Roberts SC, Klapilová K, Little AC, Burriss RP, Jones BC, DeBruine LM, Petrie M & Havlíček J (2012). Relationship satisfaction and outcome in women who meet their partner while using oral contraception. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B, 279(1732): 1430-1436. doi: 10.1098/rspb.2011.1647

Hormonal variation over the menstrual cycle alters women’s preferences for phenotypic indicators of men’s genetic or parental quality. Hormonal contraceptives suppress these shifts, inducing different mate preference patterns amongst users and non-users. This raises the possibility that women using oral contraception choose different partners than they would otherwise but, to date, we know neither whether these laboratory-measured effects are sufficient to exert real-world consequences, nor what these consequences would be. Here we test for differences in relationship quality and survival between women who were using or not using oral contraception when they chose the father of their first child. Women who used oral contraception score lower on measures of sexual satisfaction and partner attraction, experience increasing sexual dissatisfaction during the relationship, and are more likely to initiate an eventual separation if it occurs. However, the same women are more satisfied with their partners’ paternal support, and thus have longer relationships and are less likely to separate. These apparently conflicting effects are congruent with evolutionary predictions based on cyclical preference shifts. Our results demonstrate that widespread use of hormonal contraception contributes to relationship outcome, with implications for human reproductive behaviour, family cohesion, and quality of life.

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