The advent of oral contraceptives, aka the "Pill", ushered in the sexual revolution of the 1960's and gave women control over their own fertility. However, according to a new study, the Pill may have also changed women's taste in men. Researchers say that the hormones in the Pill suppress a woman's interest in masculine men, and make boyish men more attractive.
Dr. Alexandra Alvergne of the University of Sheffield in the UK says that the Pill may also alter the way women pick mates, which could have long term implications for society:
'There are many obvious benefits of the Pill for women, but there is also the possibility that the Pill has psychological side effects that we are only just discovering. We need further studies to find out what these are,' she said.
Scientists have long known that a women's taste in men changes throughout the menstrual cycle. During those few days a month that they are fertile, which is around the time of ovulation, women tend to be attracted to men with more masculine features and men who are more assertive. On these days, women are also more attracted to men who are "genetically dissimilar". By picking a partner whose genetic make up is unlike their own, it increases the chances of having a healthy child. During the times when women are not fertile, their tastes in men are more feminine and they are drawn to boyish faces and more caring personalities.
Women who take the Pill no longer have fertile days. This means they no longer go through the hormonal changes that cause them to be more attracted to masculine men and those with dissimilar genetic make up.
The effect is subtle, but Dr. Alvergne says it could alter society's view of male attractiveness:
"It is a possibility - but there is no evidence of this yet,' she said. 'We need a lot more research in this area."
For her research, Dr. Alvergne reviewed seven studies that showed how the Pill can alter women's behavior. In addition to the findings previously mentioned, she also found evidence from three studies that the Pill can affect the way men look at women. Studies have found that men find women more attractive around the time of ovulation, and Dr. Alvergne said that the use of the Pill could influence a woman's ability to attract a mate by reducing her attractiveness to men.
Dr Virpi Lumma, co-author of the study, added:
'The ultimate outstanding evolutionary question concerns whether the use of oral contraceptives when making mating decisions can have long-term consequences on the ability of couples to reproduce.
'If this is the case, pill use will have implications for both current and future generations, and we hope that our review will stimulate further research on this question.'
Increasing numbers of studies have suggested that the Pill is likely to have an impact on human mating decisions and subsequent reproduction.
Comparing the popular male stars of the 1950s and 1960s to those of today, a difference can already be seen. Popular male stars of yesteryear such as Kirk Douglas and Sean Connery are far more masculine than the noticeably boyish stars of today such as Leonardo DiCaprio, Johnny Depp, and Hugh Jackman.
Links between the Pill and sexual preferences were highlighted in a new paper published today in the journal "Trends in Ecology and Evolution".