Is the Pill Making You Choose the Wrong Men?



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I’d like to start by tipping my hat to my favorite Danish guy reader, who clued me in to a new UK study published in Trends in Ecology and Evolution. It suggests that the Pill is dramatically changing the way women and men experience sexual chemistry. It’s definitely changing how women sniff out potential mates, and it’s probably also changing the pheromones they’re putting out to guys. This is very important says Rachel Herz, PhD, author of The Scent of Desire and a faculty member at Brown University, “My own research says the way a man smells to a woman is the main determinant of sexual attraction.”

Women are naturally attracted to men whose genetic makeup is dissimilar to their own.

A man’s natural odor may be the most important information he can give a woman. “Body odor is an external manifestation of the immune system, and the smells we think are attractive come from the people who are most genetically compatible with us.” Much of what we vaguely call “sexual chemistry,” she adds, is likely a direct result of this scent-based compatibility.

Having a genetically different mate increases the chances for a healthy pregnancy and a healthy baby.

The number of genes couples share corresponds directly with the likelihood that they would cheat on one another.

In laboratory studies, women who sniff men’s sweaty T-shirts find them more attractive when they come from men whose genes don’t match theirs.

(I hope those women were generously compensated for participating in those studies. Sounds like a lose-lose to me. You’re either smelling a bunch of gross guys you want nothing to do with, or you’re smelling guys who get you horny, only to remember you’re sitting in a fluorescently lit lab.)

Women taking the Pill choose lower testosterone men across the board.

In T-shirt-sniffing studies, women taking birth control pills seem to be attracted to the “wrong,” or genetically similar men.

“Women who have their hormone levels smoothed out by the Pill tend to seek men who look like good long-term prospects,” says the new report’s lead author, Alexandra Alvergne, an evolutionary anthropologist at the University of Sheffield.

When women become pregnant, they switch to preferring the scent of genetically similar males. Claus Wedekind, PhD, who performed the original T-shirt-sniffing studies, has suggested that birth control pills somehow mimic this process.

What if you marry and then stop taking the Pill?

Many media outlets have dubbed the pill “the divorce pill” in light of these findings. Herz wouldn’t go that far, but she acknowledges that it’s a problem. ”It’s like picking your cousins as marriage partners. It constitutes a biological error.”

(An interesting tidbit: Charles Darwin married his first cousin.)

As a result, explains Charles Wysocki, a psychobiologist at Florida State University, when such a couple decides to have children and the woman stops taking birth control, she may find herself less attracted to her mate for reasons she doesn’t quite understand. “On a subconscious level, her brain is realizing a mistake was made—she married the wrong guy,” he says.

Women’s noses aren’t the only ones affected.

Men are more attracted to women who are not on the Pill.

The Pill may also be fostering the hookup culture in ways you haven’t thought about.

Preference for human body odors is influenced by both gender and sexual orientation.

What are the implications for your relationships?

Interestingly, Fisher believes that ultimately, this all might be for the best. “When we lived in a hunter-gatherer society, there was a village to help raise the children, so picking the most macho man might have been fine. In modern society, it makes much more sense to pick the dad rather than the cad. Then the woman has at least one person to help raise the baby.”


It’s what I’ve been telling you all along!