Join 3,363 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


Are Birth Control Pills Changing the Mating Game?
March 30, 2012 12:55 PM   Subscribe

Two researchers have reviewed the body of research on the effects of birth control pills on both women and men’s perceptions of attractiveness, and have come to some provocative conclusions. “If you don’t take into account society maybe we’re all animals, but in social situations I don’t think there are many women who change who they would mate with at different times of the month. It might change desires or perceptions but, gee whiz, that’s a long stretch to changing who you would date, or even who you would go to dinner with”
posted by goalyeehah (62 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite

 
For some reason it makes me feel good to hear a scientist saying, "Gee Whiz"
posted by goalyeehah at 12:56 PM on March 30, 2012 [10 favorites]


I suspected as much. If alcohol doesn't make me more attractive to women, what chance did a little birth control pill have?
posted by Capt. Renault at 1:03 PM on March 30, 2012 [3 favorites]


a study investigating tip earnings by lap dancers showed that earnings varied across menstrual cycles, with ovulating women as the highest earners

This is an awesome study for SCIENCE. How do I get in on these?
posted by Justinian at 1:06 PM on March 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


Wear a lab coat to a strip club.
posted by Greg_Ace at 1:13 PM on March 30, 2012 [6 favorites]


Aaaand the comments are predictably horrifying! Every time, with the "feminists are whiners!" and "ladies on the pill get something for nothing!" and "the pill is an unnatural perversion and we'll be eaten by sky demons!" etc. Okay maybe not half of that last one. I would probably like them more if they came up with more interesting futures.
posted by jetlagaddict at 1:13 PM on March 30, 2012 [3 favorites]


Pill-taking women aren’t hotties, and they pick girlie men who are likely to give them ugly babies. But of course, there’s a lot more complexity to the findings.

Phew!
posted by Reasonably Everything Happens at 1:15 PM on March 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


Agreeing with others here: the comments are of YouTube commenter quality. Avoid lest you want to lose brain cells.
posted by Mister Fabulous at 1:19 PM on March 30, 2012


Pill-taking women aren’t hotties, and they pick girlie men who are likely to give them ugly babies.

That burns, Science. I thought we were friends!
posted by jetlagaddict at 1:20 PM on March 30, 2012 [4 favorites]


But many would argue that personality is a far better way to choose a life partner than what they smell like.

Oh, look at Egghead over here, trying to argue that his personality makes up for his lack of powerful musk glands! Nice try, Poindexter!

*emits Koffing-style plume of sex odors*
posted by Greg Nog at 1:23 PM on March 30, 2012 [30 favorites]


This article is from October 2009. Judging the 2.5 year old comments is kind of like looking in a time capsule that isn't ready to be opened for another 17.5 years.
posted by jabberjaw at 1:24 PM on March 30, 2012


Pill-taking women aren’t hotties, and they pick girlie men who are likely to give them ugly babies. But of course, there’s a lot more complexity to the findings.

I was surprised that this was the study's abstract.
posted by found missing at 1:25 PM on March 30, 2012 [4 favorites]


Women say they find a sense of humor attractive. Look, Curly from the Three Stooges was a very funny guy, but ...
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 1:27 PM on March 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


Ultimately, this just proves women in Silverlake have a genetic disposition toward men with beards in girlfriend jeans.

Evopsych explains it all
posted by klangklangston at 1:32 PM on March 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


One of the aspects I found fascinating about all those silly "birth control pills make you date girly-men!" articles is the unstated (or sometimes clearly stated) assumption about which secondary sexual characteristics demonstrate evolutionary fitness and which demonstrate evolutionary unfitness. So if women not on BCPs are attracted to men with strong jaws, and women on BCP are attracted to men with weak jaws, the conclusion was that women not on BCP were more attracted to more evo. fit men. But they never showed that 'hyper-masculine' men are more fit! Indeed, I just read a study last week that (rather tongue-in-cheek) showed that men with higher timbre voices have the same or higher sperm count than men with deeper voices. Of course sperm count isn't the sole determiner of evolutionary fitness, but at least it's a study rather than just a biased assumption!
posted by muddgirl at 1:34 PM on March 30, 2012 [11 favorites]


Date, or go to dinner...are either of these euphemisms for fucking?
posted by the young rope-rider at 1:39 PM on March 30, 2012


say no more
posted by found missing at 1:43 PM on March 30, 2012


Date, or go to dinner...are either of these euphemisms for fucking?

