The Pill’s influence on sexuality and the hormonal body
Published on March 4, 2011 by The Psychoanalysis 3.0 Writing, Group in Psychoanalysis 3.0
Have you or your fiancée been on the Pill your entire relationship? The Pill can be a great convenience, and it allows spontaneous playful sex. However, it may also influence your relationship in ways of which you are not aware. In fact, new—and old—research about “dual sexuality” suggests you may want to try a pill free period (no pun intended) before tying the knot.
Unlike other mammals who only copulate during periods of female fertility known as estrus (or being in “heat”), human women are able to enjoy sex throughout their cycle. But new research documents that a woman’s sexual interests differ depending where she is in her menstrual cycle. In fact, women may be attracted to a very different kind of person during estrus than they are during the rest of their cycle.
Such hormonally organized “dual sexuality” leads to what the anthropologist Helen Fisher calls the “Cad/Dad Phenomenon”. When women are fertile during estrus there is increased motivation for sex with a “good genes partner for short-term mating with a high desire for orgasm and sexual satisfaction”—or so say Thornhill and Gangestad in their 2008 book The Evolutionary Biology of Human Female Sexuality. This can be expressed through dissatisfaction with one’s primary partner and more willingness to stray from their primary relationship. At the pre-menstrual phase things are different; the same women expressed a greater level of commitment to their primary relationship. Theses researchers attributed a premenstrual phase “Dad” preference to “selection for increased pursuit of long-term investment from the partner during pregnancy.”
However, as Gangestad and others have noted, if a woman finds her primary partner to be very sexy, she is less likely to become dissatisfied during estrus.
What happens to dual sexuality when a woman goes on the pill? Evolutionary anthropologist Alexandra Alvergne suggests that the Pill, by changing the hormonal state of the menstrual cycle to mimic pregnancy, eliminates the hormonal ebbs and flows that lead to dual sexuality. With oral contraceptives on board, Alvergne found that women tend to seek partners who look like good long-term prospects and that the motivation to have sex with good genes partner for short-term mating decreases. Likewise, she found that women on the Pill show preference for men who smell like close relatives but that ovulating women prefer odors from men who are genetically dissimilar. This may account, to some extent for “sexual chemistry” and could have implications for fertility and healthy offspring.
Researchers are currently wondering: Do couples formed while women were taking the Pill differ in any way from others? If so, what are the consequences for marital stability and fitness of offspring? Do relationship dynamics change when Pill use changes?
It has become fairly common for a woman to go on the Pill in high school and stay on it for 20 years or more. If you are one of these women, your personal version of this research question might be: Will I feel differently toward my betrothed when I experience the Pill-free hormonal ebbs and flows of the menstrual cycle? No answers yet, but these questions suggest that a woman contemplating marriage, who has been on the Pill may want to try cycling before making the long-term commitment.