The Dawn Chorus

Fresh Australian Feminism

Your Daily Dose Of Pill-Hysteria-Based Pseudoscience

Posted by Clem Bastow on August 13, 2008

Attention ladies on the contraceptive pill: you might be missing out on meeting Mr Right because you can’t smell him! That’s right, this corker of a “study” has popped up (where else) in the Daily Mail. (The countdown to Samantha Brett waxing lyrical on the topic starts now.) Here are the “findings“:

Women are said to have an inbuilt ability to pick up the scent of a partner who differs genetically. Falling for this type of man helps ensure that the couple’s children will have broad immunity against disease, so the theory goes.

But researchers found that the Pill disrupts a woman’s power to recognise the aroma of a suitable partner.

Saddled with the wrong man – someone who in scientific terms has similar genes – she may find it hard to become pregnant and any children she does have may have a lower resistance to infection. What is more, when she stops taking the Pill and her sense of smell returns to normal, she’s more likely to fall out of love, the Liverpool and Newcastle universities research suggests. It is thought that women subconsciously use the smell of a man’s sweat as a guide to the genetic make-up of his immune system.

But this research shows that the Pill sends the rules of attraction into meltdown by making women set their sights on men similar to themselves.

To measure its effect, scientists asked a group of men to sleep in T-shirts and steer clear of deodorants and other fragranced products. The T-shirts were frozen until needed, then defrosted and placed in glass jars with ‘nose holes’ in the lids.

Almost 100 women then sniffed the shirts and gave their opinions on the ‘pleasantness’ and ‘ desirability’ of the odour twice over a three-month period. Many started taking the Pill during the experiment – and their opinions of the smell of the T-shirts changed, the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B reports.

Mmm, the Proceedings of the Royal Society B! Isn’t that a hit Off-Off-Broadway cabaret? Is anyone else mildly amused at the thought of 100 women huffing on thawed-out t-shirts? Not to mention the bit about the Pill keeping women in some Stepford-esque state of permanent loviness until they stop taking it and then go off their partner.

Do you take the Pill? Have you sniffed out a suitable husband?

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7 Responses to “Your Daily Dose Of Pill-Hysteria-Based Pseudoscience”

  1. Scal said

    I was going to offer my story as a kind of “OMG it’s TRUE” comment, but there could be other factors at play. I was on the pill from age 16-24 and had unhappy relationships with men who were “unsuited” to me. I went off the pill at 25 and met a man who seems to be my perfect match (even after four years together). Really.

    But the pill made me kind of crazy and unhappy – which I didn’t really realise until I had been off it for a while and returned to “normal”. I imagine my poor choices were mostly because I was depressed, rather than because I couldn’t smell them properly.

    Also, who knows if my BF is genetically the “right” one for me? All I know is that I love him. We don’t have children … and that’s what the findings are all about, aren’t they?

  2. audrey said

    Sorry Clem, but have to disagree with you on this one. Australian researchers have also found that to be true. Pheremonal attraction is pretty key to selecting a mate, and studies have demonstrated the immune system factors you’ve mentioned. Women on the pill gravitate towards partners with immune systems most similar to their own.

    I don’t agree that women will fall out of love once they go off the Pill, because love cannot be solely based on sexual attraction particularly after a number of years.

    However, I don’t think it’s a regressive patriarchal act to criticise the Pill in this context either. I don’t think any of the research suggests the concept of the Pill is a bad thing – maybe just that we could be doing it better. And what’s wrong with that?

    Also, when I had the Implant halfway through a relationship, I basically didn’t want to have sex with my boyfriend at all. That may be associated with reduced libido due to the medication itself or more erroenous factors. Who knows? I think it’s pretty widely accepted though that while the Pill may have aided sexual freedom and reproductive autonomy, it’s not the great saviour for women that it could be.

  3. Poppy said

    The thing that really gets me about this is not the smelling out a partner bit, but the part where they seem to think only women do it. I’m not all that familiar with the study, but I wonder, is it only women who are able to discern immune systems through scent, or can men do it too? And if they can, why aren’t they the ones smelling who is or isn’t right for them?

    Hmmm… curious stuff.

  4. zooeyibz said

    load of vile, sexist rubbish. honestly, who pays for these “studies”… I just spent several hours trying to work my slack-jawed fury into something a little more cogent… let me know how I did: http://irresponsibility.wordpress.com/2008/08/14/pill-side-effect-having-control-of-your-life%e2%80%a6/

  5. 'Lex said

    zooeyibz – the pill may well allow women some degree of sexual freedom, but it certainly isn’t the liberating force you believe it to be, if it makes you depressed, frustrated and disinterested in sex.

    That’s always been my experience with the pill – and it seems to be pretty widespread. Half of my friends have sworn off it, and lament having been on it for so long as young women.

    It’s not sexist or antifeminist to look at the pill’s side effects … although I agree with you that there may be problems with the way the study was conducted.

  6. Clem Bastow said

    I’m the first person to take the pill, so to speak, with a grain of salt; I’ve written on its adverse effects on female libido, etc.

    But my problem with “studies” like this one is how the emphasis is placed on ‘finding a mate’ as being a woman’s life goal.

  7. audrey said

    Ah but Clem – if we women don’t find a mate, then we can’t have children. And then we’d either have to kill ourselves, or face the reality that we had spurned our true purpose in life and opted to become bitter, dried up old shrews.

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