Scents, Sex and Canadians: The Unperfumed Truth

February 1 1971

Scents, Sex and Canadians: The Unperfumed Truth

February 1 1971

Scents, Sex and Canadians: The Unperfumed Truth



IT IS WRETCHED EXCESS, said Shakespeare, “to throw a perfume on the violet.” Canadians too prefer natural smells. Increasingly, though, they are throwing, spraying, rolling or smearing perfume of one kind or another upon their persons, and they show a growing affinity for many kinds of manufactured scents. One reason for this is the clearly established relationship between scents and sexual attraction for most of us. How Canadians relate to smells — and what this reveals about them — is the subject of the sixth Maclean’s-Goldfarb Report commissioned from Martin Goldfarb Consultants, a leading social-research firm. The reports are based on a statistically reliable national sample.

"Canadians like to smell nice,” says sociologist Goldfarb, “and we do have favorite scents. Some of them obviously relate to the way we think about ourselves. For instance, there is a strong relationship between favored natural scents and hygiene. The habit of cleanliness and of clean smells is important in our daily lifestyle. As our facilities for hygiene improve, we become more self-conscious about the way we smell. Those who identify most strongly with the use of manufactured scents may be hiding a lack of hygiene.” But these last are the minority; to paraphrase the Bard again, most Canadians agree that all the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten the sour or cleanse the soiled. — JON RUDDY

Who uses scent?

Eight out of 10 Canadians apply some personal scent daily and, surprisingly enough, almost as many men use it as women. Young people use scent more often than their elders and single people use it more often than married. Canadians with limited education are less likely to apply scent daily than high-school and university graduates. “We should no longer think of scent as female-oriented,” says Goldfarb. “Its use is taken for granted by both sexes and is related to the level of sophistication."

A further breakdown of the study reveals that two thirds of all Canadians (more Englishspeaking Quebeckers and Mantimers than others) use underarm deodorants, and that many men as well as women like to apply scent to other parts of the body. Almost three times more men than women apply facial scent (61% of males, 21% of females). Use of scent on the feet and the hair is about equally divided between the sexes. Twenty-seven percent of Canadian women — and a considerable 12% of Canadian men — use scent all over the body daily. People under 25 are more inclined to use allover scent.


% of respondents Total respondents 79 Male 78 Female 80 Under 25 88 25 - 34 86 35 - 44 78 45 - 54 69 55 and over 67 Married 79 Single 85 Some high school 73 Completed high school 83 University 83

What scents do we like and dislike?

There is a “fresh, innocent feeling” about favorite smells, says Goldfarb, and “negative overtones” about the smells we most dislike. Clearly, our preferences and aversions are based on more than sensory reactions: “The smell of clean bed sheets, which rated highest, relates not only to hygiene but also to the home — as do several of the most favored Canadian smells. There are implicit feelings of warmth about the house and about making things in the home environment.” Some other com-


Rating of scent Rank of (Maximum 5.0) preference Clean bed sheets 3.7 Laundry from outdoors 3.5 Rose 3.5 Freshly perked coffee 3.3 Home-baked chocolate cake 3.1 Freshly cut grass 3.0 Talcum powder 2.8 Pipe tobacco 1.8 Cooked cauliflower or cabbage 1.6 Cigar 1.4 10 Cigarette 1.4 10 Newly painted room 1.3 12 Alcohol 1.2 13 Gymnasium 1.1 14 Gasoline 0.8 15 Bus-station .rest rooms 0.6 16 Body odor 0.5 17 Human sweat 0.3 18 Baby’s dirty diaper 0.2 19 Cat waste 0.05 20 Rotten eggs 0.04 21

mon household scents — those associated with smoking and drinking — are far down the list, suggesting negative attitudes toward these activities. Sample comments on favorite and most heartily disliked smells:

□ “Clothes from outdoors. I like the smell of them when they are frozen fresh and clean." (Female superintendent, Toronto.)

□ “Lilac, because it reminds me of my hometown." (Steelworker, Vancouver.)

□ “Stale cigarette smoke — it makes me sick." (Female foreman, Winnipeg.)

□ “Body odor when somebody doesn't bathe regularly." (Saleslady, Montreal.)

How does smell affect sexual attraction?

Precisely half of all Canadians profess to like the smell of the human body. This group includes slightly more men than women. French-speaking people are far more inclined to like it than English speakers. Other groups that tend to like it are university graduates, young people between 25 and 34 and residents of British Columbia. Twenty percent of Ca-

nadians are affected sexually “a great deal” by body smells. The figure is much higher among French-speaking Canadians and somewhat higher among English-speaking Quebeckers. Says Goldfarb: “The attitudes in French Quebec tend to be European in direction. There is a rub-off effect among the English living in Quebec, whose attitudes are changed by their cultural milieu. In Quebec there is a strong tendency to like body odor and to be affected by it sexually."


% of respondents A great deal some not much Total 20 28 46 Male 22 31 42 Female 18 25 49 Under 25 23 33 40 25-34 22 33 40 35-44 11 32 53 45-54 19 28 51 55 and over 18 12 57 Married 21 26 48 Single 20 38 37 Some high school 23 23 48 Completed high school 16 27 50 University 22 39 35

Do men and women smell different?

Three quarters of all Canadians believe that there are distinctive male and female smells. The Incidence of belief is highest among universityeducated people and Frenchspeaking residents of Quebec, lowest among people over 55 and Marltimers. Sample comments:

□ "A man is stronger and so is his odor.” (Male pipe fitter, Vancouver.)

□ "Men sweat more in their work.” (Female worker, Montreal.)

□ "A woman smells pretty.” (Female superintendent, Toronto.)

Two thirds believe that there is a human sexual odor. Comments:

□ "It is far stronger in women but don’t ask me why.” (Salesman, Winnipeg.)

□ “I have heard people say there is, but I don't know about it myself.” (Female engineer, Toronto.)

Who likes scented


Another indication that pleasing scent is no longer a woman's preserve is the fact that most men now prefer scented soap and deodorant. Somewhat astonishingly, more than two out of five men even go for scented powder. □


% of respondents Male Female . . . Powder 43 72 . . .Shampoo 41 62 ...Soap 61 70 . . Deodorant 58 61