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The Birth Control Pill Might Impact Your Choice of Mate

The birth control pill is often considered the gold standard of contraception in our society. For the last few decades, women looking for reliable birth control have turned to the pill, even though hormonal contraception does come with certain side effects. From weight gain to mood swings to loss of libido, the birth control pill can be problematic for some women. 

Now, a new study also finds that the birth control pill might actually impact the way women view men.

The study, which was performed by a team of researchers, found that women on the birth control pill seemed to prefer less masculine men then women who were not on the birth control pill. The researchers showed women a selection of pictures and asked them to rate which man was most attractive to them. The photographs were of similar-looking men, but some of the photographs had been slightly altered with technology in order to either give them more traditionally masculine features (such as a square jaw and broad forehead) or slightly more feminine features (such as narrow cheekbones or rounder features).

The findings, which were published in the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology, showed that women who were on hormonal birth control tended to prefer the men with slightly more feminine faces, while women who were not tended to opt for the traditionally masculine-looking men.

All of this could mean that the hormones in the birth control pill might impact a woman’s brain and sexuality. A woman on hormonal birth control has reduced testosterone production and increased production of sex hormone–binding globulin (SHBG), which reduces circulating levels of testosterone. All of this can lower her desire, and as this study shows, it might also impact her choice of mate.

Nor is this the first study that has shown how birth control can impact a woman’s sexual desires. It can actually affect a woman’s sense of smell when it comes to pheromones and other subconscious cues.

Researchers at the University of Bern in Switzerland gave ovulating women a variety of different T-shirts to smell (T-shirts that had been worn by men in the study whom the women did not know and had never met). Across the board, women preferred the smell of men who had a different chemical makeup than their own.

This is presumably because family members often share similar chemicals, so our attraction to differing chemical makeup suggests that these sexual cues evolved to protect close family members from procreating together. (While modern society would view such liaisons as taboo, it was more common and permissive for early humans, so this might have been nature’s way of intervening and ensuring healthy offspring).

However, women who are on the pill are more likely to be attracted to men with similar chemical makeup — most likely because their bodies are fooling them into believing they are pregnant, and so much like actual pregnant women, their subconscious senses lead them to kin, not mates. In other words, the birth control pill might throw off your attraction pattern or lead you to select a mate you might not otherwise go for.

Of course, at the end of the day, love comes down to more than just chemicals and hormones. But, as these studies show, subconscious and biological cues can play a role in how we select our mates, so it’s certainly something to keep in mind as you select your birth control and consider your body’s needs. 

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