No, "watching a movie at my place" is a euphemism for fucking. I have no idea what those other two things are.
posted by LordSludge at 1:43 PM on March 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


Driving Miss Daisy is a euphemism for fucking
posted by found missing at 1:45 PM on March 30, 2012 [4 favorites]


Curly from the Mayor's office on the other hand...
posted by symbioid at 1:51 PM on March 30, 2012


These studies all have a fatal flaw. Unless they are actually marking down who the women on the pill have sex with, what they are doing is extrapolating from people marking down who they find attractive in a photo study.

In other words, the studies prove that women prefer will mark down on a piece of paper that they like more "traditionally masculine" (gee a non-objective criterion), photographs when on their period.

this is coming from a square jawed, projecting forehead, square-shouldered goon-type.

Its not just these sex studies either. There are huge numbers of all sorts of "psychological" studies that have this same flaw--if a person says they will do something, it must be true. Would we take the word of a chimp or gorilla? No. We'd observe their actual behavior rather than just believe self-reporting.
posted by Ironmouth at 2:03 PM on March 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


In other words, the studies prove that women prefer will mark down on a piece of paper that they like more "traditionally masculine" (gee a non-objective criterion), photographs when on their period

sorry when ovulating
posted by Ironmouth at 2:04 PM on March 30, 2012


The results accord with my experience, as I personally refuse to mate with women unless I can smell them ovulating.
posted by kernel_sander at 2:07 PM on March 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


Would we take the word of a chimp or gorilla?

Honestly, if a talking gorilla told me who she found attractive, I would totally take her word for it. And, I would pretend to listen to the chimp, lest my face be bitten off.
posted by found missing at 2:09 PM on March 30, 2012 [9 favorites]


We'd observe their actual behavior rather than just believe self-reporting.

Everything you said makes perfect sense. The only issue is when I think about it, if I am participating in a study and I am going only based on looks to decide who I would have sex with, I don't see how that would change at all.

In other words, let's say I would have sex with Man #3.

Well, Man #3 may not exist in real life (in my local surroundings). So when you compare what I would do to what I do with my available options in real life, I think that is where the variable comes in.

Does that make any sense?

The entire study is pretty flawed, all though I do think there's something to what it's trying to figure out.
posted by Malice at 2:13 PM on March 30, 2012


This still doesn't explain why I've had such little success chatting up ladies in the feminine products aisle.
posted by orme at 2:15 PM on March 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


But many would argue that personality is a far better way to choose a life partner than what they smell like.

Oh, look at Egghead over here, trying to argue that his personality makes up for his lack of powerful musk glands! Nice try, Poindexter!


I dunno. For myself, smell and personality are actually equivalent, and in fact, above looks on the "what's important" scheme of things.

If someone smells offensive, call me overly picky, but they kinda get taken off my boneable list.

I'm kinda harsh like that.
posted by The ____ of Justice at 2:30 PM on March 30, 2012



Really? This is science? I like the bit at the end where the study is justified with the phrase, "we just want people to make an informed decision." *scoff*
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 2:34 PM on March 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


The fact that Man #3 doesn't exist in most people's lives is sort of the point of the study review, isn't it?

Basically, if we gave 100 currently-ovulating women a stack of photos, maybe 99 of those women would pick Brad Pitt as the most hot of the hotties. But clearly Brad Pitt isn't going to copulate with all 99 women, and the women know this. So all the doom and gloom about women on BCP ruinin' their future chance at evolutionary and emotional success is silly and potentially a little sexist, because when it comes to actually choosing sexual partners, the presence of BC hormones does not seem to affect this.
posted by muddgirl at 2:37 PM on March 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


So if women not on BCPs are attracted to men with strong jaws, and women on BCP are attracted to men with weak jaws women, the conclusion was that women not on BCP were more attracted to more evo. fit men.


If anything, I think this points to an alternative, built-in accommodation in women's preferences to polygamous or separatist models, in which a woman is attracted to a strong-jawed male when she's fertile and to other women when she's not-- women who will help her gestate, give birth to, nurse, and raise her child, as she will do for them.

She's attracted to strong-jawed men because they have a better chance at winning a battle with other men for the opportunity to mate, which is something that will increase the fitness of her sons.
posted by jamjam at 2:39 PM on March 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


The results accord with my experience, as I personally refuse to mate with women unless I can smell them ovulating.

