– BY YAYERI VAN BAARSEN –
Men rate women as more desirable when they’re ovulating than when they’re menstruating. But how exactly does the menstrual cycle influence female attractiveness?
Ask any woman what time of the month she feels most attractive, and it’s almost guaranteed the answer won’t be: ‘When I’m on my period’. Logical, as being bloated and suffering from pain and cramps doesn’t really help when it comes to feeling desirable. Let alone wearing a pair of unsexy, but oh so comfortable, granny pants or tracksuit bottoms, and/or having to deal with menstruation-related spots or greasy hair…
However, it seems that not only women feel that way. Also men think that females are more beautiful during other parts of their menstrual cycle. Even if they don’t know if the woman in question is on her period. Various studies have proved that women are perceived as more attractive during their ovulation than during their menstruation.
Lap dancer study
Geoffrey Miller, Joshua M. Tybur and Brent D. Jordan investigated this back in 2007. In their study Miller and his fellow researchers recorded the tip earnings of lap dancers in gentlemen’s clubs in Albuquerque (USA) during different stages of their menstrual cycle. They analysed 296 five-hour shifts, which together represent about 5300 lap dances.
The results: the women made on average US$ 260 per shift when they were in the luteal phase and only US$ 185 per shift when they were menstruating. However, in their most fertile phase, their earnings shot up to an average of US$ 335 per shift. Exotic dancers who were on the contraceptive pill, didn’t have these huge differences in earnings.
More tampons, less tips
With their research, the men wanted to show that oestrus, a phase of increased female sexual receptivity, proceptivity, selectivity and attractiveness that’s common among mammals, also still happens in humans. In other words: a man can somehow on a subliminal level pick up when a woman is just before her ovulation and is more attracted to her at this time.
Which, when she’s performing a lap dance on him, translates into giving her a bigger tip. The idea for this investigation came from Jordan’s work in a strip club, which included gathering reports on the nightly tips and handing out tampons to dancers who were on their period. He noticed that when women asked for tampons, they earned less.
Sniff that ovulation
The exact reason for this greater attractiveness, as is discussed in the lap dancer study, isn’t clear yet. It could be because a decreased waist-to-hip ratio or higher verbal creativity and fluency of the ovulating women. It could also be related to the fact that women tend to walk slower (read: sexier) when they’re ovulating, as this research from 2011 shows. Or perhaps it’s because women’s voices become more high-pitched with the approach of ovulation, as an American study demonstrated in 2008. Although the women themselves aren’t aware of this change, the higher pitch is received as more feminine and more seductive. The fact that women’s voices change during their cycle has also been researched in Croatia, in 2017, and in the USA, in 2019. This study revealed there were no voice changes in hormonal contraceptive users. Just like the lap dancer study.
It could also have to do with smell, as Finnish research from 2004 already proved. In this T-shirt smelling experiment, the sexual attractiveness of a woman was rated only by smelling a T-shirt she had worn. The results: male testers rated the sexual attractiveness of females the highest when she was in the middle of her cycle, during ovulation. However, again this was only the case if the woman who wore the T-shirt wasn’t on the pill. This isn’t the only study which indicates that men can use olfactory cues to distinguish between ovulating and non-ovulating women. Other USA-based research from 2009 and 2011 with men smelling worn T-shirts had a similar result: according to males, females smell better when they’re in their fertile phase than when they’re menstruating.
Blush – but not like a baboon
Another reason why females are perceived as more desirable during some phases of their menstrual cycle: redness. Ovulating women have slightly redder cheeks than menstruating women. Unlike female baboons, whose bottom gets bright red and swells up when they’re ovulating, in humans the changes are hardly visible with the naked eye.
But they are there. And what’s more: males pick up on them. This was proved in a study about female facial attractiveness in 2004, in which faces of females in Newcastle and Prague were photographed during various stages of their cycle. Testers then judged those pictures on their preference. Also in this research, fertile women were seen as prettier. The follicular-phase (between menstruation and ovulation) images were rated as more attractive than the luteal-phase images.
Dress to impress
Last, but not least: clothes. American research from 2006 and 2013 demonstrated that women are more likely to wear red when they’re about to ovulate. At peak fertility, the chance of her wearing pink or red is three times as high as in the non-fertile phase. Women don’t just dress to impress, they also pay more attention to their make-up. A French study from 2017 looked at the use of make-up in the different cycle phases. Usurprisingly, near ovulation women spend more time on front of the mirror and use more cosmetics.
So even though we don’t blush like baboons, stand to be mounted like cows, or yowl like cats, our bodies do give off cues when we’re at our most fertile. What’s more: males subconsciously pick up and act on those cues, even if they’re very subtle. Now if only there were similar hints our bodies would give off to spur them into providing chocolate, massages and hot water bottles during our menstruation…