Could your hormones be dictating your love life?
If you’ve ever found yourself strangely drawn to a man with a chiseled jawline, bulging muscles, and a hairy chest – when your usual type is more along the lines of pale, thin, and poetry-loving – you might want to check your calendar and see what time of the month it was when that manly man made you weak in the knees.
Research has shown that at certain times of the month, women are attracted to men who might leave them cold any other time. And, just as interestingly, men might be more attracted to you during those times, as well. But there’s a factor that could throw the whole thing off kilter – and a new study that puts the whole theory into question.
Here’s the scientific scoop…
The appeal of the manly man
A 2013 study found that women who are ovulating were more attracted to men with higher testosterone levels. Researchers asked women to smell men’s sweaty T-shirts and rate them according to how sexy the smell was; they also asked them where they were in their menstrual cycle. Women who were ovulating consistently found the T-shirts of men with the highest testosterone levels the sexiest.
High testosterone is linked with traditionally masculine features such as a strong jaw, deep voice, and furry chest, as well as a confident, and even dominating, attitude. Ovulation typically occurs about two weeks after your period starts, so if you start noticing manly men around that time, now you know why. It’s nature’s way of trying to knock you up; you’re most fertile in the days around ovulation.
He can’t keep his eyes off of you
Did you ever wonder why some nights it seems every guy in the bar is buying you a drink, and other times, it feels like you’re invisible? Again, you might want to take a look at your calendar. Numerous studies have shown that men find women more attractive around the time they are ovulating (and therefore, most likely to get pregnant). A 2007 study from the University of New Mexico sent researchers out to strip clubs to test the theory; they collected data from 18 strip club workers to find out whether there was a connection between how much they made in tips, and where they were in their menstrual cycles.
Turns out, women who were ovulating made an average of $68 USD per hour, while women on their periods earned only about $35 USD per hour. (A woman is least fertile when she is on her period.) Another study, this one done in the Czech Republic in 2006, asked men to smell the body odor of women and rate its attractiveness. The men rated the smell of women in the follicular phase of their cycle (aka, the fertile phase) as the least intense and most attractive. A similar study found that when men smelled the body odor of an ovulating woman, their testosterone levels spiked.
The wildcard factor
So it seems there’s pretty strong evidence that your menstrual cycle plays a role in who you’re attracted to – and who’s attracted to you. But a study published in the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology throws a wrench into the whole thing. That study found that women who are on hormonal birth control pills are attracted to men with lower testosterone, and consequently, fewer masculine features.
Researchers actually asked women to manipulate images of men’s faces to make them more attractive, before they were on oral contraceptives. A few months later, after being on the pill, they did the experiment again. This time, the women created faces with more defined jaws and prominent brows – in other words, more masculine faces. A control group that was not on birth control didn’t show any change in their preferences. “We can be pretty sure it’s the Pill that’s causing this change,” said Robert Burriss, PhD, one of the study’s authors, and a research fellow at the University of Northumbria in Newcastle, UK.
Hormonal birth control, more commonly known as the pill, prevents ovulation. While that’s great, if you don’t want to get pregnant, the pill has been proven to play havoc with your moods and your quality of life. Now there’s evidence it can also steer you toward a mate you might not have looked twice at, had you not been taking oral contraceptives. “For over a decade now we’ve known that women tend to prefer more masculine men during the fertile phase of their menstrual cycles, around ovulation,” Burriss said. “But taking the Pill knocks out this natural hormone variation and eliminates the fertile phase. Not only does this stop a woman from being able to conceive, it also stops her from thinking like we would expect a fertile woman to think.”
Wait just a minute…
Before you toss your pill pack, or shut yourself in your apartment during your ovulatory cycle, consider this: researchers at the University of Southern California recently reviewed some 58 previous experiments to see if the claims about menstrual cycles and sexual attraction held up. Their conclusion? Not so much.
Lead study researcher Wendy Wood, PhD, said the study “found very little effect for hormonal cycles on mate preferences.” The methodology of the studies, according to Wood, was simply found to be unreliable. “Most of the studies showed that women tended to like masculine men and dominant men and healthy men, no matter what point in the cycle they were at,” said Wood. While she admitted that hormones do play a role in attraction, it’s not as cut and dried as it may seem. “It’s certainly a complex interaction between the culture that you’re in and your hormonal reactions to a particular guy,” Wood explained. “It’s not a simple relationship, but more of an interactive one.”
So, next time you find yourself drawn toward a guy who’s a little more manly than your usual type, or you find yourself the target of a lot of male attention, relax and enjoy it – and don’t overthink it.
Images via weheartit.com, foxconnect.com, wifflegif.com, readunwritten.com, and youtube.com.
Comment: Have you noticed that you’re attracted to different types of men during different phases of your cycle?
Elizabeth lives in Brooklyn with two daughters, occasional mice and innumerable to-do lists. She runs a nine-minute mile, bakes a mean chocolate chip cookie, and can always be persuaded to sing at a karaoke bar. Follow her on Twitter.