Step into any bar and it won’t take you long to spot her. You know who I am talking about, she is the woman with the addictive laugh, the eye-catching clothes, and the magnetic appeal that has drawn a circle of admirers around her. If the room were a solar system, she would be the sun.
What is it about this woman that attracts all of the attention? Psychologists and dating experts would propose a host of explanations: It’s her social personality, her come-hither look, her approachable persona, etc. But an evolutionary psychologist is observing the scene surprisingly different by positing that, it’s her “real” time of the month. In other words, the belle of the bar is likely reaching peak fertility.
You see, while ovulating, once per month the female brain kicks into competition mode. It is at this time of the month that women are at peak fertility and are subconsciously driven to attract the best quality sexual partners. Additionally, it is during this time that women’s preferences for potential partners shift.
For example, we may think that each woman has an unchanging “type”—but it turns out that women prefer quite different kinds of men depending on whether they are fertile. In the two days or so of the ovulatory phase—the time when women are most likely to become pregnant—they gravitate toward men with more “masculine” traits. This means that a man who has a leaner, V-shaped body, and a face with a squarer chin, heavier eyebrows, and thinner lips; one who speaks in a lower-pitched voice, and displays more dominant behavior is more appealing to an ovulating woman than to all other women. However, during the other 26 days of the month, women prefer men with softer features, less-defined bodies, higher voices, and a gentler manner.
These differing preferences emerge out of two competing reproductive goals.
(1) When women want to get the highest-quality genetic material for their children (aka: when a woman is fertile) a woman will prefer masculine men, because high genetic quality in a man is indicated by his level of testosterone.
(2) During the rest of her cycle, however, a woman wants to secure the most generous and stable source of goods for herself and her children. Now the nice-guy provider starts to look appealing.
The influence of the menstrual cycle on women is apparent not only in whom they desire but in how they act. For example, researchers have found that women who are in the fertile phase show more interest in erotic materials than women not ovulating, In particular, given a choice of movies to watch, fertile women will select movies with more romantic or sexual themes.
Other research indicates that they take more care with their appearance, and choose more revealing clothes to wear. In fact, in 2004 study, a group of researchers from the University of Vienna digitally analyzed pictures of 351 women going out to Austrian nightclubs and collected a saliva sample from each. Women whose clothes were tight or showed a lot of skin had higher levels of estradiol, a female hormone that is elevated around the time of peak fertility.
So, although we all like to think we have complete control over our dating lives. It may not be that simple. In fact, many of the things that women prefer and many of the things women do may be JUST BEYOND THEIR CONTROL.
Ashley Thompson is a PhD student at the University of New Brunswick in experimental and applied psychology with research interests in sexuality and attraction. Ashley completed her undergraduate degree at University of Wisconsin at River Falls in psychology. She is originally from Minneapolis, Minnesota and has moved to Canada for her graduate pursuits. Find out more at Turned-On.net.