Stereotypical belief holds that the majority of women prefer dominant men with a masculine body type. But there is good news for men who do not fit this description. New research suggests that most women are only attracted to this type of man for a few days a month - during ovulation - and do not desire them as long-term partners.
Researchers from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), led by Kelly Gildersleeve, say their findings suggest that the desire for masculine characteristics during ovulation may be a result of genetic evolution.
The research is due to be published online this month in the journal Psychological Bulletin.
According to the investigators, whether women change their mate preferences during the most fertile point in their cycle has been an ongoing discussion for more than 20 years.
The research team decided to analyze 50 published and unpublished studies that looked at this association.
Women may 'sniff out' preferred mates
From this, they found that women demonstrate a significant "shift" in mate preference during their menstrual cycle. Furthermore, they found that women may determine which mate they prefer through a man's body scent.
Researchers say that during ovulation, women experience a "mate preference shift" - meaning they are attracted to more masculine men.
The researchers explain that previous studies have asked women to smell a variety of T-shirts that have been worn by men with different degrees of body and facial symmetry.
These experiments revealed that during ovulation in the menstrual cycle, women preferred the odors of men who were more symmetrical.
The investigators say that past research has shown that facial and body symmetry are linked with better health, large bodies and sexual characteristics. They add that facial and body symmetry could be a sign of genetic quality.
But the research team says they have a theory that may explain this "mate preference shift" in women.
Before the development of modern medicine, sanitation and nutrition, child and infant mortality rates were extremely high. The researchers hypothesize that the mate preference shift may demonstrate an "evolutionary adaptation."
In other words, female ancestors were attracted to "stronger" men because this may have ensured the strength and survival of offspring.
Prof. Martie Haselton, of UCLA and senior author of the study, explains:
"Ancestral women would have benefitted reproductively from selecting partners with characteristics indicating that they'd be good co-parents, such as being kind, as well as characteristics indicating that they possessed high genetic quality, such as having masculine faces and bodies."
"Women could have had the best of both worlds - securing paternal investment from a long-term mate and high-genetic quality from affair partners - but only if those affairs were timed at a point of high fertility within the cycle, and probably only if their affairs remained undiscovered."
The investigators also propose that this mate preference shift could have been adaptive in a species now extinct that predated humans.
They explain the shift could now be "vestigial" in humans. They compare this to the human coccyx, or tail bone, which is still present in our body but does not appear to serve any function.
The researchers conclude that further research is needed surrounding the mate preference shift of women.
"If women understand the logic behind these shifts," says Prof. Haselton, "it might better inform their sexual decision making so that if they notice suddenly that they're attracted to the guy in the next cubicle at work, it doesn't necessarily mean that they don't have a great long-term partner. They're just experiencing a fleeting echo from the past."
Last year, Medical News Today reported on a study suggesting that women are attracted to low-voiced men who cheat.