Three truths about the oral contraceptive, including how they change your preference in men (only soft-faced dudes welcome) Popping ‘the pill’ to skip pregnancy may leave you with more than you bargained for — like a modified taste in men. Birth control or oral contraceptive pills, a new study in Scotland reveals, could alter a woman’s preference for a male partner.

The pill leaves women, it seems, attracted to men with feminine facial features over those with macho angular faces. Of the two studies in the research, one asked 55 heterosexual women to change the digital images of male faces until they settled on a face they liked to pick for a short-term relationship and another for a longterm. After the exercise, 18 of the 55 women took birth control pills. Three months later, all took the test again. Those on the pill chose men with more feminine faces, determined by cheekbone prominence, jaw structure and face width.

To see if the ‘digital’ results withstood the vagaries of reality, the researchers met 170 heterosexual couples, half of who had met while the woman was on the pill. The researchers took photos of the men, digitally altered them to make them look more or less masculine, and made volunteers (men and women) look at the original and altered pictures and rate them on masculinity. Women on the pill, were found to have had male partners with more feminine faces.

Pregnant-like on the pill
Dr S M Bandukwala, consulting physician and diabetologist at LH Hiranandani Hospital, says, it’s not surprising. Women on the pill seem to react to male partners in the same way pregnant women would, opting for gentle supporters over aggressive enforcers. And it’s the handiwork of hormones. Oestrogen and progesterone are the two primary hormones at work in women, and there’s a complex interplay between the two during pregnancy.

A woman gets pregnant when the male sperm fertilises an egg released from her ovary. This egg attaches to her uterus, where it receives nourishment and develops into a foetus. It’s the hormones that control ovulation or the process of the egg releasing from the ovary, and prepare the body to nurture the fertilised egg. When contraceptives are at work, they suppress the functions of the master endocrine glands — hypothalamus and pituitary gland — which regulate the secretion of hormones, says Dr Uddhav Raj, gynaecological endoscopic and pelvic oncosurgeon. “As more such hormones are released inxto the system, this sends a signal of a pregnancy-like state in the body. So, women on the pill are hormonally similar to pregnant women.”

Mood swings are for real
A shift in mental make-up caused by hormones also plays a key part in women picking soft-featured partners. “Female hormones induce not only physiological, but psychological changes too. That’s why, prolonged use of hormonefluctuating oral contraceptives, can cause mood swings. It’s the inability to deal with these effectively that leaves women emotionally vulnerable. It would make matters worse if a brusque partner brushes her off. A mild-mannered consoling nurturer would offer the right support.”

Side line side-effects
While the pill is known to cause nausea, headaches, and weight gain, studies establish a connect between its overuse and increased incidence of breast and ovarian cancer. “Several misconceptions surround the pill — breakout of skin disease and trouble conceiving once you are off. As long as they are taken under medical advice, its side-effects are not worrisome,” says Dr Raj.

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