Could having more testosterone make women prefer masculine faces? Monica Karpinski looks into what the experts say and debunks some myths
What makes you feel attracted to another person? Perhaps it’s the sound of their voice or the chiselled shape of their face?
What if I told you that your hormones are making you feel this way—and that they have the power to change the sort of people you fancy? It’s an idea that science has been toying with for some time now, and to be honest, it’s not so far-fetched.
What is the relationship between testosterone and attraction?
Women may be more attracted to masculine features while they ovulate, according to research
Mostly, researchers have looked at the effects of high testosterone, which is known to influence our sex drive. Testosterone is even recommended as off-label hormone replacement therapy (HRT) to help menopausal folks with low libido.
But can a boost in testosterone really change our taste in other people? The University of Aberdeen was one of the first to look into this in 2007.
They showed 70 women pictures of 20 men and 20 women, whose faces had varying degrees of “feminine” (a rounder jaw, a smaller face) and “masculine” (a more square jaw, a wider-set face) features.
Women were asked which faces they found more attractive over the course of their menstrual cycle, when levels of oestrogen, progesterone, and testosterone were naturally in flux.
"When women’s testosterone levels were higher, they went for more masculine faces"
Guess what they found? When women’s testosterone levels were higher, they went for more masculine faces, even though they preferred more feminine faces in general.
The theory here is that because testosterone levels are raised around the time that we ovulate, the body takes this as a cue to look for a viable mate—which, apparently, is people who look more masculine.
Put another way: when our body gets the message that it’s time to procreate, we’re more likely to fancy people with a Chris Hemsworth vibe. But while this is super interesting, these findings haven’t really held up.
The problem with the testosterone theory
In 2018, the journal Psychological Science published a review of studies done on the matter. They looked at data from a total of 598 heterosexual women and found no link between testosterone levels and the preference for masculine faces. Sorry, Chris!
Proof that attraction to more masculine voices, or even that masculine people smell nicer when our testosterone is higher, is also pretty patchy and inconsistent.
"A key flaw with many of these studies is that they rely on self-reported data"
A key flaw with many of these studies is that they rely on self-reported data, which is subjective. We might feel drawn to someone in the moment, but does that necessarily mean we want to tear their clothes off?
Nope, it doesn’t, according to a 2017 paper in Scientific Reports. They found that what people said they were attracted to didn’t correlate with their pupil dilation, which is a physical sign that we’re sexually or romantically aroused.
What about HRT and libido?
If HRT therapy can increase our self-esteem and sensitivity to touch, could it also play a role in the bedroom?
OK, so there’s no direct link between testosterone levels and who we fancy. But—and hear me out here—could testosterone influence our desires via its effect on libido?
Maybe. After all, we know that testosterone can make us more sensitive to touch and arousal, which might make sex feel more appealing or exciting.
One review of 36 clinical trials that had 8,480 postmenopausal participants between them found that testosterone supplements increased their sexual desire, pleasure, arousal, orgasm and even improved how they saw themselves.
"Testosterone can make us more sensitive to touch and arousal, which might make sex feel more appealing"
If we’re feeling good about ourselves and also excited about sex, won’t we be more up for trying new things?
Our sex drive is a big picture of many moving parts. Hormones are certainly a part of this picture, but they aren’t the whole story. For example, taking testosterone could make sex feel easier, but if your dip in libido is due to relationship issues, it might not have much of an effect.
That’s why HRT can work really well for some people but less so for others. But, if it’s safe for you to take and helps you to feel happier in bed—embrace it, I say!
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