Atypical Arousal: Exploring Nonsexual Turn-Ons

Non-Sexual Turn-Ons

If you’ve ever stood in line at the grocery store, you’ve probably seen magazines touting sexy moves proven to please your partner. Every page oozes with tips on aphrodisiacs, orgasms, sex positions, and libido-boosting injections.

However, many of the things that tantalise men and women have nothing to do with sex at all. According to a survey by Women's Health, women were turned on by nonsexual male behaviours, such as watering the plants and wearing a nice belt. A similar survey found that men were aroused by things like reading a book and sneezing.

Clearly, sexual appeal has to do with a lot more than just skin-to-skin contact. So we surveyed 1,000 Americans and 1,000 Europeans to find out: What are the most common nonsexual turn-ons for men and women? What everyday locations put people in the most amorous state of mind? And how do we feel about our unusual triggers? Continue reading to see what we found.

Top ranking turn-ons

Top Atypical Turn-Ons

The top turn-on for our survey respondents was the smell of perfume, which comes as no surprise considering that the Smell & Taste Treatment and Research Foundation found that pleasant smells not only boosted moods but also increased blood flow to the (ahem) extremities.

Foreign accents also ranked highly for respondents, with about 11 percent of people confessing that exotic inflections piqued their sexual interest. Well-chosen clothes also mattered: Suits thrilled nearly 9 percent of our respondents, while around 7 percent were captivated by maid and school uniforms.

Less popular were medical, police, and military uniforms. And hairdos – ponytails and pigtails – were a thrill for only around 5 percent of respondents. Wearing glasses and stretching attracted about 6 percent of respondents.

Hot items, by gender

Top Atypical Turn-Ons, by gender

Both men and women found scents to be sensual – men ranked perfume top of their list, while women prioritised cologne as No. 1. Why is smell so important? Psychologist Bettina Pause believes that our brains react strongly to the chemicals in scents, and other researchers say smell helps us choose compatible romantic partners.

For women, maturity and authority seemed to be especially appealing – they ranked suits and military uniforms in their top five. They also appreciated a little exoticism, rating foreign accents as their third favourite turn-on.

Beards were hot; however, moustaches weren’t as arousing – women listed ‘staches in the 15th spot on their list, while beards made it to No. 4.

But what turned the men on? While men – like women – fancied foreign accents, they tended to be drawn to flirty hairstyles (ponytails and pigtails, No. 5 and No. 6, respectively) and alluring uniforms (maid and school uniforms, in particular).

There were a few surprises on the men’s list as well: Wearing a choker made the list, and even socks were likely to get men’s thoughts veering to the bedroom.

Mapping arousal

European vs. American: Top Atypical Turn-Ons, by gender

We know that erotic triggers differ for men and women, but do they also differ for Americans and Europeans? Looking at the responses from our American and European respondents, it’s clear that – when it comes to atypical turn-ons – there are some continent-specific divides.

European women reported being captivated by reading or stretching, neither of which made American women’s top ten. American women – unlike their European counterparts – were drawn to moustaches, baby holding, and glasses.

However, both sets of women were suckers for cologne, a suit, and a foreign accent – suggesting that sophistication is a sexy characteristic on both sides of the pond.

European and American men had a lot in common when it came to nonsexual turn-ons. Perfume, accents, and uniforms seem to be classic stimulants for men, no matter where they reside.

However, European men had no love for chokers, which ranked No. 8 on the American men’s top 10, and American men were not aroused by suits, which ranked No. 10 for European men.

National stimulus

Top Atypical Turn-Ons, by country: Europe and US

What are the top turn-ons for the United States and parts of Europe?

Yet again, we found that scent reigned supreme: France, Spain, the U.K., Portugal, and the Netherlands all adored perfume. However, for Romania, Germany, and Austria, suits were sexiest.

In Poland and Belgium, respondents had a distinct preference for maid uniforms, while in Italy, the police uniform was large and in charge.

Romantic real estate

Top Locations for Random Arousal

Riding on the bus. Walking down a country lane. Where have you experienced random arousal? We asked our survey respondents this question and discovered some surprising answers.

Almost 1 in 5 respondents have felt amorous at work. It seems that romantic feelings in the workplace are downright routine: A 2013 Business Insider survey found that over 90 percent of respondents had been attracted to a colleague at some point in time, and more than half had had sex at work.

But what about those who did not favour the office as a hot spot? Respondents, interestingly, found that watching nonsexual TV shows or movies could be erotic – almost 15 percent of survey participants have been turned on by non-romantic films or TV shows.

Drivers were also likely to be surprised by seductive feelings. Almost 14 percent of our respondents acknowledged that getting behind the wheel could be an aphrodisiac. And other forms of travel – on planes or trains – proved stimulating for about 9 percent of respondents.

More domestic activities tended to rank lower for respondents – only 7 percent got turned on while cooking, while a little over 8 percent were itching to go when grocery shopping.

Sensual spots, by country

Top Locations for Random Arousal, by Country

Next, we analysed our survey results to identify each country’s favourite thrill location.

We discovered that most of Europe and the U.S. experienced surprisingly steamy moments in the workplace: France, Spain, Italy, Poland, and the U.K. ranked the office as the No. 1 spot where they were most turned on.

In the Netherlands and Austria, however, respondents found that merely watching TV or a movie could set them atingle. In Romania, plane or train rides were considered sexiest, while in Belgium, driving revved-up primitive urges.

A wink and a smile

Have you ever been physically turned on by a strangers smile, a smell or when working out?

As we’ve seen from our survey responses, the smallest actions can trigger a sexual response in men and women. But which gestures do men find the sexiest, and which expressions make women swoon the most?

We found that men were more likely to respond to the smile of a stranger – with nearly 60 percent of men turned on by smiling compared to only 46.6 percent of women. However, both genders were aroused by good moods – so you may want to consider smiling when you want to attract the attention of the fit person next door.

Approximately half of all men and women were susceptible to alluring scents, which is perhaps why perfume commercials focus on attention-grabbing sexuality.

However, physical exercise proved to be less stimulating for both genders. Working out triggered sexual thoughts in around 38 percent of men and only 27.3 percent of women.

Strange love

Strange Attractions, by relationship status

Our respondents weren’t just turned on by some strange things; they were also turned on by strangers.

Singles were much more likely to be excited by romantic feelings towards an unknown person. Married and partnered individuals were nearly 20 percent less likely to feel excited. Still, the experience of meeting a sexy stranger consistently made the pulse quicken – over half of all respondents found their adrenaline pumping when eyeing a gorgeous stranger.

Few people (fewer than 7 percent of all groups surveyed) responded to their attraction with feelings of shame. However, those in relationships were a few percentage points more likely to feel guilty than their single counterparts.

Married individuals were more likely to blush at their feelings, with more than a quarter of these respondents feeling embarrassed for being attracted to a stranger.

Interestingly, singles and people in a relationship were more likely to feel nervous when fascinated by a stranger.


The turn-ons for men and women – and Americans and Europeans – are varied, surprising, and deeply personal. When it comes to sexual attraction, we’re all as unique as our DNA.

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