Love stinks

Pub date November 9, 2010

Dear Andrea:

I am newly pregnant and confused. I’m wondering about “pregnancy nose” and why all of a sudden my husband smells so bad to me. I have subtly hinted that he should take a shower before bed, but he showers in the morning and thinks I’m crazy to suggest taking another one. Lots of things smell bad to me right now. Garlic is gross, and I usually love garlic. Cheese and meat are completely disgusting, so much so that that all of a sudden I’m mostly a vegetarian. I can live with that — but thinking my husband is disgusting is not okay.



Dear Nose:

One of the many perks of pregnancy is that we get to announce what we require of other people, partners especially. I have certainly seen women abuse this privilege, becoming iron-fisted little martinets ordering coworkers to change their eating habits or insisting that strangers on the next park bench over extinguish all smoking materials. But I suspect such people were nasty pieces of work before they got pregnant. Nice people are still nice enough even under the influence of bonkers hormones. You may wish to leap up and spray the garlic-beef consumers at the next table with Lysol, but you wouldn’t do it, right?

Neither will you let loose on your husband and tell him to get his OMG-stinky-paws-off-you-Jesus-Christ he makes you sick. But you have my permission to let him know, gently, that your wacky pregnancy hormones have produced the phenomenon often referred to as Bionic Nose and, through no fault of his own hygiene habits, you are having a hard time dealing with his entirely normal mammalian pong.

The Bionic Nose phenomenon is a weird one. It’s pretty clearly estrogen-fueled — women in general, um, smell better than men do, and it’s heightened in pregnancy and during ovulation, when it almost certainly plays a role in partner-choice and the increased randiness most women report at midcycle.

Obviously a heightened sense of smell and its associated squeamishness can help steer a pregnant hunter-gatherer away from tainted or toxic choices, but it comes in less handy when it renders stomach-turning otherwise perfectly nice things like a roast beef sandwich or your husband.

All well and good, you say, but what to do now with Ol’ Stinky there? As we’ve already covered, ask him to shower. Blame it on the hormones. I’m actually opposed on principle characterizing hormones as funny little imp-things that possess you and make you do and feel ridiculous things. Hormones and neurotransmitters are why and how we feel things, and I’m sorry to say that the ridiculous things we do and feel are real; they both cause and are caused by the release and reuptake of body-and-brain chemicals. That’s how it works. But you are pregnant, and I’ll cut you some slack. Go ahead, blame the ‘mones.

Oh, here’s an interesting side note, and one you can use if you need to mollify a husband who now feels stinky and rejected: many women discover that postpartum (and perhaps throughout the entire breast-feeding period) they stink like goats. Maybe that helps?