#Love & Sex

Hot or Not: The Effect of Hormone Levels on Attraction

by Vicki Santillano

Hot or Not: The Effect of Hormone Levels on Attraction

Every woman reading this has taken some flack at one point or another for changing their minds suddenly or being indecisive. But with hormones constantly surging through our bodies at different levels, it’s to be expected. So, which hormones are messing with our minds most, and how do they affect the way we see our partners?


Our monthly cycles introduce varying degrees of hormones into our systems that have an effect on mood, pain (hello, cramps and swollen body parts), and even attraction. We may have types we’re drawn toward regularly—tall, dark, and handsome, or intensely pensive artists, for example—but all that changes with the flip of an estrogen switch. Depending on our cycle stage, we might go for masculine over sensitive or “Mr. Take Charge” over “Mr. Nice Guy.”


Near Ovulation, Estrogen Likes Testosterone
During a woman’s monthly cycle, various hormones are released at certain times to prompt ovulation. These include luteinizing hormone (LH), estradiol (a steroid/sex hormone that’s part of the estrogen group), and progesterone (another steroid hormone). Throughout the years, studies have been somewhat contradictory as to what effects these hormones have on attraction, but as of late, consensus seems to be that hormone levels do affect how women see men, especially near ovulation.


A 2004 study published in the Journal of Sexual Research showed that women have stronger sexual desire and more sexual fantasies near an oncoming LH release, which happens around mid-cycle and triggers ovulation. Researchers believed that the large amount of estrogen in the female system that stimulates the LH surge also increased sexual thoughts. A study performed at University of California, Santa Barbara concluded similarly, linking estradiol with a preference for men with higher testosterone levels. It was actually the first of its kind to directly show that connection between sex hormones. Researchers asked seventy-five women to rate pictures of men by attractiveness. Both the women and photographed men gave samples of their saliva to test their hormone levels. The women with higher estradiol levels liked the faces of men with higher testosterone levels the best.


Macho Men vs. Sensitive Souls
Masculine personality traits also become more desirable for women around their ovulation times. A 2004 study conducted at the University of New Mexico and published in Psychological Science found that ovulating women are attracted to men who display “social presence and direct competitiveness.” When female volunteers were shown videos of men competing for lunch dates, those in the highly fertile part of their cycles reported being more interested in the men who were aggressive and confident. However, that was only in short-term situations; when asked about attractiveness in terms of longer partnerships, they rated less positively.


Some scientists believe this is related to our natural instincts as a procreative species—when we’re most fertile, we look for members of the opposite sex who can provide the best genes (i.e., the strongest, the most symmetrical faces, etc.). But otherwise, supportive figures who nurture and help out become hotter commodities. British and Japanese researchers found that to be true in 1999; their findings, which were published in Nature, showed that right before, during, and after a woman has her period—which is also when she’s least likely to conceive—she’s more attracted to feminine faces than masculine ones. During ovulation, women tend to desire macho, robust men, but after that ship sails, women want men they’re compatible with personality-wise.


So what does all this mean if you’re already with someone? Are you as attracted to your mate if he doesn’t fall under the “man’s man” designation? According to one study, it depends. The aforementioned researchers at the University of Mexico held another study in 2004, this time to see if women lost interest in their partners during their cycles. Results showed that attraction levels only dipped during fertile days if their partners were less attractive (or as they so politely said, had “high fluctuating asymmetry”) in general. The women who were with conventionally attractive men (as in those with symmetrical features) were less likely to be more attracted to men outside of the relationship during ovulation. But overall, the women participating in the study on average just weren’t as attracted to their mates when at their most fertile. Again, this could be because our standards for settling down with someone are different than who we instinctually recognize as carrying good genetic material.


It’s important to note that all of these studies are based on women with regular menstrual cycles. If you’re on birth control, you don’t have the same influx of hormones, and therefore might not experience any differences in attraction levels. But if that’s not the case, see if you notice a surprisingly strong predilection for deep voices, manly smells, male bravado, and typically masculine features like strong chins and brows as you near ovulation. Studies have shown increased attraction to all of these characteristics among women in the later stages of their cycles. Clearly, our hormones like us to mix things up throughout the month and make life a little spicier. And if they say we should spend a few days fantasizing about super-masculine guys who might be all wrong for us any other time of the month, who are we to argue?