Women Detect Ovulation In The Faces Of Other Women – Competitors for Sex: A study published on 26th Jan 2016 looked into how women respond to seeing the faces of other women at different phases in their ovulation cycle. Even though the women did not find the faces of their sexual ‘competitors’ attractive they were able to distinguish those at the peak of their monthly fertility.
The ovulation period in a woman’s monthly cycle is a very important time for sexual competition. This is when a mature egg is released from the woman’s ovary and travels down her fallopian tube to be in place to receive the sperm delivered during sex and thus become fertilized.
In the past research has indicated that men find the faces of ovulatory women more attractive than women in the non-ovulatory phases of their monthly cycle. From an evolutionary perspective this is important for men because this is the time when a woman is most likely to conceive. By becoming pregnant she will help her mate ensure his genes are passed onto the next generation.
Clues to ovulation in a woman can be very subtle. Scientific articles have reported that women dance, walk, sound, smell and look more attractive during this highly fertile part of their monthly cycle. Most of these studies have focused on how ovulating women are perceived by men. Clearly there has been a direct biological advantage for men who preferentially have sex with women when they are fertile.
In the past few days research has been published which examines how women respond to the facial cues of other women during ovulation. This research was published on 26th January 2016 in the Royal Society’s Biology Letters (the link is here). The authors (Janek S. Lobmaier, Cora Bobst and Fabian Probst) were interested to understand how these cues might influence the women’s awareness of potential sexual competition for their partners from other women. When these ‘other women’ are highly fertile (ovulating) this could be seen biologically as a dangerous time – with a high risk of partner loss.
The researchers presented women with pictures of other women who were either in the ovulation period (and therefore highly fertile) or where in the ‘in-between’ non-fertile period. They asked the women to rate the pictures, first in terms of their attractiveness, and secondly in terms of the potential risk that the woman in the picture would steal their partner (the sexual ‘competitor’ risk).
Generally the women did not identify a difference in the attractiveness of the faces of ovulating or non-ovulating women (unlike the views of men involved in earlier studies). However they did find that women could identify from the facial cues which women in the pictures posed a threat of stealing their partners. These were the pictures of women who were ovulating and therefore more likely to become pregnant if engaged in intercourse in the very near future. Specifically the women who were most sensitive to these cues where those who themselves were not currently in their ‘fertile’ period but likely to enter it soon (as measured by their sexual hormone levels).
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