Can Hormonal Contraceptives Affect Your Relationship?

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So you think you’ve met the perfect man: You complete each other’s sentences, you both love David Sedaris, and he’s destined to be the father of your children. But before you start planning your wedding date, you need to stop and consider your hormones.

Your Menstrual Cycle Affects Preferences

It’s been established that a woman’s preference in male characteristics and traits changes according to her menstrual cycle.

In 1999, Nature published a study that found the menstrual cycle alters a woman’s preference in male facial features. Women are more likely to prefer masculine features, which represent the partner’s immunological competence, or the ability to resist and fight off disease, during the follicular phase of the menstrual cycle.

Since women are more likely to conceive during the last five days of the follicular phase, which ends in ovulation, researchers believe the preference in masculine features is an evolutionary strategy aimed at benefiting her offspring.

There are a number of studies that have shown women prefer the scent of men with symmetrical features when they are most fertile: right before and after ovulation. Symmetrical features are thought to be indicators of good traits, which, again, would be more important when a woman is fertile and traits can be passed down to offspring.

But for long-term relationships, women preferred men with feminine features. Women in the study felt men with feminine features were more likely to contribute to parental care, which would benefit themselves.

What About Women on the Pill?

Women who are not on the pill are influenced by their menstrual cycle when choosing their mates, selecting traits that either indicate a man has good genes or dependable characteristics. Oral contraception, however, is thought to suppress these shifting interests, but does it matter?

A study published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences tested the quality and longevity of relationships based on whether or not women were using oral contraceptives when they chose their partners. The researchers found that hormonal contraceptives were, in fact, likely to affect the outcome of the relationships.

The researchers reported that women who selected their mates while using oral contraceptives were less sexually satisfied and less attracted to their partners than the women who formed partnerships when they were not on the pill. Indeed, women who met their partners while on the pill experienced an increase in sexual dissatisfaction as the relationship continued. Moreover, if the relationships didn’t last, the women who used hormonal contraceptives when picking their partners were more often the ones to break it off.

These same women, however, were more satisfied with the non-sexual aspects of their relationships, such as their partners’ ability to provide for the family financially, which resulted in longer-lasting relationships that were less likely to end in separation.

Scientists believe these results are due to oral contraceptives’ ability to suppress a woman’s natural inclination towards masculinity or dominance while fertile. Instead, women taking the pill are content forming partnerships with men who have characteristics of “high-quality paternal investment” (read: team players) because the hormonal contraceptives mimic the low-fertility phase of the menstrual cycle.

While partnering with a team player doesn’t seem like a bad alternative, sexual dissatisfaction may eventually outweigh any positive aspects of cooperation, which is something women may want to consider.

Thoughts on Hormonal Contraceptives

It seems that more women are looking for partners that are team players, but why is this? The modern woman wants a family and a career, and partnering with a team player would be the best way to maintain sanity. On the other hand, is it possible that we are searching for cooperative partners because we are influenced by the hormonal contraceptives we rely on to help plan our lives?

You may want to ask yourself, Was I on the pill when I met him? Researchers even suggest switching to non-hormonal contraceptives several months before saying “I do” to test your unwavering feelings for your partner.

Of course, the research emphasized that “the reasons for any relationship’s survival or dissolution are complex and not limited to contraceptive choice at its inception.” Nonetheless, the affect hormones have on our relationships is getting our attention.

Elena Perez obtained a B.A. in American Literature at UCLA, but a growing interest in environmental issues led her to enroll in science classes and gain lab experience at UCSD and SIO. The close link between our ocean’s health and our own well-being has spurred Elena to explore the role environmental toxins play in our growth and development.

1 Comment

  1. Awesome article. I’ve read some research on this before, but had no idea there was this much information about it. This is just so fascinating. The human body is just so amazing.

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