Whether that translates to their choices in the real world remains
uncertain, but with more than 60 million women taking the Pill
worldwide, the study authors write, the possibility that it changes
mating dynamics is worth examining.
“It is important to reflect on these aspects from an evolutionary
point of view, as changes in preference for indicators of genetic
quality in a sexual partner are considered to be functional and
adaptive,” said Alessio Gori, lead author of the study and a
psychologist at the University of Florence.
Past research has found that when women view images of potential
male partners during the most fertile time of their menstrual cycle,
they tend to prefer the guys with more masculine traits.
Oral contraceptives prevent ovulation, so women on the Pill don’t
have a most-fertile time of the month.
To see if that makes a difference in what women want in a man, the
researchers recruited 195 women between the ages of 18 and 50 from
central Italy to complete questionnaires. These included a 20-item
survey in which they rated on a five-point scale their preference
for various indicators of masculinity, including athleticism, social
class and shoulder width.
They also filled out a 56-item portion of the Minnesota Multiphasic
Personality Inventory-2, a well-known personality test, to assess
how masculine or “submissive” the women themselves were feeling.
Participants provided information about their menstrual cycles and
whether they were using contraceptives. The women’s average age was
32 years old, and women who were significantly overweight or
underweight were not included in the study.
Of the nearly 200 participants, 39 percent were taking the Pill. One
hundred of the women were between days 11 and 21 of their menstrual
cycle, which is when ovulation occurs and women are most fertile.
Gori and his team found that during the fertile days of the
menstrual cycle, non-Pill users scored significantly higher on the
questionnaire asking about preferred traits in an imagined man.
Women on the Pill scored an average of just over 59 points on the
survey, versus women not on the Pill, who scored about 73 points.
The higher score indicates that the women not on the Pill preferred
men with more masculine characteristics, both physical and
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When the researchers looked at the results according to the women's
own masculinity level, they found that women with the most feminine
and submissive personalities most preferred masculine attributes in
an imagined man, whether or not they were taking the Pill.
Still, even in this feminine group, women on the Pill scored
slightly lower in their desire for masculine traits, according to
the report in the Journal of Sexual Medicine.
The results are intriguing, said Christine Drea, an evolutionary
biologist at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina. But a
woman’s preferences for a hypothetical, made-up mate often differ
from the men she chooses in real life.
“I question that a woman’s fantasies about someone she might want to
have sex with are necessarily predictive of the actual men with whom
she tangos,” said Drea, who was not involved in the study.
“Do hormones affect women’s fantasies? Sure,” but whether these
fantasies actually predict behaviors is unclear, Drea told Reuters
Health in an email.
For example, when asked to imagine an ideal mate, many women may
envision a man with traits such as a strong jaw or a full head of
“The vast majority of women, however, are not married to Brad Pitt
or George Clooney. Instead, they’re married to individuals with whom
they're actually compatible - someone who acts right or smells
right,” Drea said.
So although the recent study indicates the Pill might affect some
hypothetical ideal mate, such a fantasy might have little impact on
actual mate selection.
“Having your normal hormonal variation be blunted chemically might
make you care less about Brad or George, but you wouldn’t have ever
tangoed with Brad or George anyway,” Drea said.
SOURCE: http://bit.ly/1hgJYxF The Journal of Sexual Medicine, online
May 19, 2014.
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