I recently saw a product that promised to eliminate any odor from any body part for three whole days. While that seems magical if we’re talking about, say, butt sweat in the summer, it doesn’t seem so great if we’re talking about overall body smells. Listen, guys, some of the best smells are sweat smells and they shouldn’t be masked. But — this is important — not all sweats are equal.
Some sweats are hot, and others are not. The trouble is, which is which?
The sweat that smells good doesn’t always look good, and there doesn’t seem to be a whole heckuva lot you can do about it.
I concede that sweat does not do it for everyone in the sexual sense. When mentioning I was writing this up, a woman I know smacked down a bold pronouncement: “Please tell men that any male over 12 needs to bathe daily. No exceptions.”
Hey, not so fast. Perhaps I should tell her that her aversion to any sweat smell might mean she’s either lacking a functional copy of a certain gene that can detect androstenone by nose, which is a chemical in the body odor of dudes because of testosterone. Or that she’s one of the people who can smell it but actually hates it.
Studies have found that 70 percent of men and women have this gene variant that allows them to pick up on the chemical scent. Of the 70 percent who do, some people think it smells really sexy, or “sweet” and “woodsy,” enough to get them aroused (including an uptick in heart rate and mood, and even sometimes it stimulates ovulation). Those who could detect it but didn’t like it thought it smelled more like pee.
Weirder still: When female pigs smell this chemical, they curve their spine and start wiggling into a position called “lordosis behavior,” which is a fancy way of saying they’re scooching up their butt up in the air so they can better have sex. (So do cats, rodents and elephants.)
What’s more, human man sweat has historically inspired lust, too. After Roman gladiators worked up a big sweat, they were rubbed with perfumed oil and then their bodies were scraped with a metal tool called a strigil or sweat scraper to collect the mixture. This was bottled and sold off to fans as an aphrodisiac and also used in cosmetics. Here’s a clip of that procedure in the HBO show Rome, which also illustrates a good idea of what you might call Peak Sweaty Man Look.
So before we go telling men to exorcise their bodies of all sweat, we should probably define our terms. What are the good sweats, and what are the bad sweats?
Here’s a brief list:
General Body Sweat, If Relatively Recent
This is also known as your smell, the one that emanates after whatever grooming has happened but worn off and now you’re smelling like you smell. Authentic man smell. His True Smell™. Research suggests that sweat is best when sweat is fresh, and that after awhile, it oxidizes and turns into classic B.O., which takes about 20 minutes.
Most people prefer that fresh sweat smell, but dear God, 20 minutes is a fascistic number of minutes to tolerate the human body’s natural odors. In my view, when you like how a man smells, you pretty much like it all the time, or at least up until the point where he’s egregiously unclean, like when he starts to smell like whatever happens to a man’s workout clothes in a gym bag, or whatever happens in men’s locker rooms, or in the areas where any teenage boys congregate, like video game stores. But this kind of foul situation could take days to unfold depending on how much activity is going down, so it’s highly subjective.
Even though the existence of human pheromones is super dicey, we do know that women prefer the smell of men’s T-shirts whose immune system’s are different from theirs, which coincidentally is ideal for breeding. That’s only dimly understood, but it’s likely something in their sweat glands, which technically are all over the body, but the sort that emit odor in the T-shirt zone would be from your pits (those are also in the groin).
Women can tell the difference between the sweat of a turned-on dude and a not-aroused dude. And they like it.
Exercise Sweat, or I-Just-Did-A-Man-Thing Sweat
Men who are more fit do sweat more because their sweat glands adapt to cool them off sooner to more quickly lower their body temperature, but this is not the case for women (scientists aren’t exactly sure why). But a man sweating because he moved around, ran up some stairs to meet you or lifted some heavy furniture is sexy. Another woman told me that it’s not the sweat itself so much as what it represents them having done. “When men think they are looking sexy because of sweat it’s because they’re sweating over having done a sexy thing, like chopping wood or calling the doctor all by themselves.”
Post-Coital Sex Sweat
From exercise? After sex? Yes. From being gross and dirty? Ick.
Not reeallly. You want a man’s True Smell™ to come through on his body and general person, but you want the junk to be clean.
The Horribly Putrid
Meat Sweats/Poop Sweats/Sick Sweats
Just because science doesn’t know if they’re real doesn’t mean we don’t get them. After you consume a whole lotta meat, maybe the sodium, or maybe the meat heat, or the maybe the sheer work it takes for your body to break down protein… it all means you’ll be sweatin’ it up in a meaty way until the whole thing passes.
It is both amusing and gross, as are all food-related sweats, as are all gastrointestinal-related sweats, and as are all sick-related sweats, such as those related to food poisoning, or the flu, or dairy, or eating hot chicken.
Finally, we can’t only discuss the smell of sweat, we must also discuss how men look while sweating. Just as men likely prefer a dewy, lightly sweaty look on a woman (a sweat glow, if you will), so do women like a dewy, lightly sweaty look on a man. That guy in the Rome clip is a perfect example of sweating that looks hot on a hot man who did a hot thing. Think mist, not drench, although to be fair, you can’t really do much about it.
That’s ideal, but still, something needs to be cleared up here. It’s not really where you sweat, it’s how you sweat, and why you’re doing the sweating. I realized men don’t know this, because when I asked some I know if they had any sense of whether they sweat well or not, they revealed they thought they were all bad sweaters with absolutely zero sweat awareness or mention of the why.
“I look like sh*t when I sweat,” one guy told me. “I’m all brow and lower back.”
“Bad,” another guy said. “Depending on the situation, sweating is so bad for my anxiety that it makes me sweat more, and then I am trapped in some sort of sweat Inception situation and the only thing that will help is a shower and a 65-degree thermostat.”
“I’m a sweaty dude,” another guy said. “And look bad doing it.”
Let’s get it straight, though: When a man is sweating because he’s doing man things and smells good and you like him, you don’t really care where the sweat’s pourin’ down.
Face, back, lower back, pits, entire body soaked in sweat: Did you just carry women and children from a burning building? Feel free to sweat it up. Just came in from a run? I’m your human towel.
Anxious sweats, angry sweats, criminal sweats, or any other weird, off-brand sweats that don’t involve valid movement, athletics or heroic actions are understandably human. But you want a woman to stick her butt up in the air, not her nose. Isn’t that the point of all this?