Under the cerebral cortex—the highly convoluted portion of the brain that gives the human animal its superior intellect and reasoning is the limbic system. This is our ancient animal brain, which developed far earlier in evolution than did the cortex, the outer layer which governs rational thinking.
The limbus is responsible for survival mechanisms associated with social interactions. The limbus translates drives and emotions such as anger, thirst, and pleasure-seeking, into behavior designed to satisfy these urges. We seek food, become aggressive toward our enemies, court a mate.
The limbus is the part of the brain that responds to a threat with “fight or flight.” it helps us survive by being alert to our environment, mediating social interactions, preparing us or action.
When human beings are turned on, we can see a “limbic look,” in the eyes. This is the kind of glow in the eyes which toddlers have when they are curious and interested In everything about them. Teachers can always tell the good students who are interested in learning by the intensity of their gaze.
Lovers and religious fanatics have the “limbic look,” because they are passionately focused on another person or an Idea that substitutes for love. When a house cat stalks a bird or a dog chases a rabbit or a female dog in heat, they have the same limbic look in their eyes.
It is the limbic part of the brain that responds to food and sexual odors. one might call that area of the brain, a bearer of the true subconscious since it acts without conscious awareness to initiate behavior that is critical for individual and or species survival.
A Short History of Sexual Odors
Historically, Kalegorkis, a psychiatrist, (1963) was among the ﬁrst to provide u review of olfactory inﬂuence on human sexual behavior. He referred to Duly and White, (1930) who first postulated that olfactory stimuli were key elements that prompted changes in our behavior, not unlike the action of a moth being driven to the ﬂame.
It is of interest that Daly, a psychoanalyst, worked with White, an entomologist, and their work preceded by many years the extensive explosion in identification of insect and mammalian pheromones.
Daly was among the ﬁrst to propose the use of odors for psychotherapeutic beneﬁt. He postulated that there is evidence that odors exert a subtle effect that operates directly in the service of reproduction. He also raised the question as to why the conscious recognition of this is so repressed in humans?
Hypnotic Nature of Smell
In this regard, he believed that the recognition of the hypnotic nature of smells in sex attraction were lost to us because of the necessary social inhibition of the sexual impulse as an inevitable result of the strict need to control incest behavior and other behaviors governed by sexual taboos necessary for familial and species survival.
Control of Sexual Impulses
Without control of sexual impulses determined by odor, human civilization would be impossible! It is unfortunate that Daly’s work was ignored and Kalegorkis failed to get his psychiatric colleagues to focus on the role of odor in human development.
As with Alfred Kinsey, a trained zoologist who was also concerned with insect behavior, it took an individual like White, a biologist operating outside the bounds of psychoanalysis to persuasively posit insect behavior as a model for human sexual patterning as a function of odor.
It is of interest that these analogies are still not generally accepted despite the universally accepted validity of pheromonal observations in insects, amphibians, reptiles, and mammals. Ironically, psychiatrists, despite scientiﬁc training, have usually preferred to use analogies to explain sexuality based on Grecian mythology rather than using the direct observations readily available to us by using comparative zoological behavioral data.
Passion in Humans
It has been said that much of the phenomenon of passion in humans would, when stripped of euphemism, simply represent “a blind response to tropisms” — inborn brain-programmed responses to stimuli that have survival value. In that sense, the human sex drive can be seen as a tropism.
If we think that the tropic action of the moth being drawn to the lethal ﬂame is “stupid,” think of how many humans have been consumed by sexual passion.
Daly noted that “the study of this subject, i.e. sex, is made difﬁcult in humans by the fact that humans are ever inclined to credit the object which tends to call forth our passion with attributes and powers that emanate from ourselves rather than with those which are inherent in the object.”
In other words, desire, which we attribute rationally as resulting from our superior intellect, may be no more than an instinctual response to a pheromonal odor emanating from the object that stimulates our craving.
Pheromone Influences in Behavior
Alex Comfort (1971), the gerontologist, whose sex manual was among the first to openly focus on oral sex, also pioneered in calling our attention to pheromonal inﬂuences in human behavior (Comfort, 1975).
Although a pioneer in the study of human sexual behavior, Havelock Ellis (1920) saw odor afﬁnities in relation to fetishism. He felt that the sense of smell was too underdeveloped in humans to be of signiﬁcance in sexual attraction. In contrast, Bieber (1959) said that “the onset of heterosexual reactivity is no more a learned response in humans than it is in dogs.”
He proposed that between the ages of two and ﬁve, the central nervous system developed to the point where it could register arousal in response to sexual odors.
Eroticism in infants involving spontaneous genital stimulation and interest has been described in both sexes. (Bakwin, 1971) Bakwin indicates this in his own case histories and quotes Kinger (1948) where he feels that repeated orgasms are possible at this young age.
Sexual Preference based on Odor
This is startling and questionable, but in view of this, instead of seeing human behavior developing as outgrowths of oral or anal stages of early childhood development, as popularized by Freud, we feel that sexual preferences in adult life may be better explained by the primacy of body odor which envelops the infant.
What Freud describes as a latent ﬁxation on the early oral or anal stages of our development may instead be a normal outgrowth of continuing chemosensory organization based on innate olfactory patterning that develops prenatally or in the early months of our life. In support of this, Ellis thought that genital excitement- i.e., masturbation — could excite the olfactory center.
He cited Wilhelm Fliess (1897), a colleague and friend of Freud, who felt that there were areas of nasal tissue with “erectile” properties similar in nature to our genitals. Fliess claimed, while rejected today, that our nasal mucosa behaved similarly to the hormone-sensitive tissue in the vagina or uterus, which responds to the menstrual cycle.