Attractiveness of women's body odors over the menstrual cycle: the role of oral contraceptives and receiver sex

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Abstract

It is a long held assumption that women have concealed ovulation, which means that men do not know when women's menstrual cycles are in their most fertile phase. Recent empirical results have provided evidence that ovulation may not be totally concealed from pair-bonded males, but the generality and the mechanisms of the finding demand further study. To examine the possible adaptive value of the phenomenon, it is necessary to study whether the ability to detect ovulation is confined to males. We studied these questions in an experiment in which male and female raters rated the sexual attractiveness and intensity of T-shirts' odors worn by 42 women using oral contraceptives (pill users) and by 39 women without oral contraceptives (nonusers). Males rated the sexual attractiveness of nonusers highest at midcycle. However, female raters showed only a nonsignificant trend for this relationship. Neither sex rated attractiveness of the odors of pill users according to their menstrual cycle. The results indicate that men can use olfactory cues to distinguish between ovulating and nonovulating women. Furthermore, the contrasting results between pill users and nonusers may indicate that oral contraceptives demolish the cyclic attractiveness of odors. Together, these findings give more basis for the study of the role of odors in human sexual behavior.

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