For a long time, scientists thought that human women had concealed ovulation and menstrual cycles — in other words, that nobody (aside from ourselves and the people we buy our tampons from) could tell when we were ovulating or having our periods. This is in contrast to a lot of other animals, who display their fertility really openly, basically hanging an "Open For Business" sign over their own heads whenever the chance has come to conceive a puppy/kitten/baboon/whatever. Humans are apparently more discreet. Or are we?
Recently, we've been discovering that, even if we're not conscious of it, the female body sends a lot of signals about its ovulation cycle — some more evident than others. And the funny thing is that some signals are completely invisible to everybody, including ourselves. They seem to be evolutionary hang-ons without much impact on today's dating scene. But there are some that definitely get picked up, and they may be the key to understanding how your body attracts the lovin'.
It's not like we're flaunting our fertility, not by any stretch of the imagination. Ask the next person you get into bed with if they were attracted by your baby-making smell, and they'll doubtless say no (and probably never want to see you again, because you are weird). But ovulation does have some weird effects. Here are just six of them.
1. We look more attractive to partners
Let's get the one we've all heard of out of the way: This is one of the weirder things about human attraction, and the ideas behind its discovery shaped how we understand mating and sex. It turns out that, on a subliminal level, men and women can actually detect ovulating women (who are more likely to conceive if they have sex), and find them more attractive — in scent, sound, and looks — during that period.
It makes perfect sense from an evolutionary perspective, but we're still not entirely sure how it happens. One famous study found that men rated the smell of ovulating womens' sweat as sweeter and more attractive than that of non-ovulating ones. Another paired photographs and voice recordings of women across their menstrual cycles and showed them to dudes — who, again, rated the ones who were ovulating as ding-dong knockouts.
2. We blush imperceptibly
A study published this week in Science found something very interesting indeed: We blush more during ovulation, but not in a way that anybody could see or pick up on. It's basically a signal that nobody can see. How oddly useless is that?
It turns out that during ovulation, our skin redness changes. Not surprising, considering that a bright red bottom is a sign of ovulation in the baboon family. But the change is so subtle, so much more refined than that MAC rouge you spent far too much on, that the human eye isn't delicate enough to detect it. We are literally sending out red flags that are invisible to the naked eye. (Our body temperature goes up during ovulation as well, so it's likely a tiny byproduct of that.)
3. We become more sniffable to dogs
Not only does our smell become more obvious to humans of the opposite sex, but it also turns out that other animals are curious about it too — and they're probably far more conscious of what it means. It's usually women on their periods who are asked to avoid things like diving with sharks, but ovulation itself is also attractive, particularly to dogs.
Dogs are exceptionally sensitive to our ovary smells: it's been proven that they can actually smell out ovarian cancer at a phenomenally early stage. With that in mind, it's pretty unsurprising that they can also detect ovulation itself, and tend to do a lot more of their crotch-sniffing behavior during that period. Head straight between the legs. Yay!
4. We groom ourselves more
This is a hilarious one. Fertility isn't just about how we smell or look to others; it's how we treat ourselves. A study from 2006 showed that during the fertile phase of ovulation, women groom themselves more carefully and spent more time selecting clothes. It's what's called, fancily, ornamentation behavior, and it makes sense. There's an evolutionary reason for us to ornament ourselves more carefully when our bodies are ready to be impregnated.
5. Our partners get more possessive of us
The same study also noted that the propensity to put freakum dresses on as we approach ovulation is matched by what's called "retention behavior" in our partners — otherwise known as trying to keep your mate by whatever means possible. As we get all sexy and ornamented, they get all angsty and want us to stick around, possibly because they're picking up on the signals we're putting out ("Want Baby, Takers Required").
So the next time you're wondering why your partner is weirdly besotted and you can't stop painting your nails, blame your baby-maker.
6. Our Sense Of Smell May Get Better
A few of the fertility signals of ovulation seem pretty straightforward. For example, our voice gets a little higher in response to hormonal shifts, and our hips sway more while we're walking. Both are pretty easy to understand as sexy signs. But our sense of smell also sharpens when we're at our fertile peak. What the hell's going on?
A study in 2013 revealed that women who are fertile may have a sharper sense of smell, not only for musky, male-centric scents (think Old Spice and man sweat), but for scents in general. It's not necessarily the case across the board, but it looks like for some women, the act of going into Baby Mode triggers a heightened awareness of the world around them. Why this happens, though, remains a mystery. Perhaps a keener perspective of surroundings means ovulating ladies can make a better judgement about a mate — not getting lust-blinded by his biceps and ignoring the glaring red flag of bad breath, for instance.
Images: Pexels; Giphy