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Menstruation & Attraction: Why Females Shouldn’t Flirt While Menstruating, and Why Bears Can Smell the Menstruation

To my female readers who read the title and said, “duh, you didn’t need science to figure that one out,” (minus the bears part) hear me out. Though the negative behavioral effects of menstruation may be obvious, several recent studies have empirically illustrated just how influential they can be. In other words, psychologists now have data that shows the relationship between menstruation and attraction. Let’s start with strippers.

In 2007, psychologists from the University of New Mexico wanted to know if their was a connection between the menstrual cycles of female strippers, and the tips they earned during a given night. So they ran a study, collected the data, and published the results. Their paper begins with the most objective description of a strip club you will ever read. Makes sense, PhD psychologists are not exactly the “strip club type,” and some background research was necessary for “academics [who] may be unfamiliar with the gentle-men’s club subculture.” They even went into the intricate details:

Dancers typically wear very little perfume, but they often have breast implants, dye their head hair, trim their pubic hair, shave their legs and underarms, and adopt a “stage name” different from their real first name. They typically do regular aerobic and resistance exercise to maintain a fit, lean body shape.

After that was made clear, the researchers recruited 18 strippers and tracked their tips and menstrual cycle for 60 days (to prevent the strippers from knowing what the study was about, psychologists asked them report a number of other variables including, mood, work location, and work hours. They also distinguished between those on the pill and those not on the pill). They found two things. First, the amount of tips earned varied greatly; and second, strippers made significantly more tips when they were most fertile – just before ovulation, or a little over a week after their period ended.  As the graph illustrates, “during peak fertility, dancers [who weren’t on the pill] raked in an average of $68 an hour, [and] when they were menstruating, they earned only about $35.” Moral of the story? If you’re a stripper, don’t take birth control, and double your efforts on shifts just before ovulation.

For some (again, female readers), it may seem like the researchers have pointed out the obvious – that strippers were least sexy when they were menstruating. And it is probably not a surprise  that they were all male. Nevertheless, give them credit for actually accumulating the data to prove it.

What about more ordinary examples? In a 2006 study, researchers from the Czech Republic found that men can recognize if females are on their period through smell, no joke. The researchers gathered odor samples from 12 women by having them place cotton pads under their armpits for 24 hours. Then, they had men smell the cotton pads and rate their intensity, and attractiveness. They found that “odor from women in the follicular (i.e. fertile) phase was rated as the least intense and the most attractive [and vice versa].” In a related study, men were asked to smell t-shirts worn by women in different stages of the menstrual cycle and rate how attractive they smelled. Similar to the previous study, “men exposed to the scent of an ovulating woman subsequently displayed higher levels of testosterone than did men exposed to the scent of a nonovulating woman or a control scent.” So it turns out that there is some truth to Brick’s worry about bears smelling “the menstruation;” if he only knew that he (human males) can smell it to.

It gets better. A study done in January showed that “men and women judge photographs of women’s faces that were taken in the fertile window of the menstrual cycle as more attractive than photographs taken during the luteal phase.” Put differently, women are most attractive just before ovulation, a finding consistent with the stripper study. In addition, Gangestad, Thornhill, and Garver  found that when females are most fertile, their male partners are extra protective: “Among 31 mated women not using the pill, their sexual partners were reported as using more mate-guarding behaviors, including higher proprietaries, attentiveness, and vigilance (e.g., calling the women’s cell phones at random times to see what they were doing).” Researchers also found that this effect was most prevalent within relationships that had just started, or were not formally established i.e., just hooking up or friends with benefits.

So what does all this say? In short, that “there is now good evidence of human ovulation cues— therefore, at some level, men may be able to detect ovulation.” This suggests that there is a deeper, more important point here, and it is that men and women are attractive to each other for reasons that are largely unconscious. When we go out to party, have drinks at a bar, and flirt with those we are attracted to, we are influenced by mental processes that we largely unaware off. As neuroscientist David Eagleman says in his great new book Incognito, “our ability to make subtle distinctions is exquisitely fine-grained; our brains are engineered to accomplish the clear-cut task of mate selection and pursuit. All of it rides under the surface of conscious awareness – we get to simply enjoy the lovely feelings that bubble up” (2011, p. 95). 

Evolutionarily speaking, this all makes sense; females are most attractive when they are most susceptible to becoming pregnant, (right before ovulation), and least attractive when they least susceptible to becoming pregnant (during menstruation). Likewise, males are most aggressive towards females when females are most fertile, suggesting that males recognize when their genes have the best chance of being passed on. The most interesting part of these studies, as I have said, is that they illuminate things that normally go under the radar. Yes, it is not a surprise that strippers make less money when they are menstruating, but it’s not like men in strip clubs can consciously distinguish the menstruating strippers from the fertile strippers. Similarly, I doubt that the men in the cotton pads and t-shirt studies were consciously able to tell menstruation pads or t-shirts from fertile pads or t-shirts. 

