The XX Factor

Skepticism About Pill Scare Stories

Samantha , any time I see yet another story about the potential evils of the pill, both my eyebrows shoot straight for the ceilling. Science stories, like any other stories, get promoted because they have a hook, be it a counterintuitive one or a confirmation of people’s ugliest impulses. Scare stories about contraception and STD protection-the latter reaching a fever pitch with the scare stories about the HPV vaccination-gain attention because the technological and cultural shift towards a world where women can enjoy sex without dreading the consequences makes many Americans uneasy.

Sometimes these studies on how the pill influences women’s choices and attractiveness seem based on very thin evidence. Jezebel linked what may be one of the most comical science!-scare!-pill!-unnatural! stories I’ve seen in a long time. MSNBC reported that the pill might influence your mate choice toward more domestic kinds of fellas . The theory is that women that near ovulation are more likely to pick “bad boys” who will love ‘em and leave ‘em, but during the rest of the cycle, women are drawn to men who would make good fathers. But because the pill works essentially by keeping your body at even keel, hormone levels to prevent ovulation, women on it don’t go for the bad boys, right?

The evidence MSNBC reports seems like a stretch. Researchers based these bad boy/nice guy conclusions on the fact that women who were close to ovulation chose pictures of men who looked more “masculine” and women on the pill or in different points in their cycle chose pictures of men who looked more “feminine.” Their conclusions only make sense if you think that a strong jaw in a man makes him a cad who loves neither women nor children. The casting tropes from John Hughes movies do not, in my opinion, make a very good base of evidence to build scientific hypotheses about human biology. I’m also sure lesbians in the audience will be amused to hear their hormones direct them to this man or that, depending on their cycle.

It’s really too bad that this study doesn’t seem to amount to much, because part of me enjoyed imagining the anti-choice right getting befuddled because the hated birth control pill might incline women towards monogamy. Of course, knowing right-wing pundits, they’d probably bend this to argue that the pill encourages men to be effeminate; already the Vatican has released unscientific articles insinuating that the pill robs men of their masculine virility . Because even though the pill has been with us for two generations now, it still symbolizes female sexual independence, and that creates a demand on the right for a continual supply of half-baked evidence with which to denounce the pill.