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Smells Like Teen Spirit

The Times Literary Supplement‘s excerpt of Katherine Ashenberg’s entry in the long and long list of natural history titles includes a section on scent and sex:

In fact, there’s no evidence that the birth rate ever fell because people were too smelly for copulation. And, although modern people have a hard time accepting it, the relationship between sex and odourless cleanliness is neither constant nor predictable. The ancient Egyptians went to great lengths to be clean, but both sexes anointed their genitals with perfumes designed to deepen and exaggerate their natural aroma.

Most ancient civilisations matter-of-factly acknowledged that, in the right circumstances, a gamey, earthy body odour can be a powerful aphrodisiac. Napoleon and Josephine were fastidious for their time in that they both took a long, hot, daily bath. But Napoleon wrote to Josephine from a campaign: “I will return to Paris tomorrow evening. Don’t wash.” As I read about cleanliness, people began taking me aside and confessing things: several didn’t use deodorant, just washed with soap and water; some didn’t shower or bathe daily. Two writers told me separately that they had a washing superstition: as the end of a long project neared, they stopped washing their hair and didn’t shampoo until it was finished. One woman confided that her husband of some 20 years takes long showers at least three times a day: she would love, she said wistfully, to know what he “really” smells like.



The Joy of Sex counsels against the use of deoderant and strong soaps for this reason. I think that position may be just a little extreme.

That advice seems smart, though. Although I had girlfriends who often commented favorably on my own smell, they always smelled like fruit. My ignorance was due in part to having been virginal, but that wasn’t all of it. Anyway… I totally understand Napoleon now.

Well, I was once told that I smelled like cauiflower. The next day I was told I smelled like rutabagas, but I’m pretty sure that was a joke.

One thing that has always bothered me is how much people relish showers: “Oh, I just need a hot shower…” Or “It feels good to be clean”

I shower because I have to to remain socially viable. However, I dislike it. Nude, wet, rubbing yourself with a cake of animal or vegetable fat—what indignity! What self-effacement in the act of washing one’s own oils away!

I think, to preserve one’s sense of self, a shower should be cause for irritation, at the very least.

Cold after-jogging showers are underrated. And assuming there is enough water, coshowers are hella fun.