There are so many different types of people we can be attracted to, and it's not unusual to have a totally different taste in potential partners than our friends do. We don't always know why we're attracted to someone. And although we like to think of our taste as something ineffable, there can be some real factors at play — like biology, genetics, and, of course, hormones. It's long been thought that hormones and our cycle has an effect on what type of faces we're attracted to. But a new study shows that hormones don't actually seem to affect who we're attracted to in ways that we once thought they did.
The research, published in the Psychological Science journal, was building off of previous studies that had shown heterosexual women were attracted to men with more masculine faces when their hormones were at levels associated with high fertility — perhaps because masculine characteristics were unconsciously associated with a higher immune system. But this newer study looked at nearly 600 women and found that actually, there wasn't any correspondence between hormones levels and how "masculine" the faces of potential mates are.
"The most surprising thing about the results is that the findings of many smaller studies didn’t really scale up in this larger study," Professor Ben Jones, one of the lead study authors, tells Bustle. "I think that really underlined the importance of trying to replicate findings in big samples (for scientists) and the importance of not making decisions about contraceptive choices based on results of individual small studies (for women)."
And to be sure, the researchers made sure this test took place over a long period of time. They asked the women to come in for weekly mouth swabs (to measure hormone levels) and they were given a facial preference test. They did this every week for five weeks — and then again after six months and again after two years. And still, they didn't find that hormones — or being on the Pill — made any difference in the faces they were attracted to. Now, this study in some ways comes as a relief, because there has been some concern that hormonal birth control can disrupt relationships. If birth control alters your hormones and hormones alter what kind of face you're attracted to, you could end up feeling less attracted to your partner when your hormones are disrupted. But that doesn't seem to be the case here. Hormones tend to control my eating, sleeping, and crying at Hallmark movie commercial levels, but they can't have this one.
Although this study was a much larger sampling than others that have been done in this arena, it still lacked diversity. All of the women in the study and photos of men in the study were white, which means we don't understand how this might play out in more diverse groups of people. Also, it is, by design, a heteronormative study. "It would be great to replicate the study in more diverse groups," Jones says. "Looking at people in other countries and cultures would be important, as would looking at the effects of hormonal changes in older women (e.g. changes that happen around menopause). We also only looked at straight women. I don’t know of any large studies looking at hormonal influences on mate preferences in gay or bisexual women. That would be fascinating to look at." I'm a bisexual who is attracted to very masculine men and feminine women, so I'd love to know if my hormones have anything to say about that.
It's comforting to think that something as little and annoying as the Pill can't actually come in and mess with relationships — although it may do that in other ways. At least in this case, our hormones aren't controlling attraction. I'll try to remember that when I'm cry-eating a bowl of popcorn next time.