Studies: Women on the pill choose less masculine, wealthy men they can dominate

Related: An Entire Generation of Women on Birth Control – Really Graceful

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Facial masculinity was assessed by having the faces rated by a separate sample of participants. What they found was that pill-taking women not only prefer somewhat less masculine male faces; they are also more likely to choose such men as partners.

…pill-taking women exhibit less activity in the reward centers of the brain when looking at masculine faces, but more activity in these centers in response to monetary rewards.

Is Sexy in the Eye of the Pill-Taker?

By Sarah E. Hill
February 10, 2020

Most of us are probably aware that the birth control pill can cause women to experience “sexual side effects,” but did you know that the pill might also influence who women are attracted to? And even who they choose as partners and their likelihood of staying married?

…the pill might influence who you’re attracted to, the dynamics of your relationships, the quality of your sex life, how jealous you are, how you respond to your partner’s face, how sexy you are to others, and your likelihood of getting a divorce. …

For example, in one study, researchers brought heterosexual women into a research lab and allowed them to use a special computer program to manipulate the appearance of photographs of male and female faces. They could change the appearance of the men and women in the photographs by adjusting their jaw height, face width, cheekbone prominence, and so on. The researchers asked the women to manipulate the features on the male face to create the face of their ideal short-term or long-term romantic partner (male face). They also asked them to manipulate the features on the female face to create the face of a maximally attractive woman (female faces, which were used as a control). The women came into the lab and completed this task at two different time points: Once before they began taking the birth control pill and once around three months after they began.

When the researchers compared the two sets of images (pre-pill and post-pill), they found that women’s ideal male, but not female, faces became significantly less masculine once they started taking the birth control pill. In a second study, these same researchers looked at whether women who are on the pill actually choose men with less masculine faces as relationship partners relative to their non-pill taking counterparts. To this end, they compared the facial masculinity of a sample of men whose partners chose them when they were on the birth control pill to a sample of men whose partners chose them when they were not. Facial masculinity was assessed by having the faces rated by a separate sample of participants. What they found was that pill-taking women not only prefer somewhat less masculine male faces; they are also more likely to choose such men as partners. …

For example, if pill-taking women aren’t really all that interested in masculinity cues, what exactly are they looking for when it comes to partners?

To address this question, researchers conducted a survey of relationship quality on a sample of more than 2000 women….

…naturally cycling women—at least near ovulation, when fertility is high and estrogen is dominant—have a keen eye (and ear) for certain cues to masculinity. In particular, this research finds that women at high fertility find masculine male faces, deeper, more masculine male voices, and find socially dominant, confident men more attractive than they do at non-fertile points in the cycle. …

Such an interpretation is echoed in the results of brain imaging research. When compared to naturally cycling women, pill-taking women exhibit less activity in the reward centers of the brain when looking at masculine faces, but more activity in these centers in response to monetary rewards. Most of us would agree that money and brains matter, so this is nothing to sneeze at.

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