You’ve been with him for years and you couldn’t be happier. In fact, you and Mr. Right are planning to start a family. But what if Mr. Right morphed into Mr. Wrong the moment you stopped taking the Pill? That may sound nuts. But recent scientific evidence raises some potentially scary "what ifs" when it comes to oral contraceptives and the guy you end up with.
“Some really interesting research has found that women's mate preferences change across their menstrual cycles,” says Lisa Welling, Ph.D., a psychologist at Oakland University who has studied the effects of birth control on a woman’s choice of partner. Specifically, Welling says some women who don't use hormonal contraception have a heightened sense of attraction toward ultra-masculine guys during stages of peak fertility—but that shift isn't seen among women using hormonal contraceptives. “This suggests that the hormonal contraceptive pill may alter, at least to a small extent, what traits women find appealing in a partner."
Plus, consider this: A U.K. study found women tend to prefer the scents of men who have immunity genes different from their own. Your nose and brain can pick up on scent-based genetic info even though you’re not aware of it, says Sheril Kirshenbaum, author of The Science of Kissing. And it makes sense that you’d feel attracted to men with unfamiliar immunity genes—in terms of offspring, your kids will have more protection from a wider array of diseases if you and your partner have a dissimilar genetic profile, she explains. But here’s the shocker: Women on hormonal contraceptives tend to go for guys with genetic profiles similar to their own, the U.K. study shows.
Exactly how might the Pill mess with your choice of man? As the name suggests, hormonal contraceptives work by changing your body’s levels of hormones like estrogen and progesterone, Welling explains. While this is fine if your goal is to avoid having children, these hormones play a part when it comes to your sex drive and the type of guy you’re attracted to, she says. These hormones may even affect your self-esteem and jealousy levels, Welling explains—though she’s quick to point out that, at this point, this is speculative.
So what happens if you stop taking the Pill—will you suddenly be not so attracted to your guy? “More research is needed,” Welling stresses. But some experiments have shown that women who use birth control (compared to those who don't) report being less attracted to their man. Kirshenbaum adds: “This kind of data could explain why so many couples see things not work out around the time the woman goes off birth control. There’s not hard evidence of a connection. But it’s suspected.” Because, remember, after you're off the Pill, who you're attracted to could change. (Crazy!)
What’s also not clear, according to Welling, is whether different hormonal contraceptives affect mate preference in different ways, or how severe this shift can be from one woman to the next. If you're worried, talk with your doctor about the side effects of your specific contraception. And if you're considering marriage or a family—and not taking birth control for any health-related issues—you may find taking a break from hormonal birth control, and temporarily using other effective contraceptive methods, to be helpful, Welling says.
Chances are good, though, that you’ll still feel head over heels about your man.