It can feel vaguely off-putting to think about smell in relation to sex. In the iconic fake sex scene from 2010’s Easy A, Emma Stone’s character scolds her fake sex partner for mentioning something about “the smell,” explaining that, regardless of whether sex is supposed to smell, “you’re not supposed to comment on it” if it does. After all, sex is all about getting up close and personal with another person and exchanging bodily fluids, and while most of those bodily fluids don’t usually smell bad, per se, they probably smell a lot less like the Gwyneth Paltrow candles based on them and more like, well, bodily fluids.
But whether we like to think about it or not, smell is an important part of sex, and post-COVID olfactory distortions might be screwing up people’s sex lives more than they may have anticipated. It’s been well-known for some time that loss of smell can be a symptom of COVID-19, in some cases a long-term one, but a recent New York Times report suggests a distorted sense of smell can have unforeseen effects on many aspects of daily life, including intimacy. A recent survey found that of those who experienced loss of smell, about half also experienced parosmia, a distorted sense of smell that can make people suddenly repulsed by previously inoffensive scents — including their own or a partner’s.
Naturally, being nauseated by your partner’s natural musk isn’t exactly a turn-on, and post-COVID parosmia is putting a real damper on people’s sex lives. In addition to finding their partner’s smell repulsive, some people with parosmia are also turned off by their own scent, making them self-conscious and, consequently, less interested in sex and other social situations.
“It is something affecting your relationship with yourself, with others, your social life, your intimate relationships,” Dr. Duika Burges Watson, head of the Altered Eating Research Network at Newcastle University in England, told the Times.
So if your partner is suddenly turned off by the very smell of you no matter how hard you scrub down in the shower, the good news is it might be them, not you. The bad news is you might just have to break up.