So the next time you (male or female) go out, keep in mind that your biological forces are hard at work, and that they are unconsciously influencing that killer pick-up line.

  1. MILLER, G., TYBUR, J., & JORDAN, B. (2007). Ovulatory cycle effects on tip earnings by lap dancers: economic evidence for human estrus?☆☆ Evolution and Human Behavior, 28 (6), 375-381 DOI: 10.1016/j.evolhumbehav.2007.06.002
  2. Havlicek, J., Dvorakova, R., Bartos, L., & Flegr, J. (2006). Non-Advertized does not Mean Concealed: Body Odour Changes across the Human Menstrual Cycle Ethology, 112 (1), 81-90 DOI: 10.1111/j.1439-0310.2006.01125.x
  3. Miller, S., & Maner, J. (2009). Scent of a Woman: Men’s Testosterone Responses to Olfactory Ovulation Cues Psychological Science, 21 (2), 276-283 DOI: 10.1177/0956797609357733
  4. Roberts, S., Havlicek, J., Flegr, J., Hruskova, M., Little, A., Jones, B., Perrett, D., & Petrie, M. (2004). Female facial attractiveness increases during the fertile phase of the menstrual cycle Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 271 (Suppl_5) DOI: 10.1098/rsbl.2004.0174
  5. Gangestad SW, Thornhill R, & Garver CE (2002). Changes in women’s sexual interests and their partners’ mate-retention tactics across the menstrual cycle: evidence for shifting conflicts of interest. Proceedings. Biological sciences / The Royal Society, 269 (1494), 975-82 PMID: 12028782
  6. Haselton, M., & Gildersleeve, K. (2011). Can Men Detect Ovulation? Current Directions in Psychological Science, 20 (2), 87-92 DOI: 10.1177/0963721411402668
46 Comments Post a comment
    • Leo #

      The ill thing about the Civil Rights Movement is that it opened the door for ietlnligent blacks to get good jobs, and move out of the hood. Then, once all the ietlnligent blacks left, the government introduced crack cocaine. All the men either got strung out on crack, got sentenced to 100 years for selling crack, got shot in a crack deal, or caught A.I.D.S from some crackhead prostitute. All the women either got pregnant by crack dealers, or got strung out on crack themselves. The babies created by this lost generation all grew up in their grandmother’s houses, listening to gangster rap, and watching Youtube. Chief Keef is the product of all that. God help us all

      October 22, 2013
      • Anonymous #

        you and your word of the calendar is fucking stupid. eat a dick

        March 16, 2017
  1. It’s kind of bizarre to me that you frame this research the way you did….
    Yes, women are found to be more attractive when they’re ovulating…but, that doesn’t imply a woman can’t attract a guy while she is menstruating…no doubt it’s been done before.

    Also…this discusses how men in committed relationships view ovulating women:
    http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/22/science/22tier.html?_r=1&src=me&ref=general

    (Which I have to admit I was heartened to read about because so much evolutionary biology/psych studies seem intent on honing in the point that men are driven to spread their seeds….but this study adds another element to the male psyche!)

    PS Have you looked into how the birth control pill seriously messes with women’s choice in men?

    November 6, 2011
  2. Thanks for sharing such useful information. This is pretty good stuff! Keep up the good work.

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  3. Brad #

    When men go to a strip clubs and buys a girl a drink they ask the girl if she has her period. If she does he does not buy her another drink or take her out meaning a huge drop in money and tips. The strippers always answer this question truthfully as they know you could find out for yourself in a few minutes. So, the strip club study is invalid because there is nothing subconsciously going on. If a striper who was fertile said she was in her period her earnings would also drop to $35. With the strip club study there is nothing going on with the senses. Maybe if the doctors listed to a few conversations between the strippers and customers they would know this.

