Nautica Voyage. I’d recognize that scent faster than a Formula 1 racecar could go from 0 to 60 miles per hour. As my boyfriend’s signature cologne, with just one inhale brings with it memories of the “talking stage” and of our first spontaneous adventures together. I remember excitedly texting my best friend after one of my earlier dates with him, “he just smells so good!”— clearly enamored. We hit it off instantly and January 22nd, 2022, we had officially moved on from “thinging.” Pretty soon after we started dating, I began taking a birth control pill to mediate my cramps and regulate my period.
A few months in, I noticed a change. I would ask Hudson — my boyfriend — if he was wearing his cologne. He would tell me he was, but I couldn’t smell it as strongly as I used to. Sometimes I couldn’t even tell he was wearing it at all.
Eventually, frequent mood swings and other side effects pushed me to stop taking the pill. I started feeling better, steadier, and content. But I noticed something else had returned as well. I could smell his cologne, and strongly at that. In its absence, I hadn’t thought too much of it, but I became curious after I realized more and more how much I had missed it. Naturally, I went to Google for answers.
I discovered that Reuters reported a study done at the University of Liverpool explaining their findings that the more pleasant a woman found a man’s odor, the more desirable he was to her. But, among women who use birth control pills, the definition of a “sexy” odor changed over time. This affirmed my suspicions, and it ignited a myriad of follow-up questions. Why hadn’t I known this before taking the pill? Was this common knowledge? What did could this mean for relationships?
This lack of knowledge could very well be attributed to the gaps in women’s health. Since the evolution of the medical field has historically lacked female representation, doctors treated men and women with a one-size-fits-all approach as stated by Dignity Health. The article goes on to report, “In the 1980s and 1990s, researchers began to realize that there were major gaps in understanding how disease and illness affect women and women’s health trends, and how hormonal differences may affect women’s disease progression and response to drug treatments.” Since women’s health has increasingly come into the spotlight, new findings, like my altered sense of smell towards Hudson, help bring attention to the gender-based differences in health care.
Beyond that, these findings could help to explain relationship dynamics. Reuters noted, “Genes of the major histocompatability complex (MHC) play a role in a person’s odor, and people tend to be attracted to those with an MHC makeup that is dissimilar to their own.” The article by Reuters then added that Dr. S. Craig Roberts, who led the study with researchers of the University of Liverpool, confirmed the results indicated women on contraceptive pills experienced a shifting preference towards men with genetically similar odors. Thus, they concluded, “If the sense of smell is in fact a strong player in humans’ mate choices, the researchers write, birth control pills just might nudge a woman toward a less-than-ideal man.” These effects on nostrils and preferences can help explain romantic interactions – like my anecdote of the mysterious disappearance of my boyfriend’s cologne.
For me, this was a scent-sational discovery. When I explained it to my friends, they were all curious, many similarly unaware of these studies. The birth control pack comes with a very,very long list of side effects, but I never knew this would be the one I detected so profoundly.