The menstrual cycle has long been considered a “woman’s issue”. This seems logical, since only women have a menstrual cycle, but a woman’s cycle can also significantly affect her partner’s life and the dynamics in general between a man and a woman. There are the obvious monthly occurrences, such as premenstrual syndrome and menstruation itself, but more is being learned about how other aspects of the cycle influence feelings and behavior, and how all of these influences can actually impact relationships.
Pre-menstrual Syndrome, or PMS, is reasonably well known and its symptoms range from depression and irritability to bloating and fatigue. While not all women suffer PMS symptoms, those who do can be very unpleasant to be around. A survey on attitudes about PMS conducted in 2004 by PremCal reported that both men and women may seek to avoid PMS sufferers and, in extreme cases, PMS can lead to divorce.
A less well known aspect of a woman’s cycle is the fact that women and their partners may behave differently around the time that the woman is ovulating. Studies have indicated that during this time, women give off sexual signals to men, dress more alluringly, prefer more physically masculine men and are more likely during this time to have thoughts of infidelity. Men in turn are more attracted to women when they are ovulating; they also tend to become jealous and protective of their mates. Much of this happens at a subconscious level and is likely a remnant of our biological evolution, yet can exert stress on relationships.
Further evidence of the influence of a woman’s cycle has recently been found in a study examining the effects of hormonal contraception on a woman’s sense of smell and choice of partners. The study conducted by biologist S. Craig Roberts at the University of Liverpool demonstrated that a woman taking hormonal contraception prefers a man with a genetic make-up that is similar to hers, but when a woman discontinues the artificial hormones, she prefers the opposite type. Dr. Roberts states that not only could the similarity in genetic make-up in couples lead to fertility problems, but could ultimately lead to the breakdown of relationships when women stop using the contraceptive pill, because odor perception plays a significant role in maintaining attraction to partners. Read the press release here.
These studies demonstrate a few of the ways that a woman’s fertility cycle and the related hormones can affect her life as well as her partner’s. Hmmm…maybe the menstrual cycle isn’t just a "woman’s issue" afterall.
2005 PremCal Men’s Attitudes of PMS Survey
Hormones and Behavior 51 (2007) 40-45; “Ovulatory shifts in female human ornamentation: Near ovulation women dress to impress”
UCLA press release on study appearing in “Hormones and Behavior”:
Evolution and Human Behavior 28 (2007) 375-381; “Ovulatory cycle effects on tip earnings by lap dancers: economic evidence for human estrus?”
Press release from Newcastle University on study regarding “Contraceptive pill influences partner choice” published in The Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Services
S. Craig Roberts, L. Morris Gosling,Vaughan Carter, and Marion Petrie
MHC-correlated odor preferences in humans and the use of oral contraceptivesProc. R. Soc. B December 7, 2008 275:2715-2722; doi:10.1098/rspb.2008.0825