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Sex and Thanksgiving

Pumpkin Pie May Trigger Sexual Arousal in Men


Updated November 20, 2010

When Dr. Alan Hirsch, the founder and neurological director of the Smell & Taste Treatment and Research Foundation in Chicago began his experiments on the role of scent in human sexual arousal, he probably never imagined that his research would uncover a link between Thanksgiving and sex. With the caveat that his research is entirely preliminary and raises far more questions than it answers, it's possible that Dr. Hirsh’s research will one day provide an important piece of the Thanksgiving-Sex holiday pie; explaining why Thanksgiving is simultaneously such an arousing and anxiety provoking holiday (an explanation that generously avoids any mention of time spent with my family).

The studies in question both investigate the relationship between sexual arousal and smell by exposing research subjects to a variety of different scents, while measuring sexual arousal (via penile blood flow in men, and vaginal blood flow in women).

In one study of 31 men (who were, oddly enough, all recruited from a solicitation on “classic rock radio broadcasts”) the researchers found that while all scents had a positive impact on sexual arousal, certain smells impacted penile blood flow more than others. What smell got guys most hot and bothered? Pumpkin pie and lavender topped the charts, increasing penile blood flow and average of 40% compared to their base line state. Here are some of the other scents and how they measured up (taken from the Foundation website):

  • Lavender and pumpkin pie: 40%
  • Doughnut and black licorice: 31.5%
  • Doughnut and cola: 12.5%
  • Lily of the valley: 11%
  • Buttered popcorn: 9%
  • Cranberry: 2%

In a study with female subjects pumpkin pie and lavender also made the grade, but other scents had a bigger impact on change in vaginal blood flow. A table from the study, which was published in the International Journal of Aromatherapy, lists the scents and the increase in vaginal blood flow:

  • Good and Plenty candy and cucumber: 13%
  • Baby powder: 13%
  • Pumpkin pie and lavender: 11%
  • Baby powder and chocolate: 4%

So Should I Forget the Sex Toys and Stock Up on Pumpkin Pie?

It’s probably premature to be slathering yourself in pumpkin pie filling, or lavender, or baby powder (unless you like that sort of thing, in which case more power to you).

This research, while very interesting, is a far cry from “proving” that scent has a direct impact on sexual arousal or that the smell of pumpkin pie will turn a guy on. Some of the limitations with the research include:

  • They used penile and vaginal blood flow to measure arousal. While this is probably one important part of arousal, it cannot be equated with arousal as a whole experience.
  • There is no way of knowing what about the scent triggered the arousal, or if the particular scent mattered.
  • The researchers chose the scents to use, and there may be other scents that have an even greater impact on arousal.
  • With a limited number of subjects, and no ability to compare the data from men and women, these results can be seen as a starting point at best for more research.

That said, if you’re at all disturbed by the Oedipal implications of being home for Thanksgiving and finding yourself irresistibly drawn to your Mom or Dad’s baking prowess, rest easy, it’s just the smell.


  1. Hirsch, A.R., Schroder, M., Gruss, J. et. al. “Scentsational Sex: Olfactory Stimuli and Sexual Response in the Human Female.” The International Journal of Aromatherapy Volume 9, No. 2 (1998):75-81.
  2. Hirsch, A.R. & Gruss, J. “Various Aromas Found to Enhance Male Sexual Response.” The Smell & Taste Treatment and Research Foundation. Accessed November 12, 2006. <http://www.scienceofsmell.com/scienceofsmell/index.cfm?action=completedsexual>.
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