Blame the Pill

“The Pill Makes Women Pick Bad Mates� is an actual headline from the dumbest version of this story I’ve seen yet. From ‘Live Science’ by Jeanna Bryner

While several factors can send a woman swooning, including big brains and brawn, body odor can be critical in the final decision, the researchers say. That’s because beneath a woman’s flowery fragrance or a guy’s musk the body sends out aromatic molecules that indicate genetic compatibility…the best mates are those that have different MHC smells than you. The new study reveals, however, that when women are on the pill they prefer guys with matching MHC odors.

I’m not sure that the new study revealed anything. Unless the women were sniffing actual men. But I think they were sniffing smelly pieces of paper, or little vials or something like that. Whatever a ‘male body-odor sample’ is.

The study involved about 100 women, aged 18 to 35, who chose which of six male body-odor samples they preferred. They were tested at the start of the study when none of the participants were taking contraceptive pills and three months later after 40 of the women had started taking the pill more than two months prior.

“When women are pregnant there’s no selection pressure, evolutionarily speaking, for having a preference for genetically dissimilar odors,” Roberts said. “And if there is any pressure at all it would be towards relatives, who would be more genetically similar, because the relatives would help those individuals rear the baby.”
So the pill puts a woman’s body into a post-mating state, even though she might be still in the game.

Let’s review why women take birth-control pills. We take them to prevent an unwanted pregnancy. We have no statistics on how many disastrous marriages result from unwanted pregnancy, but we all know it happens.

If you are a lab rat, selecting a mate may be as simple as sniffing out the best one. If you happen to be in a cage with lots of other rats. I suspect that even rats have to search for love sometimes, and their little rat brains balance multiple factors.

If you are a woman, finding a life partner is way more complicated than choosing which piece of smelly paper you like best. Speaking as a woman who married across racial lines, I don’t see a majority of couples making that choice. So I don’t think we are all that driven to seek out the most genetically dissimilar partner we can find. There are more ingredients to romantic chemistry than smell.

The reason I’m concerned about this piece of fluff writing is that the press always loves stories about how we girls are so driven by our hormones that our tiny rat-like brains hardly even need to be used.

More ominously — there is a political attack on birth control in general. The birth control pill has been falsely labeled as a form of abortion. Pharmacists refuse to fill prescriptions, not only for emergency contraception, but ordinary birth control pills, and they demand legal protection for this. In forty years the birth control pill has proven safe and effective. Like any drug, there are risks and benefits. The risk of an unwanted pregnancy is not a matter of ‘convenience’, but a life-changing occurrence. No way to measure the effect of unreliable contraception on marital happiness, but if I were younger I’d take my chances on the pill.

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3 responses

  1. Holy Cow!
    Thank you, Nancy for bringing this to our attention.

    Incidentally, our friend and fellow-blogger has a photo on his blogger profile. I refer to the eloquent,democommie [TM,TM,etc.]

  2. Blame the Pill…

    ‘The Pill Makes Women Pick Bad Mates’ is the dumb science story of the week. A tiny study that proves nothing is whipped up into a social crisis. Getting pregnant when you don’t want to–that’s a crisis! Could unwanted pregnancies make women pick b…

  3. ‘Science Now Daily News’ has a study that suggests that women who take birth control pills like men more. Does the pill make the man she marries seem more lovable?
    http://sciencenow.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/full/2008/813/4

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