Many smell disorder patients report decreased sexual desire after olfactory loss

New research suggests that losing your sense of smell could harm your sex life. The study, published in Physiology & Behavior, found that many smell disorder patients reported decreased sexual desire after olfactory loss.

“Olfaction contributes a lot to social interaction and sexual behavior. However, most people are not aware of this influence and even smell disorder patients in routine care settings hardly report problems resulting from their olfactory loss,” said study author Laura Schäfer

“In our clinical experience, it has become obvious that patients with olfactory dysfunction indeed suffer from the related consequences, which are often underestimated or not addressed by physicians. In order to raise awareness among affected patients and physicians in clinical routine settings, we started to focus our research on the consequences of olfactory loss for social and sexual life domains.”

For their study, the researchers compared a 100 patients with olfactory disorders to 51 healthy control participants. These disorders included postinfectious olfactory loss, posttraumatic smell disorder, inunasal smell disorder, postsurgery disorders, and congenital smell disorders.

The researchers found that 23% of the patients reported that their sexual desire had decreased after the onset of their olfactory disorder. Many patients said that it had harmed the experience of sex itself. “I miss the scent of my partner. His fragrance and his body odor,” one participant explained. Others stated an insecurity about being unaware of their own bodily odors.

The patients with olfactory disorders also had significantly lower partnership security and were more depressed on average than the control group.

“For the average person, our study may lead to more awareness for olfaction in general: It might raise appreciation of an intact sense of smell and enhance the conscious perception of odors in the daily environment, which might increase enjoyment,” Schäfer told PsyPost.

“Furthermore, it also can lower barriers for seeking treatment insofar as affected people understand that difficulties in sexual or social life may also be related to olfactory dysfunction. Being more informed, patients might rather discover this relationship if their olfactory loss also affects other life domains. This in turn might facilitate help-seeking behavior and therefore reduce long-term exacerbation of the symptoms.”

The study — like all research — includes some limitations.

“Our research comprises qualitative and quantitative reports on sexual desire given by smell disorder patients. However, as this study was carried out in a cross-sectional approach, no causal conclusions can be drawn,” Schäfer explained.

“In order to specify risk factors and potential causes for the relationship between sexual impairment and smell problems, longitudinal research is needed. Future questions should specifically target sexual desire and sexual experience, as there might be different implications resulting from problems in either initiation of sexual activity or in the experience during intercourse.”

“It has to be kept in mind that sexual problems related to olfactory dysfunction may occur, but that this is not necessarily the case; and that in general, many sensory channels are involved in experiencing sexuality,” Schäfer added.

The study, “Sexual desire after olfactory loss: Quantitative and qualitative reports of patients with smell disorders“, was authored by Laura Schäfer, Linda Mehler, Antje Hähner, Ute Walliczek, Thomas Hummel, and Ilona Croy.