Anatomy/Physiology / contraception / Desire / evolutionary psychology / Gender / Long Term Relationships

What Made Me Change ‘My Type?’

Hey kids, Throwback Thursday time. This piece originally ran in October of 2010.

Question to the Sexpert:

“I just had my tubes tied and something very strange happened. I have noticed that I used to be attracted to men with masculine (high testosterone) features and symmetric features. But I did not actually want to procreate. Now that I am sterile, I am not as instantly put off my more feminine or asymmetrical features and I am less attracted to appearance than actual compatibility (values, interests, character, etc.). In a nut shell, I was choosing a partner based on genes and offspring survival even though I did not wish to have a child. Now that I cannot have a child those subconscious forces matter less to me and I did not even realize they were influencing my attraction. I just thought I would share this in case you are able to use it for research.”

I have to give you mad props for picking up on the pattern. Can you imagine what the world would be like if everyone were this perceptive and introspective about their attractions?

Jen: OMG, that guy in the leather jacket is sooooooooooo cute.

Bridget: Hells yeah. He looks like he would probably be super aloof the vast majority of the time, reminding me of my own absentee father.

Jen: Totes. He would totally conform to my learned expectations of masculinity, wherein I keep rejecting more sensitive guys who express genuine interest in me as a person because of my low self confidence.

Bridget: Yeah, totes.

And I have to admit that at first, I chalked the whole thing up to the phenomenon that hormonal changes affect attraction. Many researchers have shown that where a woman is in her monthly cycle is a big predictor of whom she will find hot.

When a woman is ovulating, she is more attracted to guys with manly features: lots of hair, strong jaw lines and whatnot. Then the rest of the month she is more attracted to baby-faced guys who look sensitive and caring. Theoretically this is because ancestral women would want to get knocked up by guys with strong genes (with masculine features being associated with immunity and other good stuff) but then she’d want to mate long-term with guys who would be good partners and reliable providers.

same face, adjusted to look more masculine and more feminine

The effect is then dampened in women who are already pregnant or who are using hormonal contraception, since they don’t vary day to day in the same way. Men, too, show difference preferences in women as their hormones vary. At points of higher testosterone, men are more attracted to feminine faces, for instance. Although some researchers think the effect is too subtle to make a real difference.

But then I realized I’m a moron.

Tubal ligation-having your tubes tied- is a surgical method of permanent contraception where the connection between the ovaries and uterus is severed, so that sperm can’t swim up to the eggs and the eggs can’t travel down to the uterus. Since the majority of female hormones are created in the ovaries and the ovaries themselves are left intact, there’s no reason that hormone levels should change after a tubal ligation.

But then, some doctors disagree.

Some physicians have suggested that Post-Tubal Ligation Syndrome exists: that estrogen and progesterone rates rapidly decline after the fallopian tube is cut. They say blood supply to the ovaries is damaged during the procedure, leading to isolated ovarian syndrome and a whole litany of side effects that are a lot like menopause or hormone shock.

Other physicians say that PTLS does not exist and that any side effects women experience is actually due to no longer taking hormonal birth control pills now that they no longer have to worry about getting pregnant.

But then you never said you had any side effects aside from this change in attraction. Which begs the question: was your exclusive attraction to more masculine partners just a psychological phenomenon?

Is your brain actually making subconscious logical decisions? Does your ambivalence/antipathy to parenting have absolutely no effect on any other opinions you hold? Was a part of you still holding out an insurance policy in case you got pregnant, even though you didn’t want to?

I don’t have a clue. But what I can ascertain from your message is that you now are looking for partners with more substance and compatibility than you did before. And that’s a totally great development. If getting this tubal ligation means that you are now freed from the restraints of whatever kept you drawn to hot dudes who were bad partners, then everybody wins. This procedure liberated you in more ways than one.

Questions? Comments? Violent reactions? Email sexwithtimaree@gmail.com See more at http://sexwithtimaree.com

Postscript: I heard back from the author of the original question who said that along with her tubal ligation, she had her Mirena IUD removed. This type of intra-uterine device works as birth control partially because it steadily releases hormones into the body. So having the IUD removed would cause hormone changes, as mentioned in the column. Perhaps the case is solved?

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