Seven Signs of Subliminal Ovulation


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Molly Edmonds: Hello, and welcome to the podcast. This is Molly.

Cristen Conger: And I'm Cristen.

Molly Edmonds: Cristen, let's start this podcast with strippers.

Cristen Conger: Yes! The stripper cast. I've been waiting for this.

Molly Edmonds: We're actually not going to talk about strippers throughout the podcast, we're just going to start with one study about strippers and exotic dancers that got quite a bit of press a few years ago. It was about how women who were stripping made bigger tips when they were ovulating.

Cristen Conger: Yeah, there was a psychologist named Jeffrey Miller from the University of New Mexico who basically polled strippers to find out where they were in their menstrual cycles, and essentially how fertile they were - whether or not they were ovulating - and then asked them how much money they were making off of tips. And they found that dancers made about $70 an hour during their peak fertility, a.k.a. when they were ovulating, versus about $35 while menstruating and $50 when they were just hanging out in between.

Molly Edmonds: And he made the suggestion that if you're on the pill and you're a stripper, you're really hurting yourself financially. The women on the pill had no cycle like this. They never got as high as $70. They averaged $37 at all times, even during that period that you call hanging out when the other women were making $50. And the suggestion was made that because hormonal contraception fools your body into thinking that you're pregnant, that men could somehow pick up on this. And no one really wants to tip a pregnant stripper, I guess.

Cristen Conger: We'll let the listeners answer that one, Molly.

Molly Edmonds: But he was saying that something happens when women ovulate that makes them more attractive to the opposite sex. And this is a theme that's been picked up and exploited in a lot of different studies about what sort of hidden signs of ovulation do women send out. Because it's not like we're monkeys that lift up our hind ends when we're in heat. We're the only mammal that doesn't do that, doesn't advertise, "Hey, it's baby making time."

Cristen Conger: We have concealed fertility. There's no outward sign. But the reason why we're doing this episode on these subliminal messages, if you will, that women might send out around the time we ovulate is because Molly and I go over so many studies every week about women's behavior. And a lot of it's linked to hormones and our cycles. And a light bulb just went off in Molly's head the other day saying, "Whoa. We have all of this research just about these crazy things that we start doing when we ovulate." So let's talk about it. And I think with this discussion, we should say right up front to take all of this with a grain of salt.

Molly Edmonds: Yeah, you have to buy into the fact that when a woman is ovulating she wants to get pregnant, which in old days, yes. Evolution would've wanted us to produce as many children as possible, to have great reproductive success to continue the species. And now, we don't really have that same need. Some people do. Some people want to get pregnant when they're ovulating. Not everyone does.

Cristen Conger: And here's another issue I want to throw out up front with these studies as well. This is all assuming that women are looking to attract men.

Molly Edmonds: Exactly.

Cristen Conger: Molly, may I say it? It's all very heteronormative.

Molly Edmonds: Yeah, we were really disgusted yesterday. They were talking about some of these things that we'll get into, about how there's female to female competition when you're ovulating because you want to get all of your enemies out of the way and get that man all to yourself. So we don't really know, and science doesn't really explain, that if you're trying to attract a woman, exactly how ovulation would affect that. Because would it be female-to-female competition?

Cristen Conger: Exactly. If I wanted to attract a woman, should I avoid g oing on a date when I'm ovulating because I would feel like she was somehow my rival as well? Science still has to work some details out for me.

Molly Edmonds: Yeah. So this assumes that women are trying to catch men and trying to get pregnant and that they are sending out subliminal signs to do so. All right, so subliminal sign number one, you dress to impress.

Cristen Conger: Yeah, and you guys and girls have probably seen some version of this research out there before because it comes up a lot. And the idea is that when we ovulate, without thinking about it, we'll just put on our sauciest outfits.

Molly Edmonds: We will dress to the nines.

Cristen Conger: I will put on my accessories, my high heels.

Molly Edmonds: You might get your hair did.

Cristen Conger: Or at least shower every day.

Molly Edmonds: We really appreciate it when you do that, Cristen.

Cristen Conger: All in hopes - Molly wishes I was always ovulating for that reason. All in the hopes of having my egg fertilized.

Molly Edmonds: Yeah. And there have been several different studies on it. The newest one came out just this week that we're recording the podcast. The University of Minnesota was asking 100 women at different stages of their menstrual cycles to choose what clothes or accessories they would hypothetically buy. And they found that those that were most fertile, those that were ovulating, would go for very tight sweaters, slinky dresses, lower cut tops - things that society deems as sexy. And the whole reason that this study was being done was because businesses are going to try to exploit that because if there's something that they can exploit and make us buy more clothes, they're going to try and exploit it. And they were saying that obviously all women are ovulating at different times, but you would just periodically send out your sexiest outfits and hope that you hit the woman at the right time of the month because she's going to go crazy.

Cristen Conger: Yeah, she might look through her closet and not feel like there's anything in there that is sending out the right kind of signal. So of course she's going to run to the mall and splurge on some new mini something or other. And the interesting thing about this is the study was not published in some kind of health journal. It was published in the Journal of Consumer Research. This is how much companies want our dollars, by the way, women. They're trying to track when we ovulate.

