Taking The Pill May Put
Women off Masculine Men
It ushered in the 1960s sexual revolution and gave women control
over their own fertility.
But the Pill may also have changed women's taste in men, according
to a study.
Scientists say the hormones in the oral contraceptive suppress
a woman's interest in masculine men and make boyish men more attractive.
Although the change occurs for just a few days each month, it
may have been highly influential since use of the Pill began more
than 40 years ago.
If the theory is right, it could partly explain the shifting in
tastes from macho 1950s and 1960s stars such as Kirk Douglas and
Sean Connery to the more wimpy, androgynous stars of today, such
as Johnny Depp and Russell Brand.
Dr Alexandra Alvergne, of the University of Sheffield, says the
Pill could also be altering the way women pick their mates and
could have long-term implications for society.
'There are many obvious benefits of the Pill for women, but there
is also the possibility that the Pill has psychological side-effects
that we are only just discovering,' she said. 'We need further
studies to find out what these are.'
The links between the Pill and sexual preferences are highlighted
in a paper in the journal Trends in Ecology and Evolution.
Scientists have long known that a woman's taste in men changes
over her menstrual cycle.
During the few days each month when women are fertile - around
the time of ovulation - they tend to prefer masculine features
and men who are more assertive.
On these fertile days, women are also more attracted to men who
are 'genetically dissimilar', Dr Alvergne said. Picking a partner
whose genetic make-up is unlike their own increases the chances
of having a healthy child.
On days when women are not fertile, their tastes swing towards
more feminine, boyish faces and more caring personalities, researchers
However, if women are taking the Pill they no longer have fertile
That means they no longer experience the hormonal changes that
make them more attracted to masculine men and those with dissimilar
Although the effect is subtle, Dr Alvergne said it could alter
women's view of male attractiveness. 'It is a possibility - but
there is no evidence of this yet,' she said. 'We need a lot more
research in this area.' In her paper, Dr Alvergne reviewed seven
studies showing how the Pill can change women's behaviour.
She also found evidence from three studies that the Pill can
affect the way women are looked at by men.
Past studies have shown that men find women more attractive around
the time of ovulation, possibly because women have evolved instinctive
ways, by their natural scent or their behaviour, of alerting men
that they are fertile. One study showed that lap dancers get bigger
tips at the time of the month when they are most fertile.
Dr Alvergne said the use of the Pill could influence a woman's
ability to attract a mate by reducing her attractiveness to men.
Her co-author at Sheffield, Dr Virpi Lumma, said: 'The ultimate
outstanding evolutionary question concerns whether the use of
oral contraceptives when making mating decisions can have long-term
consequences on the ability of couples to reproduce.' An increasing
number of studies suggest that the Pill is likely to have an impact
on human mating decisions and subsequent reproduction.
'If this is the case, Pill use will have implications for both
current and future generations, and we hope that our review will
stimulate further research on this question,' said Dr Lumma.
The changing fashions for film stars appear to show a shift from
masculine men in the 1950s - before the advent of the Pill - to
more baby-faced stars today.
Many of the biggest box office draws are boyish in appearance,
rather than classically rugged. The top Hollywood earners of last
year include Will Smith, Johnny Depp, Leonardo DiCaprio and Hugh
Jackman. Other boyish film stars include Jude Law.
The rise of such stars could also be explained by cynical attempts
to market films and merchandise at an ever younger age group.