreased significantly. According to researcher Charmaine Borg, the research shows that delivery of a disgusting odour may also be used as a method of self-defense to avert unwanted sexual approach.


The generation or persistence of sexual arousal may be compromised when inhibitory processes such as negative emotions, outweigh sexual excitation. Disgust particularly, has been proposed as one of the emotions that may counteract sexual arousal. In support of this view, previous research has shown that disgust priming can reduce subsequent sexual arousal. As a crucial next step, this experimental study tested whether disgust (by means of odor) can also diminish sexual arousal in individuals who are already in a state of heightened sexual excitation.


In this study, participants were all men (N = 78). To elicit sexual arousal, participants watched a pornographic video. Following 4.30 minutes from the start of the video clip, they were exposed to either a highly aversive/disgusting odor (n = 42), or an odorless diluent/solvent (n = 36), that was delivered via an olfactometer, while the pornographic video continued. In both conditions the presentation of the odor lasted 1 second and was repeated 11 times with intervals of 26 seconds. Sexual arousal was indexed by both self-reports and penile circumference.

Principal findings

The disgusting odor (released when the participants were already sexually aroused) resulted in a significant decrease of both subjective and genital sexual arousal compared to the control (odorless) condition.


The finding that the inhibitory effect of disgust was not only expressed in self-report but also expressed on the penile response further strengthens the idea that disgust might hamper behavioral actions motivated by sexual arousal (e.g., poor judgment, coercive sexual behavior). Thus, the current findings indicate that exposure to an aversive odor is sufficiently potent to reduce already present (subjective and) genital sexual arousal. This finding may also have practical relevance for disgust to be used as a tool for self-defence (e.g., Invi Bracelet).

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Last modified:13 March 2019 09.46 a.m.
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