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Are Fertile Women Really More Attractive to Men?

A recent speed-dating study examined whether fertile women received more dates.

Key points

  • Women’s ovulation can be detected by others through changes in women’s behavior, looks, and body scent.
  • Ovulatory shifts in attractiveness are thought to give more fertile women an advantage in mating with “high quality” men.
  • Researchers used speed-dating to test whether more fertile women really were more popular with men.
  • While more fertile women were not more popular with men, they were marginally more likely to extend date offers to men.
Gromovataya / Pixabay
Past laboratory studies have found that women dress in more fashionable and revealing clothing when they are more fertile
Source: Gromovataya / Pixabay

The human menstrual cycle is mysterious. While physical effects of the menstrual cycle are well-documented, its social effects are still debated. Some research suggests that women’s ovulation can be detected by others through changes in women’s behavior, looks, and body scent (Haselton and Gildersleeve, 2011). Specifically, women are thought to be more attractive when they are more fertile, through various means including the effortful enhancement of their attractiveness (e.g., wearing fashionable and more revealing clothing; Haselton et al., 2007) and increased receptivity towards men (Guegan, 2009). This shift in attractiveness may give ovulating women a competitive advantage in mating with "high quality" men (Haselton and Gildersleeve, 2016). We (Wu and Chen, 2021) thus sought to test this possible competitive advantage through a speed-dating study, in which men and women may form a real-life connection. In the real world, does greater fertility really give women a leg up on the competition? Whereas prior studies looked at cues (e.g., behavior, looks, scent) in isolation (typically within a lab setting), in speed-dating, all of these cues could together have a more powerful effect.

To test our research question, we held 15 speed-dating events of 262 single Asian Americans who were interested in the other gender. After each speed-date, participants indicated through a questionnaire whether they wanted to offer their speed-dating partner a second date. Mutual “yeses” resulted in a match. In the same questionnaire, participants rated their speed-dating partner’s mate desirability, physical attractiveness, and body scent attractiveness.

Results indicated that contrary to the hypothesis, women closer to ovulation were not more attractive to men. They did not receive more date offers, nor were they rated more attractive in looks or scent. However, in support of the hypothesis, women closer to ovulation were marginally more likely to offer men a date. Curiously, they did not rate men as more desirable.

Moose Photos / Pexels
Results indicated that there was no attractiveness advantage of ovulation nor attractiveness disadvantage of menstruation
Source: Moose Photos / Pexels

In conclusion, while the results do not rule out the possibility that more fertile women are subtly more attractive, we indicate that any effects “are likely small and mostly inconsequential in intersexual competition” (p. 1080).

A fertile woman does not have much of a leg up on the competition, considering that so many other factors are at play in attraction. On the bright side, the results also indicate that there is no tangible attractiveness “penalty” of menstruation.

References

Wu, K., & Chen, C. (2021). A level playing field: No competitive advantage of conception risk in speed-dating. Ethology, 127, 1074-1083. https://doi.org/10.1111/eth.13231

Guéguen, N. (2009). Menstrual cycle phases and female receptivity to a courtship solicitation: An evaluation in a nightclub. Evolution and Human Behavior, 30(5), 351–355. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.evolhumbehav.2009.03.004

Haselton, M. G., & Gildersleeve, K. (2016). Human ovulation cues. Current Opinion in Psychology, 7, 120–125. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.copsyc.2015.08.02

Haselton, M. G., & Gildersleeve, K. (2011). Can men detect ovulation? Current Directions in Psychological Science, 20(2), 87–92. https://doi.org/10.1177/0963721411402668

Haselton, M. G., Mortezaie, M., Pillsworth, E. G., Bleske-Rechek, A., & Frederick, D. A. (2007). Ovulatory shifts in human female ornamentation: Near ovulation, women dress to impress. Hormones and Behavior, 51(1), 40–45.

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