    March 15, 2012
  4. thegift88 #

    @Brad I completely agree with you. I think menstruation has a lot of misconceptions when it comes to how men may or may not be attracted to women. Of course if you say hey I’m bleeding a man is going to back away because you just turned a good situation instantly into an awkward one. It would be like a man saying by the way I have a raging hard on. Most men when given a chance to have sex with a woman menstruating or not, 9 times out of ten they are going to have sex. The one who actually says no may truly just be squeamish when it comes to blood or they have been wrongly educated into thinking that women are somehow tainted and unsanitary while menstruating. Hundreds of years of our society treating menstruation like it is a foul dirty thing has brainwashed most American Men and Women alike into thinking that if they have sex while the woman is menstruating has been misconstrued over the years as a dirty forbidden thing. I believe religion too has brainwashed our society as well because many religions believe sex is only meant for the purpose of procreation only. Sex is how we reproduce but the pleasure from sex itself is why we even have sex to begin with. Women may possibly be more attractive to men while menstruating. I believe that menstruation is a beautiful thing. I personally have the best sex while menstruating. This is due to the the extreme drops in estrogen levels when you begin to menstruate. All of my erogenous zones are ten times more sensitive during this time and the orgasms are so intense. I only have my own personal experiences to back up what I say from a woman’s point of view. I worked for a company for five years of my life. When I was not menstruating a few men here and there would flirt with me. But from day one of menstruation to about day three of menstruation, men I work with every day would suddenly be flirting with me and getting distracted to the point that they would abandon their own work station to be around me. I always thought it was quite odd. These are the same men that otherwise would not talk to me ever. I thought it could be a coincidence but for the entire five years I worked for this company it happened to me every month like clockwork. I know that I do give off a scent when I am menstruating (and I’m not talking about the bleeding scent either). I do think men subconsciously are drawn to that subtle scent even if they don’t even realize it. To me it all makes sense because sex is always the best for me when I am menstruating and I do believe it’s all due to the drops in estrogen women experience (that estrogen drop off causes just the slightest touch from a man to be much more sensitive in a good way) and the stronger pheromones that get produced in your various sweat glands. So in my personal opinion I believe men are most attracted to a woman when they are menstruating because I believe this is truly the only time that our pheromone levels are at their absolute highest. @Brad I also believe this research is bunk because the strippers that were on their period probably couldn’t go full nude and probably had to wear at least a g string. Let’s face it. Men want to see the full body if they are having to pay to see a naked woman. They just want to get the most for their money. That’s just the way most men are.

    April 3, 2012
    • jessi #

      What is your weight, however? if you have an imbalance of estrogen to testosterone – meaning more estrogen to testosterone, of course, when you have more of a balance – i.e. menstruation and drop in estrogen – then men will flock. The more subcutaneous fat or chunkier you are, yes, the more I’d think period sex would be amazing.

      January 9, 2013
  5. Heart #

    All that has been discussed is ok but I want to argue with the opinion that sex is ok even on menstrual cycle. What about some of the ladies who experiences menstrual cramps, will you enjoy whilst in severe pain rather. You experience heavy flows will it fine with that guy to mate.

    April 13, 2012
    • Whatev #

      There is nothing wrong with having sex on a period unless you just don’t like to. And here’s a fun fact! Not all women have menstrual cramps or heavy flow. There are many women and men who enjoy sex regardless of it being “that time”. For some, it’s even better. Sure, if you do it while you’re cramping up it’s gonna suck, but that doesn’t mean it’s NOT okay to do, just not advisable. And that’s because of the cramps, not the period.

      May 25, 2012
    • You’ve really captured all the essentials in this subject area, haven’t you?

      August 9, 2013
    • March 31, 2010 1:31 pm by Kate Jongbloed Thanks so much for your comments, Bernie, Salma and Trevor!Its so itenrnstieg to think about what we take for granted…the privacy to manage our monthly cycles and the supplies to do it.You make a good point, Bernie, that its an issue that comes up a lot here in Canada too, and as women when we’re are upset about something it is often blamed on our hormones.Keep on visiting and weighing in with your opinions!kate j

      August 29, 2013
  6. Compelling and well researched.

    November 4, 2012
    • May 18, 2010 12:18 am by Gina Why is there not a place that we can contribute for this cause. It snduos like it is a huge problem for many girls in many countries so it seems worth it to me to support this particular cause with money for sanitary items or ask the big companies like Stayfree, Kotex, etc… for donations.Has anyone looked into this kind of support? On a more general note, yes its a basic human right that every girl be educated and that every boy be educated in the fact that we need educated women in this world. So many young men are still naive in this area, and therefore very demeaning to girls. This must change for sure.

      August 1, 2013
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  8. I wonder if lay as in lay leaireshdp sort of translated to get laid and perhaps that’s the reason behind figuring out if there was an upcoming period. My other theory is that the retreat aspect might have seemed female, hence the menstruation diary.Pretty funny.

    September 4, 2013
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    November 19, 2013
  11. Chantel #

    I would think that while a stripper is on her period, she may not be as comfortable and confident. I know that if I were on my period while stripping, I would be worried about others being able to tell. That might affect the amount of money she is able to earn. This study could definitely have many valid points and it makes sense that a stripper would earn less while on her period. However, it may not be the reasons that they are saying.

    December 12, 2013
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