Women who take oral contraceptives desire different traits in an imaginary man than women not on the Pill, according to a small study in Italy.
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 psychological.
When the researchers looked at the results according to