A Smell-Based Dating Service Lets Your Scent Do the Talking

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The smell of love is in the air, literally, in a new conceptual online dating platform called Smell.Dating. The idea, conceived by artist and environmental engineer Tega Brain and her colleague Brian House, is to put the pheromones you generate while swiping through Tinder or scanning OkCupid messages to good use. Smelling a prospective date, they posit, is all you need to decide if you are compatible.

Brain partnered with Useless Press co-founder Sam Lavigne to bring this theory out into the real world. Right now, you can help test Brain's theories—and potentially meet the love of your life—with the system they've developed. The Smell.Dating website describes the process thus:

"1. We send you a t-shirt. 2. You wear the shirt for three days and three nights without deodorant. 3. You return the shirt to us in a prepaid envelope. 4. We send you swatches of t-shirts worn by a selection of other individuals. 5. You smell the samples and tell us who you like. 6. If someone whose smell you like likes the smell of you too, we'll facilitate an exchange of contact information. 7. The rest is up to you."

Notice how the process includes no profile pictures, no likes or dislikes, no bio, no app. The project is vastly different from the common wisdom about what makes a good online dating service, and it's founded on serious research. "Unlike sight and sound, smell is interpreted first in terms of memory and emotion before being mapped to language," reads the website, citing sources as diverse as a 2010 study from Experimental Biology and Medicine and the research of Immanuel Kant. "The olfactory apparatus is a nontrivial source of information and the extent of its impact on our social lives is currently unknown. However when it comes to long-term romantic partnership it may actually be riskier to ignore the powerful signal of scent than to rely on it. Smell researchers even speculate that high contemporary divorce rates may be related to the overuse of deodorants and the underuse of our natural olfactory intelligence."

That's how important smell could be to relationships—jamming our ability to smell untrustworthiness could be a reason for high divorce rates. Lavigne and Brain mix this incredible body of scientific research with common practices of established online dating services for an experience that improves and critiques the whole concept of internet relationships.

They've Tinder-ized their service by ensuring you only hear from those with whom you match. "Mutual matching is funny as it's an algorithmic attempt to save you from rejection. Isn't that a dream—love without rejection? We're incorporating that as it's a nice promise," Brain tells The Creators Project. "But unlike dating sites we're deliberately collecting almost no user data. The gender, sexual preference or age of our users remains unknown to us and to each other. Our service is so much about disconnecting you from your inevitable prejudices and giving you a chance to see what your subconscious visceral perception selects. You can't choose what smells or tastes you respond to, its intuitive. You have to trust your nose."

The service costs $25 a pop, covering materials alone—Lavigne assures us that this is an artistic experiment, unlikely a business with which they intend to disrupt any industries. The first 100 New Yorkers to apply for "The first mail odor dating service," will test their theories about smell, pheromones, and the supposed sterility of online dating. And if science alone isn't reason enough to try Smell.Dating, Lavigne and Brain also invoke serendipity, encouraging visitors to "embrace the musky possibilities."

Try out Smell.Dating here. See more of Tega Brain, Sam Lavigne, and Useless Press' work on their websites.

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