AbstractFemales of a number of primate species display their fertile period by behavioural and/or morphological changes. Traditionally, the fertile period in human females has been considered to be concealed. However, this presumption has rarely been tested. One of the possible mechanisms for assessing menstrual cycle phase is through the sense of smell. In this study possible changes in odour across the menstrual cycle were investigated. Samples of body odour were acquired from 12 women (aged 19–27 yr), none of whom were using hormonal contraceptives. Samples were collected using cotton pads worn in the armpit for 24 h, from the menstrual, follicular and luteal cycle phases. Our experimental sample of 42 males (age 19–34 yr) repeatedly rated these odour samples for their intensity, pleasantness, attractiveness and femininity. Raw subjective smell ratings from each man were transformed to z‐scores. Subsequently, these z‐scores were tested by the general linear mixed‐model analysis (PROC MIXED, SAS) with the female's ID nested within the subject's ID as a random factor to account for the repeated measures of the subjects. Significant changes across the cycle were found for ratings of pleasantness [F(2,689) = 702; p = 0.001], attractiveness [F(2,546) = 6.35; p = 0.002] and intensity [F(2,530) = 3.57; p = 0.028]. Odour from women in the follicular (i.e. fertile) phase was rated as the least intense and the most attractive. Subsequent post hoc analysis revealed significant differences in intensity, pleasantness and attractiveness between the menstrual phase and the follicular phase, and in pleasantness and attractiveness between the menstrual and luteal phases. Significant difference between the follicular and the luteal phase was found only for attractiveness. Our results suggest that men can potentially use smell as a mechanism for monitoring menstrual cycle phase in current or prospective sexual partners. Therefore, the fertile period in humans should be considered non‐advertized, rather than concealed.

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