Ewwwww! That’s the usual reaction you get from women within 10 metres of sweaty, smelly sports socks or other gear. But why is it that women can’t stand smelly socks, and men can sit in them all day without it bothering them? 

I have to admit, I love watching my husband and son play their sports, and it doesn’t bother me at all how sweaty or dirty they get … until we get in the car to go home. Then, oh boy, the window can’t be wound down fast enough. Later, if a stray sports sock is left in among the other washing to be done, the smell of body odour can be so overpowering I have to hold my breath while I quickly shove everything in the washing machine.

I do understand that it is not the fault of the boys in my family, and I do realise that my socks also stink too after a work-out. After all, foot odour is simply caused by excessive perspiration and the growth of bacteria on the feet. And even the most fastidiously clean people can suffer from foot odour. I just wish it didn’t affect me, but it seems, among the women folk, I am not alone.

FOOT FACT: Each foot has 250,000 sweat glands and produces about a cup (500 ml) of sweat daily!

Recently, Leonard Sax, an American psychologist and physician, found there could be a profound difference in the abilities of men and women to process smell.

“It’s entirely plausible that a woman could perceive an odour which is – for the woman – overpoweringly awful, while a man doesn’t smell anything,” he wrote in the New York Times.

Science agrees. A 2014 study on Sexual Dimorphism in the Human Olfactory Bulb reported, “Although men and women have approximately the same number of smell receptors [56], women’s ability to perceive and identify odourants is more accurate than men’s”.

Another study also proved that women are more likely to have an “Oh God, get me out of here” reaction to body odour. “It is quite difficult to block a woman’s awareness of body odour. In contrast, it seems rather easy to do so in men,” said study lead author Dr Charles J Wysocki, a behavioural neuroscientist at Monell Chemical Senses Center.

In the study, women and men rated the strength of underarm odours, both alone and in conjunction with various fragrances.

Sniffed alone, the underarm odours smelled equally strong to men and women. However, when fragrance was introduced, only two of 32 scents successfully blocked underarm odour when women were doing the smelling, while 19 fragrances significantly reduced the strength of underarm odour for men.

So, if you’re a bloke, it would really, really help if you showered and popped your sweaty stuff in the washing machine asap after you play or train. And please, don’t think for a minute that spraying cologne will mask anything – we women can still smell it. Unfortunately, we just have a nose for it.

Tell us, do you hate the smell of stale sweat as much as I do? Or could you easily sit next to a whole basket of used sports socks and not even realise it? Let us know in the comments below.

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