I'm not sure about smelling ovulation (might it smell like a particularly nice omelet?), but there is a specific three- or four-day period during my partner's cycle when she smells absolutely irresistible to me. We laugh about how on those days all it takes is a good whiff of her scent and I'll be dragging her to the bedroom. It happens both on the pill and off, though much stronger when she is off.

She's attracted to strong-jawed men because they have a better chance at winning a battle with other men for the opportunity to mate,

Since when have men competed by poking each other with their jaws?
posted by Forktine at 2:41 PM on March 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


From the comments: "A farmer already knows this. Just watch the Bulls and Cows at play. "

Please expound, 2009 commenter, on how I tell the manly bulls from the effete bulls so I am sure which bulls the cows are choosing to screw. After that, I have important questions about your sex life.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 2:41 PM on March 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


More from the comments:
"Scent has a lot to do with it, both obvious and pheromonal. Consider.

Most of a woman’s pheromone transmission is from the scalp. The lady tucks her head into the gentleman’s shoulder and thinks how comfortable she is in his arms. The message her scalp is sending to him is “Mount me, breed me, and die for me”.

A man’s pheromone transmitters are divided between his armpits (fresh sweat, before microbes change it into something stinky) and his saliva. Catholic girls, remember when Sister Mary Brutal told you French kissing could get you pregnant? She was on to something."
Oh my God. I want to get ALL my human anatomy education from internet comment sections. This is fantastic. "How Human Attraction and Reproduction works" from aliens disguised as humans who have only seen sex in movies and are extrapolating based on that. This is the best Third Rock from the Sun episode ever!
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 2:46 PM on March 30, 2012 [9 favorites]


She's attracted to strong-jawed men because they have a better chance at winning a battle with other men for the opportunity to mate

Except that's all still speculation, until one can show that hyper-masculine men have or had a better chance of winning a 'battle' with other men for the opportunity to mate (if we look at our close relatives, this is often not the case - I can't remember which species of apes, but in one of our close relatives you can often see the 'beta males' screwing the ladies while the more aggressive males are pounding their chests and beating their sticks, or whatever).
posted by muddgirl at 2:47 PM on March 30, 2012 [4 favorites]


“Mount me, breed me, and die for me”

Time for a new status!
posted by the young rope-rider at 2:50 PM on March 30, 2012 [11 favorites]


Since when have men competed by poking each other with their jaws?

"Is that your jaw, dude, or are you just competey to see me?"
posted by Greg Nog at 2:59 PM on March 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


(if we look at our close relatives, this is often not the case - I can't remember which species of apes, but in one of our close relatives you can often see the 'beta males' screwing the ladies while the more aggressive males are pounding their chests and beating their sticks, or whatever)

According to what I remember of Joan Roughgarden, it's not just a primate thing, either -- you also see similar behaviors playing out in other animal species like birds, fish, etc. To a first approximation, it seems like the "lover" and "fighter" strategies are both pretty broadly successful.
posted by en forme de poire at 3:28 PM on March 30, 2012


I'm not on BC and I like "girlie men" - explain that, science.
posted by Anima Mundi at 3:31 PM on March 30, 2012 [3 favorites]


WHR has been shown to be a reasonably predictive value for cross cultural attractiveness of women to men. But there isn't such a value for attractiveness of men to women. Studies of foraging societies show that a men's ability to procure food is considered the most consistant marker of attractiveness for foraging women. It doesn't matter how short you are in Papua New Guinea if you (literally) bring home the bacon.
posted by melissam at 3:33 PM on March 30, 2012


Well, the real finding is that women prefer 'girlie men' whenever they're not fertile (so, like, 24 days out of every month), but BC really messes with those other 4-7 days! Such that we have to write alarming headlines about BC!

Again, more sexism than valid science.
posted by muddgirl at 3:34 PM on March 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


Is there some way this study discriminates between the difference in the populations which choose the pill as their preferred method of birth control from those who prefer other methods? Can't one argue that those who live lives sufficiently structured that they can reliably take daily medication are already less "animalistic?"
posted by Obscure Reference at 3:34 PM on March 30, 2012


Since when have men competed by poking each other with their jaws?

First rule of fight club....
posted by rtha at 3:36 PM on March 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


"If anything, I think this points to an alternative, built-in accommodation in women's preferences to polygamous or separatist models, in which a woman is attracted to a strong-jawed male when she's fertile and to other women when she's not-- women who will help her gestate, give birth to, nurse, and raise her child, as she will do for them."

