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Study: Contraception may change how happy women are with their husbands

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Choosing a partner while on the pill may affect a woman’s marital satisfaction, a new study from Florida State University finds.

In fact, the pill may be altering how attractive a woman finds a man.

In a new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, Florida State University researchers examined 118 newlywed couples for up to four years and regularly surveyed the women, asking them questions about their level of satisfaction with the relationship and their use of contraceptives.

The results showed that women who were using hormonal contraceptives when they met their husband experienced a drop in marital satisfaction after they discontinued a hormone-based birth control. But, what’s interesting is that how their satisfaction changed depended on their husbands’ facial attractiveness.

Women who stopped taking a hormonal contraceptive and became less satisfied with their marriage tended to have husbands who were judged as less attractive. The women who were more satisfied after stopping contraceptive use had husbands who were judged as good looking.

“Many forms of hormonal contraception weaken the hormonal processes that are associated with preferences for facial attractiveness,” said Michelle Russell, a doctoral candidate at Florida State and the lead author on the study. “Accordingly, women who begin their relationship while using hormonal contraceptives and then stop may begin to prioritize cues of their husbands’ genetic fitness, such as his facial attractiveness, more than when they were taking hormonal contraceptives. In other words, a partner’s attractiveness plays a stronger role in women’s satisfaction when they discontinue hormonal contraceptives.”

In contrast, beginning a hormonal contraceptive after marriage did not appear to have negative or positive impacts on a woman’s satisfaction, regardless of her husband’s looks.

In the United States, 17 percent of women ages 17 to 44 were on birth control pills in 2010, according to the Guttmacher Institute. Nearly 5 percent more used other hormonal contraception methods such as injections or a vaginal ring.

Psychology Professor James McNulty, who is Russell’s adviser and one of her co-authors, noted that it is important to understand that this is only one factor affecting satisfaction.

“The research provides some additional information regarding the potential influences of hormonal contraceptives on relationships, but it is too early to give any practical recommendations regarding women’s family planning decisions.”