Can a Man Sense When a Woman Is Ovulating?

Do people emit a scent when they're ovulating? Other animals do, so it makes sense we might, too.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the queen bee's body emits special chemicals called sex pheromones that signal to any male bees buzzing around her hive that she's looking for some action (which she needs in order to lay her 1,000-2,000 eggs a day!).

But what about human females—do they do something similar to let men know when they're fertile? Well, it turns out that there is some buzz about whether some people smell different around the time of ovulation.

Ovulation is the time of the month about two weeks before your period is due when your ovary releases an egg (aka ovulates). For the next several days, you're fertile and potentially able to get pregnant.

While no one is saying you suddenly radiate the aroma of freshly picked flowers during ovulation, there might be some evidence that we do smell better when we're ovulating. "There have been some studies that suggest the smell may shift a little bit," certified sex therapist Emily deAyala, PhD, president, and clinical director of Revive Therapy and Healing in Houston, told Health.

Estrogen levels spike right before ovulation, said Rebecca Booth, MD, an ob-gyn at Women First in Louisville, Kentucky. That estrogen high helps produce a starchy substance called glycogen, which has been shown to improve the pH balance of vaginal tissue, giving it a sweeter smell, explained Dr. Booth. While glycogen mainly affects the vagina, the rise in estrogen also has a positive effect on pH all over the body, possibly making us smell better when we're ovulating.

It seems like a very subtle change, but deAyala said some people can really detect a difference. "I had a client one time whose husband said she smelled better after she went off birth control, but he couldn't really put his finger on it," recalled deAyala.

Since hormonal contraception prevents ovulation, it stands to reason that once his wife's natural cycle resumed, he noticed the change.

What Does the Research Show?

DeAyala said a small pool of scientific evidence backs this up. For example, in a 2020 study published in the journal PLoS One, researchers had a group of men smell T-shirts worn by women for three nights during their ovulation phase.

After the women had worn the T-shirts, researchers cut out different sections of the shirts from the armpits, chest, and back. When the men smelled the sections from the backs of the shirts, they registered higher levels of testosterone.

When they smelled the sections that came from the chest, the men's cortisol levels decreased. Cortisol is the stress hormone that's released when we're stressed out. Cortisol decreases when men are turned on.

Decreasing cortisol levels in combination with increasing testosterone levels increase men's sexual desire. These study authors felt that maybe women emit two different odors during ovulation—one that decreases cortisol levels in men and one that increases testosterone levels in men—and that this cocktail of hormonal interactions may be what makes women smell more desirable around ovulation.

Other studies have revealed similar findings. In a 2018 study published in the journal Proceedings Biological Sciences, researchers found that men "highly agreed" on how attractive they found women's body odors, and felt that their data provided evidence that body odors can act as valid clues as to when a woman is ovulating.

And in a 2022 study published in the journal Proceedings Biological Sciences, researchers also found that women's scents provide information regarding where they might be in their cycle, but felt that it's not really a reliable way to determine ovulation (in other words, don't decide if you're ovulating or not based on how attractive your partner says you smell).

"So there are some studies to suggest there's a change, and there is some anecdotal evidence, but I think the jury is still out on how much we can count on it," said deAyala.

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