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Stirling researcher connects relationship satisfaction with oral contraception

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Dr Craig Roberts has published research concluding that the use of oral contraception by women influences their choice of partner, in a paper published on 12 October in the Royal Society journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

Dr Roberts and seven colleagues investigated whether the use of oral contraception influenced who women choose to be the father of their children. They found that women who use the pill when they meet their partner are less sexually satisfied or attracted to their partners but more satisfied with other aspects of the relationship and so less likely to separate.

Dr Roberts says: “Our results show some positive and negative consequences of using the pill when a woman meets her partner. Such women may, on average, be less satisfied with the sexual aspects of their relationship, but more so with non-sexual aspects.

“Overall, women who met their partner on the pill had longer relationships - by two years on average - and were less likely to separate. So there is both good news and bad news for women who meet while on the pill. One effect seems to compensate for the other.”

Previous research by Dr Roberts found that pill use alters women’s preference for men’s body odour. Instead of preferring genetically different men, when women go on the pill their preference switches towards the odour of more genetically similar men. This might mean that women using the pill choose different men than they would otherwise choose.

“Women tend to find genetically dissimilar men attractive because resulting babies will more likely be healthy,” says Dr Roberts. “It’s part of the subconscious ‘chemistry’ of attraction between men and women.

“Similarly, women’s preferences subconsciously change over time so that during non-fertile stages of the menstrual cycle they are more attracted to men who appear more caring and reliable – good dads.

“The hormonal levels of women using the pill don’t alter much across a month and most closely reflect those typical of the non-fertile phases of the menstrual cycle. It seems that our preferences are shaped by these hormonal levels, so preferences of women on the pill don’t change around ovulation in the way seen in normally-cycling women.”

Dr Roberts concludes: “Choosing a non-hormonal barrier method of contraception for a few months before getting married might be one way for a woman to check or reassure herself that she’s still attracted to her partner.”

Notes for editors
Relationship satisfaction and outcome in women who meet their partner while using oral contraception: S. Craig Roberts1*, Kateřina Klapilová2, Anthony C. Little1, Robert P. Burriss1, Benedict C. Jones3, Lisa M. DeBruine3, Marion Petrie4, Jan Havlíček2, Proceedings of the Royal Society B

1 School of Natural Sciences, University of Stirling, Stirling, UK, FK9 4LA
2 Department of Anthropology, Charles University, Husnikova 2075, 158 00 Prague 13, Czech Republic
3 School of Psychology, University of Aberdeen, Aberdeen, UK, AB24 3FX
4 Institute for Ageing and Health, Newcastle University, Newcastle upon Tyne, UK, NE4 5PL

The research is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council.

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