Contraceptive pill influences partner choice

Aug 13, 2008

The contraceptive pill may disrupt women's natural ability to choose a partner genetically dissimilar to themselves, research at the University of Liverpool has found.

Disturbing a woman's instinctive attraction to genetically different men could result in difficulties when trying to conceive, an increased risk of miscarriage and long intervals between pregnancies. Passing on a lack of diverse genes to a child could also weaken their immune system.

Humans choose partners through their body odour and tend to be attracted to those with a dissimilar genetic make-up to themselves, maintaining genetic diversity. Genes in the Major Histocompatibility Complex (MHC), which helps build the proteins involved in the body's immune response, also play a prominent role in odour through interaction with skin bacteria. In this way these genes also help determine which individuals find us attractive.

The research team analysed how the contraceptive pill affects odour preferences. One hundred women were asked to indicate their preferences on six male body odour samples, drawn from 97 volunteer samples, before and after initiating contraceptive pill use.

Craig Roberts, a Lecturer in Evolutionary Psychology who carried out the work in collaboration with the University of Newcastle, said: "The results showed that the preferences of women who began using the contraceptive pill shifted towards men with genetically similar odours.

"Not only could MHC-similarity in couples lead to fertility problems but it could ultimately lead to the breakdown of relationships when women stop using the contraceptive pill, as odour perception plays a significant role in maintaining attraction to partners."

Source: University of Liverpool

Explore further: Dental pulp cell transplants help regenerate peripheral nerves

Related Stories

Recommended for you

Organ transplant rejection may not be permanent

5 hours ago

Rejection of transplanted organs in hosts that were previously tolerant may not be permanent, report scientists from the University of Chicago. Using a mouse model of cardiac transplantation, they found that immune tolerance ...

Researchers find key mechanism that causes neuropathic pain

7 hours ago

Scientists at the University of California, Davis, have identified a key mechanism in neuropathic pain. The discovery could eventually benefit millions of patients with chronic pain from trauma, diabetes, shingles, multiple ...

Deep sea light shines on drug delivery potential

8 hours ago

A naturally occurring bioluminescent protein found in deep sea shrimp—which helps the crustacean spit a glowing cloud at predators—has been touted as a game-changer in terms of monitoring the way drugs ...

User comments : 5

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

not rated yet Aug 13, 2008
Interesting finding, no doubt, but I can't but question the real-world relevance of a result as restricted in scope as this. The complexity of human mating interactions can hardly be reduced to smells alone and to draw any conclusions based on such oversimplification is just premature. How about they back that up with some sociological study of the pills influence on match-ups and break-ups for some sound statistical foundation rather than speculation?
not rated yet Aug 13, 2008
I think more research should be conducted into human pheromones and mating. How dependent is the male libido on female pheromones? Do all male schools help the boys focus on school, not girls? Only in the past few decades have young men been exposed to so many young women.
Reminds of how crazy dairy bulls get when separated from their cows in heat.
1 / 5 (1) Aug 13, 2008
Opposite sex pheromones are like hard drugs, proper ones will hook you up in no time if you keep breathing them, then they proceed to mentally incapacitate you - Biohazard Level 4!
not rated yet Aug 13, 2008
Your missing the point. The point is that if a large group of the population picks the "wrong mate" autoimmune disorders will become more common in the general population. ie. The apparent increasing prevalence of certain conditions such as autism might be a result of the law of unintended consequences. This can be checked by looking at the MHC of couples with autistic children compared to those in the general population.
2 / 5 (1) Aug 14, 2008
This abstract skips supporting references to 1) mid 1990 studies that established a switching of women's sniff preference during their 3-day ovulation window, and 2) correlation of T-cell diversity to men's shirts discerned by scent.

There was about 5 years of supporting peer review. If this physiological process is one valid mechanism for a women's choice, any suppression of ovulation would be suspect for masking it.

The concept of birth control hormones affecting this scent process should not be surprising if the prior studies are properly referenced.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.