Sex differences and reproductive hormone influences on human odor perception

Physiol Behav. 2009 May 25;97(2):213-28. doi: 10.1016/j.physbeh.2009.02.032. Epub 2009 Mar 9.


The question of whether men and women differ in their ability to smell has been the topic of scientific investigation for over a hundred years. Although conflicting findings abound, most studies suggest that, for at least some odorants, women outperform men on tests of odor detection, identification, discrimination, and memory. Most functional imaging and electrophysiological studies similarly imply that, when sex differences are present, they favor women. In this review we examine what is known about sex-related alterations in human smell function, including influences of the menstrual cycle, pregnancy, gonadectomy, and hormone replacement therapy on a range of olfactory measures. We conclude that the relationship between reproductive hormones and human olfactory function is complex and that simple associations between circulating levels of gonadal hormones and measures of olfactory function are rarely present.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Female
  • Gonadal Steroid Hormones / metabolism*
  • Gonadal Steroid Hormones / pharmacology
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Menstrual Cycle / drug effects
  • Menstrual Cycle / physiology
  • Odorants*
  • Perception / drug effects
  • Perception / physiology*
  • Sensory Thresholds / drug effects
  • Sensory Thresholds / physiology
  • Sex Characteristics*
  • Smell / drug effects
  • Smell / physiology*


  • Gonadal Steroid Hormones