You know that women can still tell "less-masculine men" from women even when they're ovulating, right?
posted by klangklangston at 4:03 PM on March 30, 2012 [3 favorites]


Since when have men competed by poking each other with their jaws?

Good muscles and bones are indicators for good mating candidates.

Now, if you happen to display strong muscles and bones in the same location that humans are otherwise wired to look at frequently (i.e. the face), all the better.

Which is why women look more for strong jaws than, say, strong calves.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 4:11 PM on March 30, 2012


All this alarmist language about birth control pills messing with our mate selection, but since when has mate selection NOT been messed around with? It seems like only in the past 100 years or so were women really even allowed to choose their mates, and that is only in some parts of the world (usually those with greater access to the pill...what a coincidence).

Mate selection all throughout human history has been fairly "unnatural" to begin with. Arranged marriages have mostly been the norm, sometimes the man (practically never the woman) choosing a spouse but usually the parents getting to choose who to marry off their children to. And these were for strategic reasons; either because the parents wanted to form an alliance with the spouse's family/tribe or to ensure the economic security of their progeny. Often, the most common criteria of selection made no sense from the standpoint of genetic fitness: the practice of marrying off young women to decrepit, old men who were probably often impotent due to their age, the practice of sibling marriage and continuous inbreeding (Need to keep that royal blood going!), marrying for wealth or title regardless of the mate's health or attractiveness.
I doubt the pill *slightly* altering women's perceptions of sexual attractiveness is somehow going to lead to some downward spiral of increasingly genetically defective offspring.

Good muscles and bones are indicators for good mating candidates.

Now, if you happen to display strong muscles and bones in the same location that humans are otherwise wired to look at frequently (i.e. the face), all the better.

Which is why women look more for strong jaws than, say, strong calves.


Why would having a strong jaw indicate having good bones? Why would there be a correlation?

I doubt that more feminine-looking men are less healthy than masculine men. Probably, masculine traits like muscularity have historically been favored because of their social usefulness, not because of any underlying healthiness (in terms of genetic disease). Now the usefulness of physical strength are less useful in today's society where intelligence and charisma are more reliable markers of social and economic success than brawny muscles needed for battle. Most women today don't base their mate choice on whether he can decapitate his rivals, hunt mammoths, or defend their children from grizzly bears. And so, traits like a square jaw and deep voice, which are associated with physical strength, are also less important.

That is, in my assessment, the primary reason why so many women today are more drawn to "girlie" than "macho" men. The arrival of the pill has much less to do with it than with overall changes to what counts as fitness in our society.
posted by adso at 4:44 PM on March 30, 2012 [10 favorites]


My guess is that 80% of these results come from undergrads in the US. Not to diss US undergrads too much, but this well-studied group is also one of the least useful if we want to make any universal statements about what "the pill" is doing, culturally.

Until each and every one of those studies can be reviewed for methodology, I call "meh."

This stuff is too complex to reduce to the points they suggest here. It ain't bad science, but it ain't good science, either.
posted by clvrmnky at 5:20 PM on March 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


I doubt that more feminine-looking men are less healthy than masculine men.

You're not thinking like a caveman. Take the long view. Cavemen don't care about "health" in the same way you and I do. They care about what health can do for you. To whit:

Probably, masculine traits like muscularity have historically been favored because of their social usefulness, not because of any underlying healthiness (in terms of genetic disease).

You need to be healthy to build big muscles in the first place -- unhealthy body-builders aren't really body-builders, lacking the strength to capture enough protein to build the muscles. So, it's difficult to disentangle "big muscles" and "health" and "social usefulness." Good genes = the potential for big muscles = a better likelihood to be able to provide for a family of little cavemen.

Now the usefulness of physical strength are less useful in today's society

Again, take the long view. "Today's society" has only been around for ... oh, let's say a few hundred years. Humans have been around for about 200,000 years. You can't expect these things to change overnight, relatively speaking.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 5:46 PM on March 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


I see lots of tsk-tsking in this thread about alarmist anti-birth-control statements: none of which seem to occur in the actual article, which merely offers a mocking parody of the way a "tabloid newspaper" might present these findings. Maybe we should just accept that that particular straw man has been adequately dealt with?
posted by yoink at 6:03 PM on March 30, 2012


Which is why women look more for strong jaws than, say, strong calves

IME women frequently check out and discuss men's calves.
posted by hattifattener at 6:28 PM on March 30, 2012


Maybe we should just accept that that particular straw man has been adequately dealt with?

