During our discussion of Freud’s On Dreams and Interpretation of Dreams, what I found most fascinating was the note about Freud’s close relationship with Wilhelm Fliess, the German otolaryngologist who helped support his ideas on sexuality with a proposal of the connection between smell and eroticism. Fliess said that the nose, which is the only body part aside from the genitals that is made up of erectile tissue, is a sexual organ; the olfactory system is highly connected to the libido, and nasal issues can contribute to sexual repression in an analysand. Though the notion is regarded by contemporary medical professionals as pseudoscience – his ideas led to several sketchy experiments involving nasal reconstruction and the medical use of cocaine – it is understandable how the concept came about and remained de rigeur among psychoanalytic and medical circles for quite some time.
There is currently a heavy body of research supporting the link between body odor and sexual attraction. Pheromones, secreted sensual chemical factors, subconsciously trigger social responses in human beings, making them highly responsible for the mysterious process of interpersonal attraction. Scent is undoubtedly highly tied to memory, producing with it a host of psychical associations. It’s not surprising that, in our contemporary capitalistic society, there’s a whole industry surrounding body scents, designed to reproduce natural phenomena and recall memories, enhancing our pheromones in the effort to stimulate sexual attraction. While there is a significant body of research to support this effort, it’s not the research that brings customers to the perfume counter. Marketing, an inherently Freudian pursuit, capitalizes on Fliess’ seemingly radical notion of the nose-genital connection. See any Tom Ford or Dolce and Gabbana perfume ad and you’ll find an obvious parallel between scent and sexuality. Though the mechanics of Fliess’ arguments are iffy at best, his influence on Freudian psychoanalysis, particularly in his statements regarding olfaction, sexuality, and neuroses, have stood the test of time.