The Pill and Choosing a Mate

About to take her birth control.

By Zenaida

One Sunday after a council meeting, my bishop brought up a recent study on the effect of birth control on women’s ability to select a mate. The study posits that women are attracted to men with different MHC patterns (immune system) through pheremones, and when they are using birth control, they are attracted to men who have similar patterns. When a man and woman with similar immune systems conceive, it produces a child whose immune system may not be as strong as could have been otherwise. (Some people go so far as to say that a child could not be produced.)

Aside from my initial impulse to dismiss this news as the latest propaganda against using birth control, I found it to be an intriguing idea. I’ve never had reason to consider using birth control before marriage. I’ve always planned to use it once I was engaged to have more control over when to conceive (which I also find interesting given my Mormon upbringing, and I’m not sure how I came to that conclusion), but I’ve never thought of it as a factor in choosing a mate. It wasn’t until recently that I learned of the church’s former position on birth control and the current language.

On the other side, I thought of the woman who has unaltered hormones, and chooses a man who may be a match physically, but is a poor match emotionally or financially, etc. Hmm…

While I’m on the topic of birth control, there are also the concerns about how the pill affects the ability to have children after using it, whether it causes miscarriage, increased risk of heart disease, and other side effects. (That sounds like questions for a medical doctor, but I have friends who site reasons like this for avoiding the pill altogether.) I do think that the choice to use the pill is an individual one, and should be left up to each woman to decide for herself.

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  1. Anon says:

    I was on the pill a long time before I was married. Not for birth control, but for cramps. I only started the pill after I tried many other options. None worked. The pill eliminated the pain with little side effects. This greatly increased my quality of life. I have had a few roommates at BYU on the pill. They were taking it for a variety of reasons, though none of them were for birth control. If my bishop had told me this while I was in the singles ward, it would have greatly upset me. Because it would as if he was saying that I should live with extreme pain if I wanted to marry the right man. And I would also want to read the article, assuming it came from a respected peer reviewed scientific journal. And the study that duplicates the results. Bishops are spiritual not scientific leaders.

  2. wiser from experience says:

    The pill (or one of “the pills” since there are several options) can indeed do all those good things. But read the side effects carefully. I developed life-threatening blood clots in my lungs after 5 uneventful years on it. That was after kids. Now that we’re no longer trying to conceive, the copper IUD is what we settled on for a reliable & hormone free choice.

  3. Caroline says:

    I think it’s ridiculous that your bishop brought up that article at church. There may indeed be some negative consequences from taking the pill, but there are also positive consequences too, as far as I understand. (I’ve heard that taking it decreases a woman’s chance of ovarian cancer.)

    So it’s a woman’s personal business and she should discuss these issues with her doctor. Women don’t need to hear one bishop’s biased perspective to make them feel guilty about it.

  4. Justine says:

    I read this study and some further analysis of it, and find it fascinating. Some are wondering if this incompatibility issue with MHC has contributed to increased infertility in couples. As I recall, it all has to do with the minutiae of smell.

    The reporting I read on it was not attempting to suggest a widespread discontinuance of birth control, merely the question was raised how we could compensate for the dissonance the pill created while in use.

    It really was quite fascinating to read, and although it is still a fairly speculative hypothesis, I believe further studies have already been planned.

  5. Eve says:

    Oh, dear. Now nosy people will want to know if I was on the pill when I got engaged and THAT’s why I can’t conceive…:(

  6. Zenaida says:

    Eve, sorry to create more reasons for nosy people to make assumptions ; )

    Justine, could you provide a link to the article you described? I looked all over last night, and couldn’t find it. From what I understand, it affects pheremones (which we “smell”), which scientists can’t even actually decide if humans really have pheremones.

  7. Eve says:

    Zenaida, not to worry. It’s just an inevitable minor social side effect of the practice and popularization of science. 😉 And most people are, of course, perfectly respectful and polite. It’s just a few who can’t resist prying and speculating–but that’s hardly limited to infertility.

  8. Justine says:

    This was one of the articles, the one that got me researching more on the topic, in fact. Sorry I don’t know how to create a link.

    http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1704672,00.html

  9. Justine says:

    Forgot to mention, I just googled some of the researchers names and the study information and found a bunch more info after reading the first article.

  10. John says:

    Women who are on the Pill–which chemically simulates pregnancy–tend to choose wrong in the T-shirt test.

    That statement, in the article, is totally unexplained. How did the experimenters define wrong? How did they know the wrong T-shirt was picked?

  11. Zenaida says:

    John, ‘wrong’ refers to the T-shirts worn by men whose immune system did not compliment their own.

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