The hidden intelligence of hormones: How they drive desire, shape relationships, influence our choices, and make us wiser
Women’s fertility is fleeting, spanning just a few days each month. Because sex can only lead to conception on these few fertile days, it is likely that important mating adaptations will be sensitive to information about a woman’s location within the ovulatory cycle. A veritable explosion of recent work has tested this general notion, documenting many purported “cycle shifts” in women’s behavior and men’s responses to women. In this talk, I synthesize these findings, theoretically and using meta-analysis. The findings are set against the backdrop of several important controversies. First, biological scientists had argued that the extreme extent to which humans display extended sexuality (sex when conception is not possible) meant that humans had been “emancipated” from hormonal control. I argue that women do indeed possess an estrous-like state, though it has unique human features. Second, recent critics have asserted a false-positive problem in ovulation cycle findings. I present evidence that is somewhat mixed in this regard, but shows, overall, that ovulation cycle findings are generally robust and worthy of further discovery. Third, there is a long history of concerns that documenting links between women’s hormones and their behavior will somehow undermine the endeavor to create equitable treatment of women and men. I argue that precisely the opposite is true and more focus in this research area, not less, will benefit women and inform crucial theoretical questions about the understudied nature of women’s sexuality.