Study Suggests ‘the Pill’ Affects Selection of Partners

August 15, 2008 08:53 AM
by Emily Coakley
Birth control pills have been linked to women choosing less optimal mates, genetically speaking.

Genes and Odors Thought to Predict Compatibility

Previous studies have suggested that people with different major histocompatibility complex genes, or MHC, have more satisfying relationships and are less likely to cheat.

Women who took birth control pills preferred men with a similar MHC. These same women, tested before they started taking the pill, had preferred men with a different MHC, according to LiveScience.

“Not only could MHC-similarity in couples lead to fertility problems, but it could ultimately lead to the breakdown of relationships when women stop using the contraceptive pill, as odor perception plays a significant role in maintaining attraction to partners,” said Stewart Roberts, an evolutionary psychologist who was the study’s lead researcher, in an interview with LiveScience.

MHC helps a body figure out what cells are good or bad in the body, and when people have different MHC genes, their children’s MHC genes can “recognize a broader range of foreign cells, making them more fit,” Jeanna Bryner wrote in LiveScience.

Jeff Fecke, a freelance writer, was skeptical of the study’s findings. Writing at the site Alas, A Blog, he said choosing a mate with similar MHC is “not really that high on the potential disaster mate scenario.”

As for the results, he said, “In short, it doesn’t make any sense that a woman would conceive a child with a man, then reject him during pregnancy, only to want him back after birth. At least not if one takes into account the history of humanity.”

Blogger Melissa McEwan also took issue with the study. “Everyone knows that all women value their primary relationship exclusively on whether it will allow them to biologically produce the healthiest children possible with their partner. Especially lesbians. And women contentedly married to men with inherited genetic disorders. And women who want to remain deliberately childless,” McEwan wrote on her blog Shakesville.

But some believe MHC is important for finding that special someone. The Scientist reported on a new company,, which uses DNA and MHC to find a person a mate. The service, The Scientist reported, costs $1,995.

Reference: Study abstract; women’s health


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