Blue pill, blue pill, blue pill, white pill.
To 80 percent of the females reading this article, this is a painfully familiar routine. As if setting those alarms on your cell phone to remind you of your daily appointment with synthetic hormonal overload isn't embarassing enough. Or, as if crying to hallmark greeting card commercials isn't annoying enough to everyone sane around you. (Or, as if the possible downstream environmental consequences of turning female frogs into male frogs isn't, kind of, absolutely, terrifying enough.) As if these reasons weren't enough to convince you of the disruptive power of the Pill, there's even more to the story. And it's not looking good for us (or our boyfriends, for that matter).
These days, you don't even need to be sexually active for a prescription—doctors are putting women on the Pill to clear up acne, to regulate the menstrual cycle, and to alleviate heavy periods. Currently, more than 100 million women worldwide take this tiny pill on a daily basis. For many women, it's a quick, easy fix, and after all, it is 99.7% effective at preventing unwanted pregnancy. But as with fast food, and everything else that's gloriously easy and convenient, we have to wonder, 'at what cost?' Since the Pill's arrival on the birth control scene in the 60's, study after study has been published arguing for or against the health risks associated with long-term usage of the Pill. But what threat could it pose to the health of our relationships?
1) Immunocompatability and Attraction: The Pill could be drawing you towards a genetically incompatible mate
Scent is one of the most powerful communicators in the mating game. According to a 2008 study at the University of Liverpool, hormones contained in the Pill may alter a woman's ability to sniff out the best mate.
Encoded in a man's scent are clues to his genome. In specific, researchers have found that a man's scent is strongly related to the genes found in a section of DNA called the major histocompatability complex (MHC). This is the most gene-dense section of the human genome, and is responsible for producing molecules that help the immune system combat foreign invaders. The more variable your genetic code in this region, the better prepared your immune system is to defend itself from illness. Increased heterozygosity in this section of the genome is achieved in the offspring of two individuals with very different MHC profiles. Because offspring with the most variable MHC are more likely to survive, women may be evolutionarily programmed to be more attracted to men with a very different set of MHC genes.
Previous research has supported this notion, finding that ovulating women preferred the scents of men with MHC profiles that contrasted from their own. In the 2008 study, female subjects not on the Pill indicated a preference for the scent of T-shirts worn by MHC-dissimilar men. When they were placed on the Pill however, their hormone changes were linked with a shift in scent preference. The subjects were now more likely to rate the scents of T-shirts worn by MHC-similar men as pleasant and desirable.
Some evolutionary psychologists attribute this strange change in behavior to the pressures our female ancestors faced during pregnancy. In the era of adaptation, pregnant women who sought the comfort and care of family were more likely to survive, and so were their offspring. Since families share a huge chunk of genetic code, and therefore MHC genes, preference for the scent of MHC-similarity during pregnancy may have been adaptive. The pill works to bring ovulation to a halt by circulating hormones that trick the body into thinking that it's pregnant. As a result, researchers believe, women on the Pill may instinctively crave MHC-similar men to help nurture their "pregnancy."
So maybe lower-genetic-quality offspring doesn't really concern you (though...I think it should). But if the point of the Pill is for two people to be able to enjoy sex without worrying about kids just yet, then it could be defeating its purpose altogether. A study published in 2007 found that women who are paired with MHC-similar men are less sexually satisfied, and more likely to cheat on their partners than women paired with MHC-dissimilar men.
2) The Pill may be killing your sex-drive
Studies have yielded mixed results about whether the Pill actually lowers libido in women. However, a recent, large study in Germany found a correlation between hormonal contraceptive use and incidence of sexual dysfunction. Women on the Pill reported higher rates of problems with orgasm, desire, satisfaction, lubrication, pain, and arousal, compared with women who were using no contraception or non-hormonal contraception.
Testosterone is an important hormone in both males and females, and helps fuel libido. Hormonal contraceptives disrupt the surge of testosterone (and estrogen) that occurs mid-cycle for females. It is at this time that women are most likely to conceive, and therefore, most primed for romance. So, when the Pill interrupts fertility, it takes desire down with it.
3.) If you're a stripper, the Pill could make your clients tip less (Or, men may be less attracted to women on the Pill)
A notorious study by Geoffrey Miller and his colleagues in 2007 revealed that strippers make significantly more money during the days of peak-fertility in their cycle. Moreover, lap-dancers who are on the Pill (and therefore, infertile) made an average of $37 an hour less than those not on the pill. Researchers attribute the economic fluctuation to slight changes in body odor, waist-to-hip ratio, facial features, and even language.
So, when is that male birth-control pill thing happening?
LaPook, Jonathan. Does the Pill Lower Sex Drive? CBS News. 2010. http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2010/05/13/health/cbsdoc/main6480463.shtml
Miller G., Tybur J. M., Jordan B. D. 2007. Ovulatory cycle effects on tip earnings by lap dancers: economic evidence for human estrus? Evol. Hum. Behav. 28, 375-381.
Roberts S. C., Gosling L. M., Carter V., Petrie M. 2008. MHC-correlated odour preferences in humans and the use of oral contraceptives. Proc. R. Soc. B 275, 2715-2722.
Wenner, Melinda. A Tough Pill to Swallow: Birth-control pills affect women's taste in men. Scientific American Mind (December 2008/January 2009), 19, 7.