Study: Women on Birth Control Pills Prefer Less Masculine Men

Women who used computers to design their ideal man saw a change in their preferred facial features after going on the pill.
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PROBLEM: Oral contraceptives can affect how attractive women are to men, as well as who they themselves are attracted to. And while there are plenty of reasons to start dating someone aside from how attractive we find them, its possible that these effects might have some influence on who we end up with.

METHODOLOGY: Researchers in Scotland designed several experiments that delved further into the hormonal quirks wrought by birth control. In the first, they gave young, straight women the ability to digitally alter images male faces. The participants tinkered with features like cheekbone prominence, jaw height, and face width, attempting to find the perfect ratio of attractiveness for either a short or long-term relationship. Some did the same, but with female faces. None of the women were taking birth control at the outset; after the experiment, they were given the option to start, which about a third took. Three months later, the experiment was repeated.

faces.jpgLess (left) and more (right) masculine versions of the same face.

In the second study, volunteers were asked to rate the manliness of men in relationships, based on their mugshots. Half -- 85 -- of these men were dating women who had been on the pill when they first met.

RESULTS: After beginning a regimen of hormonal birth control, the women's ideal of attractiveness in a potential romantic partner skewed significantly less masculine. They were more likely, for example, to prefer narrower jawbones and rounder faces. These preferences appear to translate to real life decisions: the men whose partners had been on the pill when they first started dating were found, as a whole, to be less masculine-looking.

IMPLICATIONS: Let's say you're a particularly masculine-looking man hoping to attract young women aged 18 to 24 on a dating website. Assuming that a good number of those women may well be on the pill, you might consider digitally altering your face. The rest of us can marvel at the hormonal quirks wrought by birth control and perhaps resolve that they're a small price to pay for preventing unintended pregnancy.


"Oral contraceptive use in women changes preferences for male facial masculinity and is associated with partner facial masculinity" is published in Psychoneuroendocrinology.

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Lindsay Abrams is an assistant editor at Salon and a former writer and producer for The Atlantic's Health Channel.

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