Erotica Readers & Writers Association Blog

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Olfactory Voyeurism

My husband’s making toast. The smell catapults me back to childhood days when my mother made me tea and toast for breakfast before sending me off to school, and I can’t keep from salivating. Toast is one of those scents that makes me want some even when I’m not hungry – like popcorn and bread baking. Yesterday evening when I went out to water the garden, I could smell the neighbors’ dinner cooking. I could pick up the scent of something frying in fresh oil, probably chips. The ocean under-smell of fish, told me that it was most likely fish and chips from the chippie picked up on the way home for a quick dinner after a hard day’s work.

I’ve been very aware of scents these past few weeks. My WIP is the story of a woman with a very gifted sense of smell. I’ve always been intrigued by scents and the emotions and the memories they elicit and by the little sneak peeks they offer us into the lives of those around us. That’s why I decided to see what would happen if the story I chose to tell was the story of sex and love and passion and all the emotions that are a part of the package experienced chiefly through the sense of smell.  What does curiosity smell like? What does anger smell like? How about fear?

Of course all of those things would be different for everyone who smelled them. Fish and chips are easy, but a perfume that smells gorgeous on someone else might smell like bug spray on me. The smell of an unwashed human might smell like wet garbage to one person while that same unwashed human may smell like sex on wheels to someone else. How does the scent of two aroused individuals change when those two have sex? And does arousal smell different from foreplay, intercourse, orgasm and the snuggle and snooze that follows?

Since I was a child, I’ve never liked to share a sleeping space with anyone. I still don’t want anyone but my husband in my sleeping space and I’ve never wanted to invade anyone else’s – even when no one is sleeping there. I find the smell of sleep both off-putting and arousing, and most definitely intriguing. The scent of sleep is the scent of people with their defenses down, the scent of people vulnerable, the scent of people entering their unconscious, their dream space. That’s way too intimate to share with strangers.

I’ve never made any bones about being a voyeur at heart, and I’m happy to sneak a peek whenever I can. But writing from an olfactory point of view is no less a voyeuristic experience, and in so many ways much more evocative. Scent is much more intimate than sight. What I can see with my eyes, I don’t have to actually take into myself. There’s a certain distance, a certain sterility about a room with a view that just isn’t there when the sense of smell is engaged.

Olfactory voyeurism is as intimate as the breath we breathe. It’s literally in our face – inside our face, and beyond that it even enters our lungs with the in and out of oxygen that keeps us alive. There’s nothing sterile or sanitary about it. It can be a fresh-baked bread and honey seduction or it can be a stale piss and garbage assault, but it can never be something that happens through a telescope or behind glass.

I read once we humans actually have an excellent sense of smell that we’ve simply forgotten how to
use. We’re mammals. Mammals experience the world through their sense of smell. Granted we humans have had lots of the lovely smells that would intrigue other mammals bathed, sanitized and deodorized away from us. I think we do that because the assault of scent is just so damned personal and intimate. No one wants to ‘smell.’ Maybe that’s because the way we smell unwashed, just up from the bed, just after a sweaty fuck, says too much about who we are in a world where secrets are much harder to keep and masks are much more important.

I’m certainly not advocating a moratorium on bathing or perfume, but I can’t keep from wondering what else we might experience if we made the effort to exercise our sense of smell a little more and build up our olfactory muscles. Could we smell fear, curiosity, arousal, anger, contentment? How much more information about the world around us could we pick up if we were a little more attuned to our sense of smell? But then again, how would we cope with the extra level of intimacy actually ‘smelling’ each other would give us and with the level of vulnerability that would bring?


  1. A wonderful post as usual, K.D.!

    Scent is the most primitive of the senses and as such, the one mostly closely linked to emotion. I find myself trying to capture that truth in my own stories, but it's devilishly difficult to describe how something smells. Then there's the fact that we often react to olfactory stimuli more or less unconsciously. I'll be walking along the street and suddenly feel a lightening of the heart. It can take a while for me to recognize that this is a reaction to some scent that's tickled my nose - sandalwood incense from a shrine, perhaps, or freshly cut grass, or, as you mention, the homely, comforting smell of baking bread.

  2. Thanks for the comment, Lisabet. I'm really enjoying writing about scent as the primary driving force of the erotic. As you say, it's difficult to capture in words, but so powerful when someone does capture it.


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