Inbreeding depression results from mating among genetically related individuals and impairs reproductive success. The decrease in male mating success is usually attributed to an impact on multiple fitness-related traits that reduce the general condition of inbred males. Here we find that the production of the male sex pheromone is reduced significantly by inbreeding in the butterfly Bicyclus anynana. Other traits indicative of the general condition, including flight performance, are also negatively affected in male butterflies by inbreeding. Yet we unambiguously show that only the production of male pheromones affects mating success. Thus, this pheromone signal informs females about the inbreeding status of their mating partners. We also identify the specific chemical component, hexadecanal, likely responsible for the decrease in male mating success. Our results advocate giving increased attention to olfactory communication as a major causal factor of mate-choice decisions and sexual selection.