Women on the Pill May Choose Reliable Over Sexy, Study Suggests

By Veronique Greenwood | October 12, 2011 4:01 pm


That handsome young studmuffin at the other end of the bar may not look as good as a reliable, if boring, man once you’re taking a daily dose of hormones. That’s one of the conclusions drawn by a team of scientists, who’ve previously shown that where women are in their monthly cycle affects what kinds of men they select as potential mates from a series of photographs, after they took their work out of the lab and interviewed more than 2500 women to see what effect the pill has on their real-life decisions.

In lab studies, women who are in fertile stages of their cycle are more likely to go for men who look healthy, self-confident, and masculine, which tend to be markers for good genes, but also for infidelity. The pill mimics pregnancy, though, when the die has already been cast and being a good provider is more attractive than sexy. In the lab, women on the pill do indeed select men who look like they will be more reliable and steady.

But outside the lab, would those patterns hold? After collecting data on their subjects’ sexual satisfaction and general satisfaction with their partners (each of them had had children with a partner, and in many cases was still with him), the team found that women who had met their partners while on the pill reported less sexual satisfaction but greater general satisfaction than women who had been off the pill. In other words, their partners were good fathers and good providers, but not necessarily on fire between the sheets. The trends seen in the lab seem to hold true (although we hasten to point out that the pill can sometimes kill women’s sex drive—an alternate explanation for why sexual satisfaction might be lower).

What happens when these women go off the pill, though? Do their marriages hold up, buoyed by the presence of children and their husband’s attributes as a father, or does a renewed attraction to the studmuffin make things shakier? That’s a topic for another study, looking more explicitly at the ends of relationships and tracking pill use throughout.

Reference: S. Craig Roberts, et al. Relationship satisfaction and outcome in women who meet their partner while using oral contraception. Published online before print October 12, 2011, doi: 10.1098/rspb.2011.1647 Proc. R. Soc. B

Image courtesy of istolethetv / flickr

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine, Top Posts
  • Brian

    This study is retarded.

    Since any women who judges a man on how they “look/appear to be” is only setting themselves up for disappointment.

    A guy who may have a good career, steady income, and his own house doesn’t mean he is more reliable or faithful. Just because a guy is sexy doesn’t make him a sexual deviant who can’t be relied on either.

    If this study was about how men perceive women, there would be an uproar of pissed off women who don’t want to be judged based on their looks. Kind of funny how there is no comments about how men are being personified unfairly.

    In short, don’t judge people based on their looks or how much money they make. Everyone is different.

  • Hans

    Brian, you obviously don’t understand what science is all about. Knowledge doesn’t get ignored just because you don’t like its lack of political correctness.

  • megan

    I select for BOTH. Which is why I hardly can find a good partner or they’re taken already as good providers who still are hot in the sack and like to share their skills. =) Plus, it’s been said a woman in pregnancy gives off hormones which sedate a man’s drive to sexually wander somewhat. So a guy who likes to sample still could settle down and be more family prone/faithful with his progeny to care for with a partner.

  • IW

    And who makes those pills, pray tell? Geeks with chemistry degrees make ’em. Clearly the geeks are infusing the pills with substances designed to make women want geeky reliable men rather than studly gadflies. I can’t believe you guys can’t see that….

  • Cathy

    I’m not sure the study controlled for all the variables. Women who use the pill tend to be better educated and more conscious about their own health than those who have never used it. To a college educated lady, that stud muffin down at the end of the bar doesn’t look less reliable – he looks like he wouldn’t be able to hold an intelligent conversation.

  • Nick

    Ah, it seems as though some people are making the mistake of thinking we are purely logical creatures! Your education has nothing to do with how you feel when you see someone with highly developed secondary sexual characteristics. Whether or not you go home with that person is another story but that is not within scope of this study.

  • AllieCat

    Wow this explains alot, 5 year on the pill and a super sweet homebody of a boyfriend. Now pill free, he is wild and completely unpredictable but oh so sexy.

  • Sharon

    This reminds me of the question: Which came first the chicken or the egg? In other words, does being on the pill cause women to chose reliable men, or are women who choose to take the pill more aware of the importance of future planning and security? Does the chemistry of the pill change the woman, or does the personality of the woman choose the pill?

  • Ryan

    This is bull****. There are plenty of men who are stud muffins and providers. In fact, you might even say that a stud muffin would generally more likely be a better resource gatherer than a meeker man.

  • Michael

    Women differ in their mate preferences depending on where they are in their cycle. This is simple, well established biology.
    The pill interferes with the natural cycle and therefore the normal process of mate selection.

  • Fleur

    What I should have added it that many highly educated women may, and do, decide NOT to use the pill precisely because their education leads them to research their own health more thoroughly and decide themselves, in their own situation, that they are better off using some other form of contraception.

    It may in fact be the less educated among us, I would suggest, who may be more likely to simply blindly opt for the pill, and its attendant consequences and side effects. Also, those without the confidence to tell men that, really, they should put a sock on it 😉

    But really it is different for different situations.

  • sal

    Yes we are all individuals, and to a certain degree we are the arbiters of our own decisions. However, since we are all living (sexually reproducing) organisms, our behavior is subject to active biological constraints. For example, David Buss’ study of 37 different cultures has found that there are certain universal traits that all men and women look for in potential mates. Based on this study, and several others, we can conclude that women more often than not have to make a tradeoff; do they choose a good looking but possibly unreliable partner, or one that is kind, caring, and honest albeit slightly uglier. For further reading I recommend reading Geary, David C., Jacob Vigil, and Jennifer Byrd-Craven. “Evolution Of Human Mate Choice.” Journal Of Sex Research 41.1 (2004): 27-42

  • Shan

    Our behaviours change all the time; sometimes, in a day we have varied moods. It is a partnership between our brain wiring and our environment. This is necessary for our social survival. Since the pill mimics pregnancy, women react in a sexually satiable way. It makes sense; if I’m already pregnant I don’t need another impregnation; rather, I need to be cared and provided for. This all happens innately, not conciously. Well, just my opinion anyway.


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