Why Don’t Humans Use Bodily Smell to Communicate?

Now, for clarity’s sake, what I’m referring to is the smells our bodies make, including sweat, urine, feces, and pheromones/hormones. I’m not referring to perfume, deodorant, soap or any other applied fragrance.

My miniature Schnauzer, Monty, pees on things to communicate a range of emotion, frustration, ownership, and presumably, something along the lines of “eligible bachelor dog lives nearby, likes long walks, napping on clean clothes and eating used diapers, interested ladies inquire at 1106 Thiele Lane, etc.”

Flowers produce fragrance to draw in pollinators. Actually, plants are pretty good at talking through scent, seeing that all their “messages” have to be carried by the wind.

Without a spoken or written language, smell can be an effective messenger.

As humans, we spend all our time covering up, washing off and replacing our natural smells with something else.

Yes, pheromones are called into play, but it’s not as if we walk around rubbing our sweat on furniture to let other people know we’re ready for a little hanky panky.

Sex isn’t the only application for this. Fear, aggression, stress as well as peacefulness, relaxation, and comfort are all things we could be broadcasting through smell.

Part of me thinks we’ve lost the ability – bred it out, so to speak – but there is evidence to the contrary: Human babies are capable of smelling breastmilk that hasn’t yet left the breast (when my own kids performed this trick, I was floored – it was like something straight out of National Geographic or NOVA).

I suspect it has more to do with artifice and politics. If you’re visiting my house and I think you’ve overstayed your welcome, but I can’t say that because you’re my room-mate’s girlfriend and I need to borrow the car… well, it’d be pretty bad if my body involuntarily exuded an odor of hostility. Thank goodness for a hot shower and deodorant.

I also think we’ve forgotten what humans smell like, what emotions smell like. I think it’s a fear of vulnerability, bordering on a cultural taboo.

And just so my bias is clear, I’m not going to stop showering, wearing deodorant or enjoying my wife’s perfume.

I do think it’s weird that we just stopped using our own smells to communicate for a purpose.


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