Hey yoink, did you read the article I linked? It's one of a million.
posted by muddgirl at 6:28 PM on March 30, 2012


You're not thinking like a caveman.

You're right, we're not thinking like cavemen, any more than we're thinking like Homo habilis. It's all just-so stories.
posted by muddgirl at 6:30 PM on March 30, 2012 [3 favorites]


Except that's all still speculation, until one can show that hyper-masculine men have or had a better chance of winning a 'battle' with other men for the opportunity to mate (if we look at our close relatives, this is often not the case...

I totally interpreted 'close relatives' as brothers/uncles/etc when I read this, and was quite confused until I got to the next phrase.
posted by jacalata at 6:34 PM on March 30, 2012


Again, take the long view. "Today's society" has only been around for ... oh, let's say a few hundred years. Humans have been around for about 200,000 years. You can't expect these things to change overnight, relatively speaking.

We haven't been cavemen for thousands of years, either. And some things have changed about human sexuality, seemingly overnight. A lot of people seem to think this has something to do with the pill changing women's hormones (hence posing the question "Are Birth Control Pills Changing the Mating Game?"). I'm trying to make the point that society has changed, and what counts as fitness (and hence desirability) has changed drastically.

You're not thinking like a caveman. Take the long view. Cavemen don't care about "health" in the same way you and I do. They care about what health can do for you.

True, physical strength has been a very useful trait for men throughout history. But it now carries much, much less currency as to what it can do for you.
posted by adso at 6:39 PM on March 30, 2012


Jaw size is positively correlated with testosterone, which is of course also correlated with muscle mass. You'll see this effect on lantern-jawed female bodybuilders who take anabolic steroids.
posted by gngstrMNKY at 6:52 PM on March 30, 2012


a study investigating tip earnings by lap dancers showed that earnings varied across menstrual cycles, with ovulating women as the highest earners

This is an awesome study for SCIENCE. How do I get in on these?


Become a lap dancer?
posted by I am the Walrus at 7:34 PM on March 30, 2012 [5 favorites]


I have no confidence in American scientists anymore. We must be the only country that comes up with these types of studies.
posted by savvysearch at 7:50 PM on March 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


Women are attracted to strong jaws because in prehistoric times, before tools, survival depended on the ability to tear apart an animal using their teeth and to crack open the hard outer shells of nuts.

I just made that crap up, but that's any less reasonable than the other crap these types of scientists come up with.
posted by savvysearch at 8:02 PM on March 30, 2012 [3 favorites]


Women are actually attracted to men with strong jaws because the entire caveman civilization was built on blowjobs.
posted by muddgirl at 8:08 PM on March 30, 2012 [6 favorites]


So if women not on BCPs are attracted to men with strong jaws, and women on BCP are attracted to men with weak jaws women, the conclusion was that women not on BCP were more attracted to more evo. fit men.

But we don't know what men are more evolutionarily fit. We cannot know which men are more evolutionarily fit, becasue we don't have the benefit of a time machine to see who passed on their genes and who did not.

This is all about the combination of sexual stereotypes and the availability of psych 101 students who are required to be test subjects in experiments.
posted by Ironmouth at 7:24 AM on March 31, 2012 [3 favorites]


It seems like everyone wants all these evo psych results to be either right or wrong -- why can't they be right but useless? I mean, suppose these effects are completely real and significant. Would that information really alter the real-world behavior of any sane person? And if not, why do we care about it?

I understand that some kinds of pure knowledge are worthwhile even without practical implications, but does this really rise to that level? It just seems like (successful) button-pushing from the pop-science PR machine...
posted by pete_22 at 9:05 AM on March 31, 2012 [2 favorites]


I've found that most people that don't accept evolutionary psych are still pissed off about not getting the right date for the prom, and they're stuck on blaming (sometimes imaginary) assholes, instead of recognizing that maybe they just didn't win the genetic lottery and really should be working on better playing the hand that Gregor Mendel gave you.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 4:07 PM on March 31, 2012


Yes, the people who are skeptical about evo. psych. are overcompensating, just as the people who are skeptical about creationism are just mad at God. It all makes sense now.
posted by muddgirl at 4:11 PM on March 31, 2012 [5 favorites]


I should have said Intelligent Design...
posted by muddgirl at 4:48 PM on March 31, 2012


« Older Will Self: Walking is political A century ago, 90...  |  Back in September of 2011, a g... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments