“Over the last two decades, studies in reproductive biology and psychology have purported to show a correlation between what women want in a male partner and the time of the month — demonstrating that which guy catches a woman’s eye changes across the menstrual cycle.
But an independent analysis by USC researchers of more than 58 research experiments shows that this finding simply does not hold up. Despite prevailing theories of evolutionary biology and wide media coverage, there appear to be few significant shifts in what women want in a mate over the course of the menstrual cycle.”
We want it all, ideally. I mean, as long as you’re asking…
Women prefer genetically fit (good looking, symmetrical, healthy) men equally throughout the menstrual cycle.
Women prefer men who convey leadership and power throughout the cycle.
Women prefer kind men throughout the cycle.
Women prefer provisioning males throughout the cycle.
So, basically, Tom Brady. Duh.
Of course, our individual ability to snag the Bradys of the world is doubtful. Like any other marketplace, dating involves a complex series of transactions that maximize value to both parties, given available resources. Or, to put it another way, people wind up mating with those who are similarly attractive, educated, affluent, etc.
That doesn’t change the nature of innate female preferences, however.
The thorough review of research on the drivers of human reproduction, in the journal Emotion Review, highlights the importance of verification in the scientific method, as well as potential problems in how science is reported in the media.
Two things in particular contributed to the publication of bad research.
1. In studies that showed a link between menstrual cycle and sexual preference, the correlation disappeared when researchers attempted to recreate the results. Early studies going back 20 years were subsequently refuted, but the erroneous belief had taken hold.
2. Most of the studies that found no correlation were rejected for journal publication, even though most of them had more precise methodology. Specifically, early studies tended to use a 12 day window of fertility, which was 2-3 times too long and extremely imprecise.
Remarkably, Wood’s analysis of female preferences held true for all relationships, from one-night stands to lifelong partnerships.
Wood, one of the world’s leading experts on self-control and regulation, explains:
“These effects have become accepted lore…yet our review suggests these effects are subtle, if at all present.
By relying on outmoded theories that emphasize biology to the exclusion of culture, evolutionary psychologists may be missing some of the most important, characteristically human processes — our remarkable ability to exert control over our own behavior.
…More modern evolutionary approaches recognize that social learning and innovation are central human adaptations that are enabled by biological processes. The evolution of the human brain did not stop with these ancient sensory, perceptual, and motivational systems.
…Regardless of what might have been normative in ancestral history, with the advent of cultural roles and complex group living, women showed the capacity to tailor their reproductive activities to a variety of social roles.”
The importance of cultural conditioning is increasingly showing up in research. For example, there are large discrepancies in attraction cues by country. In primitive societies, women prefer macho men, for example. (Surprisingly, men in those same countries prefer masculine women!) There is a strong movement away from purely evolutionary explanations, many of which do not hold up 20 years later.
By the way, just because science says you’re not feral doesn’t mean that you can’t be a wildcat in bed.