Checking Out The Lab Rat

The title of an article from February published in the New York Times that my friend E sent to me made me smile a little – maybe you’ll find a bit of humor in it it, too, as it’s called “The Threatening Scent of Fertile Women”. The article is about a study done recently in Florida to look at what they’re calling “relationship maintenance.”

Much research has been dedicated to look at how individuals are attracted to each other, what areas of the brain light up when people flirt, and even how love can act as a pain killer. This study involved having one woman who was specifically trained to not flirt with anyone in the lab (participants or not), wear no perfume, wear her hair in a simple pony tail (no va-va voom hair style), and wear jeans and a plain t shirt. She was one (if not the) key aspect of the experiment, as the key investigators had her pretend to be a fellow student and participant who would work with the men who came into the lab. After they did a key task together, the men were asked to rate her attractiveness.

The results showed, in line with previous research, that when the woman was at her most fertile she was rated as more attractive. However, the male participants in this study overall rated her as more attractive if they were single. Male participants who were in a relationship typically rated this female “lab rat” as less attractive. The article suggests that this may be because they saw this woman as more of a threat to their relationship; the article notes, “to avoid being enticed to stray, they apparently told themselves that she wasn’t all that hot anyway.”

The article references other studies that I’ve read before which tend to show that when women are most fertile (around the time of ovulation, which is about 2 weeks before bleeding begins), they tend to dress more attractively and female adult dancers tend to make better tips. Of course, these studies tend to be done on ovulating women (e.g., women who are not using hormonal birth control, which many women who don’t want to become pregnant do) and so it’s difficult to know how much of this research translates to the “real world” (for this reason and others).

Of course, the notion of looking at how people may avoid straying is interesting, rather than just focusing research on why people cheat. Have you noticed if and how you try to avoid checking out other people when you’re in a relationship? What if you’re non-monogamous? Are there strategies you use to monitor your flirting/sex seeking behavior?

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About Holly Moyseenko

Holly Moyseenko is a sex educator living in Ohio. She is an advocate of positive and healthy sexuality. Holly currently works for a non-profit health organization as a health educator, and also teaches workshops that focus on many topics within the realm of healthy sexuality. In her spare time, she also is an advocate for survivors of sexual assault, gardens, reads anything within reach, drinks copious amounts of tea, and naps with her two dogs.