Menstrual cycle variation in women's preferences for the scent of symmetrical men

Steven W. Gangestad, Randy Thornhill

Abstract

Evidence suggests that female sexual preferences change across the menstrual cycle. Women's extra–pair copulations tend to occur in their most fertile period, whereas their intra–pair copulations tend to be more evenly spread out across the cycle. This pattern is consistent with women preferentially seeking men who evidence phenotypic markers of genetic benefits just before and during ovulation. This study examined whether women's olfactory preferences for men's scent would tend to favour the scent of more symmetrical men, most notably during the women's fertile period. College women sniffed and rated the attractiveness of the scent of 41 T–shirts worn over a period of two nights by different men. Results indicated that normally cycling (non–pill using) women near the peak fertility of their cycle tended to prefer the scent of shirts worn by symmetrical men. Normally ovulating women at low fertility within their cycle, and women using a contraceptive pill, showed no significant preference for either symmetrical or asymmetrical men's scent. A separate analysis revealed that, within the set of normally cycling women, individual women's preference for symmetry correlated with their probability of conception, given the actuarial value associated with the day of the cycle they reported at the time they smelled the shirts. Potential sexual selection processes and proximate mechanisms accounting for these findings are discussed.