Growing up in the early 2000s, I was plagued by dreaded Lynx gift boxes, as a cop out gift from relatives who saw them as the most inoffensive thing you can buy a teenage boy.
There's a structure in the front of the brain called the olfactory bulb. This is the part of the brain that handles smells and helps send information to the other areas of the body's central command for further processing. Odours take a direct route to the limbic system, including the hippocampus, the regions related to emotion and memory. Whenever I smell Lynx Africa, my thoughts go to disappointing Christmases and the memories of classrooms where most boys sprayed very liberally, myself included.
Olfactophilia is the sexual arousal of body odour. The fetish is predominantly centred around the smells upon another person's body; however, this can vary and stray into a whole host of offshoots and variety.
This really is quiet a spectrum, where some might enjoy the aroma of a slight sweaty armpit, whilst others prefer the smell of a 10-day old jockstrap - it really does vary depending on the person.
A particular memory of mine stands out amongst the rest. On a school trip to Wales, I remember being in a dorm room on the last day and packing up my things. I was the last one left and I realised that one of my room mates (we'll call him Dan) had left his t-shirt. The quality of boys in my school was quite low, but Dan was alright and occasional wank material. I went to pick it up and smelt it, the musk of his sweat lingering strongly on the soiled garment, and I did what any young pervert would do - I stole it.
I should state that all musky items I've retained over the years from dalliances have been gifted, and to my knowledge, I've not stolen (intentionally) items of clothing since, but taking that t-shirt, and the smell it aroused in me, certainly put me on the path of discovering my fetish for body odour.
My late teens and early 20s consisted of a lot of clubbing, a lot of sex and a lot of navigating my fetishes. With clubbing came dancing, sweating and a lot of making out on the dancefloor or toilet cubicles. I met men who, while initiating some sort of dancefloor or dark room courtship, would go for my armpits only to be disappointed in getting a mouthful of Sure deodorant. The awkwardness and embarrassment of these early encounters still haunt me, mainly because I completely understood their disappointment. I remember briefly dating an older guy who, after our first sexual encounter, told me "that's the last time you wear deodorant while we're fucking". My response would have normally been a fuck you, but it was actually the confirmation I perhaps needed at the time and allowed me to feel more comfortable with myself and sexual kinks.
Society bombards us with products that perpetuate a self-consciousness of your own body, women disproportionately get it more, but as a gay man growing up in a heteronormative world, there is a subtle (and not so subtle) spoon feeding of inferiority.
The thought of being judged negatively for anything, including smelling the wrong way, conjures up anxieties that are often so imbedded in a gay man's inner psyche, it can take a long time to rectify - some never do. Exploration of the fetish scene did help me to challenge a lot of ideas and conceptions of what being a gay man was and celebrate and indulge in my sexuality.
My kink exploration into the smell of sweat and body odour has, on a deeper level, made me more aware of my body (and others), and the power of scent plays into raw animal sexual attraction. It's also opened up a lot of other avenues for me - I've indulged in foot fetish sessions in which my stinky 7-day old socks have been worshipped, and I've sold countless pairs of them over the internet. I remember the first time a Dom tied my hands and made me sniff his trainers while looking directly into his eyes and realising the power that came with that.
I've also found that it's a fetish that can be both subtle and powerful whilst exploring and navigating sexual encounters - I know if a guy makes a bee line for an armpit, my feet or my crotch with his nose, I'm likely to have a good time.
The pheromones in a man's sweat are androstadienol and androstadienone (thanks Wikipedia). These are actually odourless compounds secreted by the apocrine glands. The pheromones are then converted into the more powerfully-odorous androstenone and androstenol - this in turn effects brain activity. This natural scientific phenomenon creates an animalistic response in me. Some people's musk smells great - many don't, but for me it's a great indicator of sexual compatibility.
I have found that when it comes to my own man musk, there's a bit of crafted management. I use rock salt, which is a natural deodorant that will neutralise body odour to a point where it is inoffensive to anyone I have to interact with, but also doesn't completely mask the taste of my sweat when I'm having a guy ram his tongue or nose into my armpit.
I'm not advocating that everyone should ditch deodorant and aftershave, sometimes the mixture of sweat and subtle hint of a nice aftershave is also very arousing. I'm also aware that many people don't smell great, and you only have to be on a busy London bus in July to have a counter argument to celebrating a person's natural perfume.
I think there's a lot of misconceptions about Olfactophilia - firstly I'm not running around sniffing people like a dog, nor am I stealing people's clothes to huff while I have a wank (apart from that ONE time). Olfactophilia can take a complimentary form of hugging a friend and telling them they smell good (and I have a lot of gay male friends who do smell good) to nuzzling into a guy's chest, armpit or crotch.
What I have learnt through my exploration of fetish, sex and play is that it's a multi-sensory experience.