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Women on “the pill” choose better dads as mates, study finds

Oct. 12, 2011
Courtesy of The Royal Society
and World Science staff

O­ral con­tra­cep­tive pills may in­flu­ence wom­en to choose more car­ing, but less sexy, men as part­ners, ac­cord­ing to a new stu­dy.

Pub­lished Oct. 12 in the jour­nal Pro­ceed­ings of the Roy­al So­ci­e­ty B, the re­search found that wom­en who chose their part­ner while us­ing the pill found him, on av­er­age, less sex­u­ally sat­is­fy­ing and at­trac­tive dur­ing their rela­t­ion­ship. But they were more sat­is­fied with his non-sex­u­al sup­port, and stayed with him two years long­er, com­pared to non-users.

Wom­en on the pill were al­so “more sat­is­fied with their part­ner’s pa­ter­nal pro­vi­sion” on av­er­age, wrote the au­thors, S. Craig Roberts of the Uni­vers­ity of Stir­ling, U.K., and col­leagues. “Our da­ta pro­vide im­por­tant ev­i­dence that the use of oral con­tra­cep­tion has the po­ten­tial to pro­foundly in­flu­ence the out­come of long term rela­t­ion­ships.”

The in­ves­ti­ga­tors pro­pose that the phe­nom­e­non is at­trib­ut­a­ble to an ef­fect iden­ti­fied by pre­vi­ous stud­ies: the hor­mone cy­cle nat­u­rally causes wom­en to choose more sex­u­ally at­trac­tive, and ge­net­ic­ally un­like, mates around when they are fer­tile. Con­tra­cep­tion sup­presses the hor­mone cy­cle. This probably in­creases the in­flu­ence of non-sex­u­al, car­ing traits nor­mally pre­s­ent dur­ing the non-fer­tile parts of the cy­cle, Roberts and col­leagues con­tend.

The re­search­ers stud­ied an in­terna­t­ional sam­ple of 2519 wom­en. The dif­fer­ences be­tween the pill users and non-users were sta­tis­tic­ally sig­nif­i­cant even af­ter tak­ing in­to ac­count fac­tors such as at­ti­tudes to sex out­side a rela­t­ion­ship, the re­search­ers said.


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Oral contraceptive pills may influence women to choose more caring, but less sexy, men as partners, according to a new study. Published Oct. 12 in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B, the research found that women who chose their partner while using the pill found him, on average, less sexually satisfying and attractive during their relationship. But they were more satisfied with his non-sexual support, and stayed with him two years longer, compared to non-users. Women on the pill were also “more satisfied with their partner’s paternal provision” on average, wrote the authors, S. Craig Roberts of the University of Stirling, U.K., and colleagues. “Our data provide important evidence that the use of oral contraception has the potential to profoundly influence the outcome of long term relationships.” The investigators propose that the phenomenon is attributable to an effect identified by previous studies: the hormone cycle naturally causes women to choose more genetically unlike and sexually attractive mates around when they are fertile. Contraception suppresses the hormone cycle. This probably increases the influence of non-sexual, caring traits normally present during the non-fertile parts of the cycle, Roberts and colleagues contend. The researchers studied an international sample of 2519 women. The differences between the pill users and non-users were statistically significant, after taking into account other factors such as attitudes to sex outside a relationship, the researchers said.