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Birth Control Pill May Make Women Prefer Less Masculine Men

Update Date: Mar 28, 2013 08:23 PM EDT

Chiseled jaws and washboard abs may not be what women want after all, a new study has revealed. Well, that is if they are on birth control.

Researchers found that women using the contraceptive pill actually prefer men with more effeminate looks compared to women who weren't on the pill.

Researchers found that women rated less masculine faces as being more attractive after going on the pill.  However, their ratings of attractiveness of female faces were not affected.

What's more, researcher found that in couples who first met when the woman was on the birth control pill, the male partners were less likely to have masculine faces compared to couples who met when the woman was off the pill

While millions of women are currently on some sort of hormonal contraception, more and more studies are revealing that these forms of contraception could affect how people chose their partners.  And if these findings are supported, they could have important implications for how modern relationships are formed.

The latest study published March 25 in the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology involved heterosexual women aged 18 to 24.  Half of the participants were taking oral contraception and the other half was not.

The participants were shown composite images of young male and female faces, which participants could alter to appear more or less masculine (based on features like cheekbone prominence, jaw height and face width).

Researchers tested the preferences of the participants twice.  Once when none of them were taking the pill and again three months after some began using the pill. 

The findings revealed that when women were taking the pill, they preferred less masculine males faces or faces with more narrow jawbones and more rounded faces, than when they hadn't started the oral contraceptive pill.  However, being on the pill had no effect on preferences for masculinity in female faces.

To test whether the findings also applied in real-world settings, researchers compared 85 couples who reported using to pill when they met to 85 couples who reported not using it.  Researchers took photographs of the faces of the men in each couple and had volunteers judge the masculinity of each of the men's faces. 

Researchers found that volunteers rated the partners of women who weren't on the pill at the start of their relationships to be more masculine than those of women who were already on the pill.

Previous studies have found that women tend to prefer more masculine traits during ovulation, the fertile stage of their menstrual cycle.  Research suggests that a preference for masculine or feminine traits may be associated to genetic benefits for a couple's offspring.

Because the findings were based on correlation, researchers cannot conclude for certain that the pill, rather than some other variable, causes these mate preferences.

Ecologist and evolutionary biologist Claus Wedekind of the University of Lausanne, Switzerland say that women who choose to take the pill may prefer more "stable" and less masculine looking men or "may have an idea already what the pill does to them, and that influences the experiment," according to Live Science.

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