Face it, everybody stinks after a while. And nobody likes a date who doesn't smell nice, right?

Well, some of us do.

The body produces its own scent-based aphrodisiacs, called pheromones. These fatty acids seem designed to attract the opposite sex, though; it's unclear whether the pricey perfumes that contain male pheromones give gay guys erections, too. And in any case, the body produces its own musky smells for free.

The armpit is smell producer number one, of course. The odor of male sweat carries a range of mental associations. "Hardworking," "natural," and "ripe" are all masculine-sounding readings of what happens when bacteria sits in our armpits for a while. The attraction to this sort of smell is most noticeable in the leather community; S/M play parties generally refuse entry to a man reeking of cologne. (Some people have chemical sensitivities that make them sick from a whiff of after-shave, but in this case it's all about butch.)

For every gay guy who finds pit odor a sign of uncleanliness, there's another who loves rubbing his nose in it, leaving a trick's apartment with the man's smells still on his face. One online cruiser, who has "mansmells" in his personal profile, says, "A man's natural odors turn me on. When I stick my face into somebody's armpit, I want it to smell like sweat, not chemicals." Not every guy smells the same; individual chemistry, even diet, can affect the way a man's body smells. So some odor aficionados approach armpits with the ardor of a wine connoisseur: "Mmmm, it smells like a 1999 Fred!"

Other stinky stuff is a matter of more specialized appeal. Some guys love the scent of unwashed crotch; it can make other men gag. Uncircumcised men might add smegma to the recipe; some foreskin fetishists can't get enough. Speaking of cheese, the bacteria on the human foot are related to bacteria involved in the production of strong-smelling Roquefort. Foot fetishists, always a specialist bunch, include sock sniffers, who get horny at the whiff of a really funky foot.

But body odor's not for everyone. As another guy I ran across online said, "I like a clean-smelling body. You're going to be freshly showered if you're going to get in bed with me." A just-washed body smells subtle and fresh, and guys who jump in the tub before jumping in the sack with some stud would most likely want the favor returned. One reader asked me how he could tell his steady sex partner that his crotch smell made him gag whenever he went down on him. In that situation, a polite, "Please take a shower before I suck you off," seems a not-unreasonable request. Beyond a simple wash-up with Irish Spring, there are a number of ways to alter how our bodies smell -- deodorant, after-shave, cologne -- but boys who sprinkle Old Spice on their pubes before receiving oral sex may be asking for rejection.

Whether due to biology or psychology, it's clear that the same smell can produce widely varying responses in various sex partners, from a hard-on to a wrinkled-up nose. Lighting a stick of incense can set a seductive mood. Or it can remind Mr. Right of his unpleasant ex-hippie uncle. (The parts of the brain that deal with memory and with smell are closely connected, so it's no wonder.) Some smells -- a sea breeze, the scent of a pine forest -- have romantic overtones, which may or may not be evoked by the corresponding variety of Glade. And who knows, the odor of unwashed sheets may bring back the memory of that really hot stud in the frat house. Or it may make you want to run screaming from the bedroom.

It is, indeed, all a matter of taste. Well, smell.

This is one of many SpeakingOfArticles