Within the scientific community, it’s been known for a while now that women tend to be more attracted to men with “masculine” facial features, which include strong, squared jawbones, dark coloring, large noses, high foreheads, small eyes, heavy brow ridges, and hollow cheekbones. The reason that women tend to be drawn to these features is because they are indications of a high level of testosterone. And since, from an evolutionary scientific perspective, our drive for sex comes down to our primal need to reproduce, it makes sense that women would be drawn to men whose faces exhibit a higher level of testosterone and, therefore, greater signs of virility.
Previous studies have also indicated that how attracted a woman is to a traditionally masculine face depends largely on her own hormone levels, and that she might be more drawn to a chiseled jaw during the fertile part of their monthly cycle.
A new study published in the journal Psychological Science, however, challenges the latter assumption.
“We found no evidence that changes in hormone levels influence the type of men women find attractive,” lead researcher Benedict C. Jones of the University of Glasgow said in a press release. “This study is noteworthy for its scale and scope—previous studies typically examined small samples of women using limited measures,” Jones explains. “With much larger sample sizes and direct measures of hormonal status, we weren’t able to replicate effects of hormones on women’s preferences for masculine faces.”
To conduct the study, Jones recruited 584 heterosexual women and asked them to participate in a series of weekly sessions in which they were tasked with evaluating 10 male faces on a scale of desirability. The women reported whether or not they were already in a romantic relationship and provided saliva samples to test their hormones.
Each of the photos showed the same male face, but digitally altered to make it either more feminine or masculine in appearance. To avoid having the participants realize the cause of the study, the women were asked filler questions about what made one face more look attractive than another.
In corroboration with previous studies, women tended to choose the men with chiseled jaws as the more attractive sexual candidates. However, there was nothing to indicate that this preference had anything to do with whether or not they were ovulating, dispelling the idea that a woman’s sexual preferences stemmed purely from reproductive instincts. The study also indicates that oral contraceptives that adjust a woman’s hormone levels do not have any noteworthy effect on her sexual preferences.
“There has been increasing concern that the birth control pill might disrupt romantic relationships by altering women’s mate preferences, but our findings do not provide evidence of this,” Jones said.
If you’re thinking: hold up, while women are obviously attracted to strong-jawed men like Chris Pratt and Channing Tatum, there’s also a large market out there of women who prefer men with softer, more feminine features, like Justin Bieber or Orlando Bloom.
There’s an interesting reason for this. The study above noted that while female hormones did not play a role in sexual preference, women were more likely to choose a masculine face when looking for a short-term relationship rather than a long-term one.
According to biological anthropologist Helen Fisher, men with higher levels of testosterone tend to have stronger sex drives, give more orgasms, and experience more orgasms themselves, which is what makes them so much fun for a romp in the hay.
However, this testosterone uptick has its downsides, since men who are testosterone-heavy also tend to cheat more and are less likely to commit. The study therefore corroborates with the belief that women may be more attracted to men with chiseled jaws, but are less likely to choose them as a long-term partner. For more fascinating details on the science of sex, check out Why Men Cheat.
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