Sunday, August 17, 2008

The Wrong Men

This report on research in Britain has been circulating the past few days, generating comment. It seems that going on the Pill can cause women to be attracted to less suitable men. Before we discuss the implications if it's true, lets start with some reasons to be skeptical. The actual research involved women smelling t-shirts worn in bed by different men.

Well, there's your first problem right there. Women signing up for shirt-smelling research may not be entirely representative of the general female population, eh? But let's pretend they worked around that somehow, and have found an intriguing lead that does generalise to the population as a whole. The upshot is that women on oral contraceptives are more attracted to men whose hormonal profile is more like theirs in a narrow area. This is bad, it seems, or at least not the way things used to be.

You will notice we are not anywhere near a study which measures mate happiness rates of Pill-using teens, newlyweds, and matrons versus the happiness rates of their sisters who use other contraception or none.

This is a plausible explanation, but we haven't nailed it down as fact.

Pretend it is. Pretend that messing with hormones in a Yasmin/Ortho-Novum sort of way causes women to go completely against their interests and latch passionately onto Unsuitable Attachments, or at a minimum, a different guy than they would have found otherwise.

Which is worse - to marry the wrong one or to go on the pill and lose interest in the right one after you've married him?


Donna B. said...

This supposes that what makes a marriage viable is hormonic compatibility.

Is that really all there is to marriage?

What of the man's desire to procreate with a woman of desirable genetics?

Then, what do genetics (or smell) have to do with a good marriage?

bs king said...

Um, and can I mention what it might do to your choice in men/life/relationships to have a child either out of wedlock or much sooner in to a marriage then you were prepared for?

This study made me roll my eyes a bit because I think it subtly reinforced the stereotype that women are somehow just ruled by their hormonal imbalances, or if not the study than at least the way it got highlighted in the press.

On a note about the actual content, I believe the point was that we naturally go for those genetically different from us so we can produce better babies, but the pill stops that tendency. I was wondering if that as a macrotrend would be balanced out by the fact that you now can marry someone outside of your race without risking bodily harm to you or your spouse. The pill might be making us more likely to pick someone genetically similar to us biologically, but the social pressures to do so have eased off considerably in the last 100 years.

All in all, I think we'll survive it.

terri said...

Of course, assuming that smelly men makes the best mates is entirely based on the premise that everything we do, and what's best for us, is firmly rooted in evolutionary theory as the ultimate definer of a "good" marriage or mate.

So a strong, virile man, who might also be a total jerk who abandons his family, is a "better" mate because our children will be predisposed to be genetically healthy...that's what women want and will make them

I guess if people see humans as merely animals, that might make sense, but that's a huge assumption that answers every quesiton the same:

"Evolution did it."

an "evolution of the gaps" if you will.

sorry for the coffee yet.

Ben Wyman said...

When I was in high school, I heard about a test exactly like this one. Women were given pictures of men and were to rate them from most to least attractive, and then given T-shirts to smell, and were to rate them from most to least attractive. The T-shirt smell rankings were almost exactly inverted from the attractiveness ranking.

Here's the thing though: this wasn't a test of the Pill's effectiveness, it was just a test of hormones in general. The Pill wasn't a variable.

So rather than it being the Pill that changes our sense of hormonic compatibility, perhaps it's simply that the bodies of men who have to try harder adapt to create a more pleasing smell.