Check out my video and excerpt from Chocolate Lovers on Big Think.
In this month’s Pregnancy & Newborn Magazine is an article on the science behind nesting. I offered theories that explain why pregnant women — especially those who are about to give birth — feel an odd and obsessive urge to clean and organize.
Today I was thrilled to see a mention of Chocolate Lovers in one of my favorite parenting sites, Urban Baby.
For women trying not to get pregnant, life should be easy. Conception can only happen 12-24 hours after ovulation. Sure, sperm may last as many as 3-4 days in the genital tract, hanging around for the egg to arrive. But you’d think that, to avoid a pregnancy, all you’d have to do is to abstain from sex for 4-5 days around the ovulation window.
That’s what the rhythm method is — a natural form of birth control that relies on abstinence during a woman’s fertile days.
But slips happen even among the most careful practitioners of the rhythm method. Some of this may have to do with women not keeping perfect track of their menstrual cycles or having naturally irregular cycles. The failure rate for rhythm method is 25 percent each year (with a perfect-use the rate is still nearly 10 percent).
This is shockingly high. Why so high?
The hidden reason could be pheromones, chemical signals that subtly influence our behavior with out our knowing. It’s just speculation in the journal Medical Hypotheses, but it’s worth mentioning. The submission suggests that pheromones that men put out in their sweat and saliva may trigger early ovulation in women. This phenomenon has been observed in other studies, including this one at the Monell Chemical Senses Center. The early release of the egg — in advance of the expected fertile window — obviously increases the chances of fertilization.
The target chemical is androstadienone, a testosterone-related compound. It’s not only in men’s sweat, but also in their semen and saliva. Androstadienone works its charm by increasing the amount of luteinizing hormone in women, which thereby triggers ovulation. Women inhale the chemical in men’s sweat (or absorb it orally or vaginally), whereby it acts on their hypothalamus, the region of the brain that controls hormone secretion.
It’s possible that high-testosterone men — who produce more androstadienone — may be likelier than low-tesosterone men to have an accelerated-egg release effect on their lovers. Their sweat smell alone may do the trick.
As I mentioned in a previous post, there are other properties in semen that may also trigger early ovulation. For instance, seminal fluid contains follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) and luteinizing hormone (LH), which may coax the ovary to release an egg.
Bottom line: there are many events that may throw off a woman’s cycle. We don’t live in a clockwork universe, nor do we have clockwork bodies.
Note: A previous version of this post contained a reference to NFP, the Catholic Church’s form of birth control. NFP techniques such as cervical mucus and basal temperature readings, etc. are much more reliable than the rhythm method.
*If you like this blog, click here for previous posts. If you wish, check out my new book, Do Chocolate Lovers Have Sweeter Babies?: The Surprising Science of Pregnancy.
Here’s my essay touching on some fun science behind fatherhood, The Plight of the Pregnant Male, in this weekend’s WSJ review.
For months I’ve had a hunch that having a baby has been better for my husband’s image than mine. I don’t mean his looks. Neither of us has had much time to sleep and shower and pay attention to clothing and hair. What I mean is that I think first impressions favor fathers more than mothers. Pushing our baby along in the stroller, holding a coffee cup and singing, I fall into an easy stereotype, but my husband doesn’t. Yes, in terms of public image, I believe a man benefits more from being a father than a woman benefits from being a mother.
Am I right?
A couple years ago, Ariane Kemkes, a researcher at the Tholius Institute for Research in Applied Demography in Scottsdale, Arizona, asked the same question. Kemkes wondered what would happen if you took a picture of a parent sitting next to his or child, and impartial judges rate that parent in terms of attractiveness, smarts, success, and so on. Then, she wondered, what would happen if you crop the child out of the photo and ask a different set of judges to rate them on the same criteria?
Are men and women judged differently when they’re with kids than without? And if so, do fathers benefit from a bigger boost in their social image than do mothers?
The results are intriguing to us new parents.
Men perceive mothers and fathers differently than women do. Looking at a photo of mother and child, male judges are 2.4 times more likely than female judges to believe that the woman is committed to family. Female judges were more cynical and critical of other women’s maternal commitment (but more interested in meeting them). Surprisingly – and to my relief – both sexes are marginally (1.1 times for men, 1.2 for women) more likely to think a woman looked more attractive with a child than when she was alone. Men, however, were more ambivalent abot meeting women if they were mothers. A mother was also perceived by judges of both genders as slightly, but not significantly, more faithful, honest, and mature.
But what about her mind? Here comes the crux of my argument about the drawbacks of motherhood. If a woman was paired with her child, both male and female judges perceived that woman to be less ambitious than if she was alone. The presence of a child around a woman reduced the woman’s likelihood of being regarded as ambitious by as much as 30 percent. The assumption by men is unsurprising, but that the stereotype is held by other women is startling. The results may make one pause on bring-your-child-to-work day.
And now, what about men — what does fatherhood do to their image?
Only good things, as I presumed.
Men with children were perceived by all as being committed to family. Interestingly, fatherhood was good for a man’s social life. Men were 1.2 times more interested in meeting fellow a man with a child than the same man without a child. And here’s another perk of fatherhood: A man with a child is perceived to be of a higher social status. This comes from judges of both genders. Fathers are also believed to be more faithful, mature, honest. They’re also thought to be more generous – a perception not transferred to women with children.
Kemkes sums up the stereotype: females most often associate maternity as conflicting with career and leisured activities, while males emphasize financial sacrifices. A childless woman is perceived as ambitious and a childless male is perceived as cash-strapped, immature, or having a lower social status. For men, there is a strong association, explainable in evolutionary terms, between reproductive and financial status that does not exist for women.
Moreover, as Kemkes points out, men who are fathers are perceived as more generous than their childless counterparts because emotionally unstable men are more possessive and monopolize resources – traits not associated with fatherhood. Being a dad makes a man appear more “prosocial”; that is, generous and willing to cooperate. Men are likelier to want to meet dads than childless men because fatherhood lowers expectations of inter-male competition. It’s now established that fatherhood is linked to lower testosterone levels, especially in the first months after a baby’s birth.
There’s a lesson in research of this kind. While parenthood generally boosts the social image of both genders, it still cripples career women more than men. Although more fathers are taking care of the their kids while the mother goes to work, the stereotype that mothers aren’t as ambitious still hasn’t budged – in part, perhaps, because many workplaces continue to make it difficult to excel in both. So the disappointing fact remains: A man who prominently features a photo of himself with his children on his desk at work is doing more for his career than a woman who does the same.
*If you like this blog, click here for previous posts. If you wish, check out my new book — hot off the press! — Do Chocolate Lovers Have Sweeter Babies?: The Surprising Science of Pregnancy.
A nice review for Chocolate Lovers in today’s Boston Globe