does the pill make women want less manly men?

an interesting study by researchers at the university of sheffield suggests that women’s taste in men has shifted from more rugged-looking men to more boyish looking men since the contraceptive pill became available to women 40 years ago. here’s how it works:

Researchers say leading Hollywood actors from forty years ago like Sean Connery and Steve McQueen (top) appear more manly than modern leading men like Brad Pitt and Johnny Depp (bottom). This transition from stronger, angular men to softer, boyish looking men may be due to women's use of the birth control pill.

Scientists have long known that a woman’s taste in men changes over her menstrual cycle.

During the few days each month when women are fertile – around the time of ovulation – they tend to prefer masculine features and men who are more assertive.

On these fertile days, women are also more attracted to men who are ‘genetically dissimilar’, Dr Alvergne said. Picking a partner whose genetic make-up is unlike their own increases the chances of having a healthy child.

On days when women are not fertile, their tastes swing towards more feminine, boyish faces and more caring personalities, researchers have shown.

However, if women are taking the Pill they no longer have fertile days.

That means they no longer experience the hormonal changes that make them more attracted to masculine men and those with dissimilar genetic make-up.

the researchers explain that this is why leading hollywood actors have slowly transitioned from rugged angular confident/cocky men to boyish, softer, men in recent decades. evolutionarily, it makes sense; if you chemically alter a woman’s hormonal drive, she will not be as (dare i say it?) horny as she would be (consciously or subconsciously) as she might be were she not on the pill. i agree with the researchers that much of human sexuality is still very carnal; despite our cerebral and rational development, we are still the product of millions of years of genetic evolution, driven by the single attribute that all living things share: reproduction. scent and non-verbal signals may be dulled or ignored by our rational processes, but they still exist and play a role in mate selection and reproduction. because genetic diversity is a selective advantage (vs. the extreme alternative, incest), women still (again, consciously or subconsciously) seek out males that can protect, care for, and provide for them (and produce children) regardless of how far the women’s liberation movement has progressed. as a strong, powerful, progressive hollywood leading lady once told me at her dinner table, ‘confidence is very, very attractive, but women can still smell arrogance a mile away.’ likewise, men still seek out (again, consciously or subconsciously) women who can care for, provide for, and comfort them. for both sexes, producing offspring always lies at the heart of the species.

however, the findings could also have something to do with the fact that as women have earned their rightful place alongside men as equals, they began finding attractive men who were not the traditional domineering type. women began to prefer men who treated them as equals, not subordinates. these men may have tended to be less aggressive, less angular, less traditionally ‘macho’ men, who were comfortable with their masculinity and were not always out to show off to the other males in the room – a trait where being big, strong, hairy, and angular is stereotypically and evolutionarily advantageous.

i agree that the transition has taken place. the question now is whether the transition from strong, domineering, tough guys to smart, sensitive, cute guys is the result of birth control, or the result of the continued march of social evolution, gender equity, and technological progress that makes reliance on tough, strong guys less needed. and is the transition a bad thing? as one who has been described as a mountain metrosexual (looks like a mountain man but speaks and acts like a civilized urbanite), i don’t really care. ;-)

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