[en] When in breeding condition, male and female mammals seek out and mate with opposite-sex conspecifics. The neural mechanisms controlling mate recognition and heterosexual partner preference are sexually differentiated by the perinatal actions of sex steroid hormones. Many mammalian species use odours to identify potential mates. Thus, sex differences in partner preference may actually reflect sex differences in how male and female mammals perceive socially relevant odours. Two olfactory systems have evolved in vertebrates that differ considerably in their anatomy and function. It is generally believed that the main olfactory system is used to detect a wide variety of volatile odours derived from food prey among many sources, whereas the accessory olfactory system has evolved to detect and process primarily nonvolatile odours shown to influence reproductive behaviours and neuroendocrine functions. Some recent results obtained in oestradiol-deficient aromatase knockout (ArKO) mice that provide evidence for a developmental role of oestradiol in olfactory investigation of volatile body odours are discussed, suggesting that: (i) oestrogens contribute to the development of the main olfactory system and (ii) mate recognition is mediated by the main as opposed to the accessory olfactory system. Thus, sex differences in mate recognition and sexual partner preference may reflect sex differences in the perception of odours by the main olfactory system.