By Jennifer Copley (Last Updated 2 February 2012)
Research suggests that a man’s attractiveness to a woman may vary from one week to the next, depending on her hormonal cycle.
Studies have shown that a woman’s fertility, which is affected by her menstrual cycle and hormonal birth control methods such as the pill, influences what she finds attractive in men. Little et al. (2002) found that women at peak fertility were more drawn to masculine features on men, whereas non-fertile women found “prettier” men (male faces that matched a feminine style of beauty) more attractive. This means that women are likely to find different types of men more or less attractive depending on where they are in their menstrual cycles.
According to Wenner (5 December 2008), widespread use of contraceptive pills has led to an additional shift in women’s preferences. At times of peak fertility, women typically prefer men with different histocompatibility complex (MHC) genes to their own because such men are less likely to be genetically related to them. However, a woman who is pregnant is more likely to prefer an MHC-similar man. In other words, opposites attract, but only very briefly, when a woman is at her most fertile. Otherwise, a woman is more likely to prefer a man who is similar to her (though the similarity may not be apparent in visible aspects of the appearance, such as facial features). Because contraceptive pills work by tricking a woman’s body into believing that it’s already pregnant, they may have an effect on mate choice.
There has been speculation as to whether such biological influences make women more likely to cheat on their partners at certain times during their cycles or when they stop taking birth control pills while in a relationship. However, there’s a big difference between simply finding someone attractive and actually doing something about it. Even if a woman finds another male type attractive for a few days each month, that doesn’t mean she will cheat on her partner. And as for women who stop taking birth control pills, it’s unlikely that similar MHC genes are the only thing that attracted them to their boyfriends or husbands in the first place, so a hormonal shift is unlikely to damage the relationship unless it’s already in crisis.
- BBC News. (24 June 1999). “Women’s Choice of Men Goes in Cycles” BBCNews.co.uk.
- Little, A.C.; Penton-Voak, I.S.; Burt, M.; & Perrett, D.I. (2002). “Evolution and Individual Differences in the Perception of Attractiveness: How Cyclic Hormonal Changes and Self-Perceived Attractiveness Influence Female Preferences for Male Faces.” In G. Rhodes & L.A. Zebrowitz (Eds.) Facial Attractiveness: Evolutionary, Cognitive and Social perspectives. Westport, CT: Ablex, pp. 59-90.
- Wenner, M. (5 December 2008). “Birth Control Pills Affect Women’s Taste in Men.” Scientific American, ScientificAmerican.com.