The Bitter Pill: Cessation of Oral Contraceptives Enhances the Appeal of Alternative Mates
Hormonal contraceptives change women’s natural mate preferences, leading them to prefer nurturing but less genetically compatible men. Cessation of contraceptives reverses these preferences, decreasing women’s attraction to current partners. Two studies examined whether women who had used contraceptive pills at relationship formation and stopped doing so were more vulnerable to desire attractive alternatives, primarily around ovulation, as compared to women who had not used pills at relationship formation or had used pills then but did not stop using them. In Study 1, participants watched videos of attractive and average-looking men and described imaginary dates with them, which were coded for desire expressions. In Study 2, we measured attention adhesion to attractive and average-looking men. Results showed that women who stopped using pills and were currently in high-fertility phase were especially likely to attend to, and express desire for, attractive alternatives, suggesting that cessation of contraceptives motivates the pursuit of more suitable mates.
KeywordsAttractive alternatives Contraceptive pills Infidelity Mate choice Menstrual cycle
This research was supported by the Israel Science Foundation (Grants 86/10 and 1210/16 awarded to Gurit E. Birnbaum).
Compliance with Ethical Standards
Conflict of Interest
On behalf of all authors, the corresponding author states that there is no conflict of interest.
- Arslan, R.C., Schilling, K.M., Gerlach, T.M., & Penke, L. (in press). Using 26,000 diary entries to show ovulatory changes in sexual desire and behavior. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.Google Scholar
- Bertram, S. M., Loranger, M. J., Thomson, I. R., Harrison, S. J., Ferguson, G. L., Reifer, M. L., Corlett, D. H., & Gowaty, P. A. (2016). Linking mating preferences to sexually selected traits and offspring viability: good versus complementary genes hypotheses. Animal Behavior, 119, 75–86.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
- Birnbaum, G. E., Mikulincer, M., Szepsenwol, O., Shaver, P. R., & Mizrahi, M. (2014). When sex goes wrong: a behavioral systems perspective on individual differences in sexual attitudes, motives, feelings, and behaviors. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 106, 822–842.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
- Daniels, K., Mosher, W. D., & Jones, J. (2013). Contraceptive methods women have ever used: United States, 1982-2010. National Health Statistics Reports, 62(62), 1–15.Google Scholar
- Flegr, J., Blum, A.E., Nekola, O., & Kroupa, Š. (in press). What people prefer and what they think they prefer in short-and long-term partners. The effects of the phase of the menstrual cycle, hormonal contraception, pregnancy, and the marital and the parenthood status on partner preferences. Evolution and Human Behavior.Google Scholar
- Gangestad, S. W., Haselton, M. G., Welling, L. L. M., Gildersleeve, K., Pillsworth, E. G., Burriss, R. P., Larson, C. M., & Puts, D. A. (2016). How valid are assessments of conception probability in ovulatory cycle research? Evaluations, recommendations, and theoretical implications. Evolution and Human Behavior, 37, 85–96.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
- Jarvis, B. G. (2016). DirectRT. (2016.1.104 ed.). New York: Empirisoft Corporation.Google Scholar
- Jern, P., Kärnä, A., Hujanen, J., Erlin, T., Gunst, A., Rautaheimo, H., . . . Zietsch, B.P. (2018). A high-powered replication study finds no effect of starting or stopping hormonal contraceptive use on relationship quality. Evolution and Human Behavior, 39, 373–379.Google Scholar
- Jones, B.C., Perrett, D.I., Little, A.C., Boothroyd, L., Cornwell, R., Feinberg, D., … Hillier, S. (2005). Menstrual cycle, pregnancy, and oral contraceptive use alter attraction to apparent health in faces. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B: Biological Sciences, 272(1561), 347–354.Google Scholar
- Jones, B. C., Hahn, A. C., Fisher, C., Wang, H., Kandrik, M., Han, C., ... DeBruine, L. M. (2018). No compelling evidence that preferences for facial masculinity track changes in women's hormonal status. Psychological Science, 29(6), 996-1005.Google Scholar
- Roberts, S. C., Havlicek, J., Flegr, J., Hruskova, M., Little, A. C., Jones, B. C., Perrett, D. I., & Petrie, M. (2004). Female facial attractiveness increases during the fertile phase of the menstrual cycle. Proceedings of the Royal Society B (Suppl.), 271, S270–S272.Google Scholar
- Roberts, S.C., Klapilova, K., Little, A.C., Burriss, R.P., Jones, B.C., DeBruine, L.M., … Havliček, J. (2012). Relationship satisfaction and outcome in women who meet their partner while using oral contraception. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 279, 1430–1436.Google Scholar
- Russell, V. M., McNulty, J. K., Baker, L. R., & Meltzer, A. L. (2014). The association between discontinuing hormonal contraceptives and wives’ marital satisfaction depends on husbands’ facial attractiveness. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, USA, 111, 17081–17086.CrossRefGoogle Scholar