Does oral contraception make you choose “Dads” over “cads”?

Posted on December 22, 2011


Dateline: 12 October 2011 // Posted by: Barbie
Source: Daily Mail

Story: “Does the pill make you choose a boring lover? Scientists find women who take the contraceptive pick caring and reliable men”

Summary: The article reports that scientists have found that women who take the contraceptive pills “ tend to choose reliable, caring and stead chaps as partners”. According to these findings, the hormones in the contraceptive pill prevent women from entering into relationships with “macho” men and direct them towards “sensitive” men who are more likely to be suitable fathers.  2,519 mothers were surveyed, most (but not all) of whom were still with the father of their child(ren). These women viewed their partners as “less attractive and less exciting in the bedroom”. However on a positive note, these women also regarded their partners as more “faithful, supportive and good providers”.  It was also reported that women who met their partners whilst on the pill had longer relationship on average by two years.

Dr Craig Roberts headed the study and stated that changing your natural hormone levels by taking the contraceptive pill actually transforms your preference in men “away from cads and in favour of dads”.  Dr Roberts also emphasises that these results were based on the average opinions of the women studied, and not every woman on the pill will necessarily be affected by it.

Why is this PseudoNews? The study reported on is flawed in that there is no control condition, which is a basic necessity for every scientific experiment. It also does not consider that women who take the contraceptive pill are different from the women who don’t, and that is nothing to do with the hormones the pill creates. Women who are on the contraceptive pill may be seen as more responsible and mature and this in effect may be why they choose different partners than their counterparts. Also, the study looks at mothers on the pill. Women with children often have less desire for sex because of the stress and the tiredness associated with raising their children.

What features of pseudoscience are on show? Firstly, the article manifests a lack of parsimony. Parsimony indicates that researchers should apply the simplest explanation possible to any set of observations for example, using existing well-accepted theories rather than creating their own new hypothesis. In this article, the researchers imply that it is the hormones in the pill that alter a woman’s preference in men. There are many reasons why women would choose reliable men as oppose to unpredictable men, and in my opinion their hormones play little, if any role in this decision. A simpler conclusion would be that the women on the pill are different to women who are not; therefore it is likely there taste in men would differ accordingly.

Secondly, the article demonstrates vagueness in measurement. The results of this experiment cannot be measured accurately. How do you measure someone’s attractiveness? What one person may find attractive another may not. Also, all 2,519 women who were studied are mothers. This is bound to have an overwhelming influence over the type of men these women want. A woman with a child is more likely going to want a responsible male, who can take on the role of a ‘father figure’.

Finally, the article describes research in which there is a lack of experimental control. There is no morally legitimate way of ensuring scientific control for this experiment.  Dr Roberts suggests that women using the contraceptive pill in long term relationships should “choose a non-hormonal barrier method of contraception for a few months before getting married…to reassure herself that she’s still attracted to her partner.” This could be used as a control for the experiment, except morally this would never work. Women would not want to risk the chance of falling pregnant.

The moral of the story: Although the researcher would have you believe that the pill alters your preference in men, there are undoubtedly many reasons why women would prefer more reliable men which are not controlled for in this experiment. It is also important to note that the data collected was from women who are mothers, and thus would have different criteria when looking for men than a woman with no such responsibility.