Molly Edmonds: But they're not the only study. There was also another one where they had women take one picture when they were just hanging out as Cristen put it, not fertile basically, in a luteal phase. And then they had the same woman in her most fertile phase take a picture. And they had people pick in which picture the woman was trying to look more attractive. And both men and women were able to pick out the fertile picture as the picture when she was trying to look most attractive. And if you're going into a lab twice being told that you're going to have a picture taken - you're not told why. But you would think that both times women would put a little extra effort into it. But it turns out, even knowing you're having a picture taken in a laboratory, the fertile picture -

Cristen Conger: I wish we could see these pictures, though. Because surely it's not - one day you walk in when you're in your luteal phase, if you will - surely you're not just going to walk in in overalls and a t-shirt. And then all of a sudden you're ovulating and you come in a cocktail dress. I'm curious to know how subtle these changes were.

Molly Edmonds: Well, let me give you some examples from the study. Some of the fertility pictures were marked by outfits like tops with lace trim, wearing skirts instead of pants. One woman added a fringy neck scarf and several women simply showed more skin. And this is from a study that was in the Journal of Hormones and Behavior in 2006. And as with all of our studies, I'll put them up on the blog when this podcast airs so you can check it out yourself. But they even tried to exempt women who might've showed up dressed differently because they had a job interview or they had class that day. Even allowing that there was something else going on in the women's lives that they were dressing for, these judges were still able to pick out the fertile outfits.

Cristen Conger: And apparently this is all moderated - these clothing choices are all moderated by each individual's sociosexuality. In other words, the amount of sexual mojo that you want to project when you are out in public. And apparently it shifts throughout the menstrual cycle. And again, with all of these studies, their explanation is female-to-female rivalry. You want to stand out from the crowd. But it's not just physical, making ourselves look good on the outside. We also tend to project a different vocal tone, which is funny. I've got all of these weird voices that I do, Molly. And I would like a study done on myself and my ovulating voice, because I'll bet it's nuts.

Molly Edmonds: Well, it's funny. Sometimes you listeners will write in and say, "I like the way so-and-so sounds." And I think it would be an interesting study - I don't want to be part of it, but -

Cristen Conger: I think I know where you're going and I like this, Molly.

Molly Edmonds: But I'll bet there's some researcher out there trying to get money to study different ways podcasters voices sound based on their menstrual cycle.

Cristen Conger: Do it on NPR, yeah.

Molly Edmonds: Because there was a study that came out from UCLA about how women who are ovulating say sentences in a more high-pitched way, that it is deemed more attractive by males. They had these students record a simple sentence. I think they said, "I'm a UCLA student." And the guys were able to pick out which women sounded more attractive. And by and large it was the ovulating ones.

Cristen Conger: And the researchers attribute this to hormone secretions in the larynx. That's just how much these hormones affect us from top to bottom. Even when we're in our luteal or follicular high fertility phase, these hormones are somehow not only determining how we dress but also how we speak.

Molly Edmonds: And what's interesting with all of these studies, is usually the women who are on hormonal birth control pill serve as the control group because those women are not subject to the same rise and fall of hormones that can lead to pregnancy. The pill essentially makes your body think that it's always pregnant. So women who are on birth control don't exhibit these same vocal cues. And they don't dress differently throughout the month. So it's really a subject for another podcast about whether the pill is totally blocking us off from potential mate-finding expeditions, I guess.

Cristen Conger: Right. Well, starting with the stripper, like we said. They're getting $37 versus $70. They're not going out of their way to dress differently. Their voices stay flat across the way. And in terms of facial attractiveness, again the women on birth control are the control group because there was this study that came from the University of New Castle saying that female facial attractiveness increases during your fertile phase. In other words, you get prettier when you ovulate.

Molly Edmonds: Yeah, subliminal sign number three is that your face changes in small ways. And again, this is another thing where they had the women come into the lab at different parts of their cycle and take pictures. And they put a few examples in the actual research. And I will say that in one of the sets I did think that the woman who was ovulating looked a little prettier. I didn't agree with one of the examples, though. But apparently, with men these subtle differences are somehow a visible cue that, "Hey, that lady needs to get pregnant. Let me go get her."

Cristen Conger: Let me go get her number and possibly ask her to dinner.

Molly Edmonds: Like Cristen said, you have to take it with a grain of salt in this day and age because we're not all constantly going around thinking pregnant, pregnant, pregnant.

Cristen Conger: Exactly. And I was saying this to Molly before we started recording, that the funny thing about reading all of this is it's all pregnancy and fertility. I would argue that for mine and Molly's demographic who maybe doesn't want babies right now - and I would say the men we are saying don't want babies right now. We have a little bit more liberty to plan things a bit more. So it's the opposite. We're working against nature, if you will.

Molly Edmonds: Yeah. Because they were saying that these women's faces become more symmetrical and symmetry is always prized as this standard of beauty that attracts the other gender. And your face becomes more symmetrical during ovulation.

Cristen Conger: But not only do women's faces seem to change a bit, the way women perceive men also changes - or at least the kind of men we're attracted to. And this happens whether or not you have a partner.

Molly Edmonds: Right. And I think we might've touched on this in our adultery podca st. We talked about how, even if a woman is married or has a boyfriend or girlfriend, they still feel attracted to different people. And you might, if you're in a relationship, start seeing if the times you feel more attractive to a person can be tracked to your ovulation because science would say that it can.

Cristen Conger: Yeah, because supposedly when you ovulate you are more social in general. You tend to want to go out more and be around more people. You also get more flirtatious, and you also get more flirtatious specifically with very masculine looking men.

Molly Edmonds: Yes, masculinity apparently is the key attraction factor. And what was interesting about these sets of studies, about mate preference in ovulation, is that it's only in the short term. These are not long-term threats, which is how they're explained that these women can be married and still attracted to the idea of a fling with this guy who looks really masculine.

Cristen Conger: What do we mean when we say masculine? According to the pictures in the study, it was a softer jaw line versus the more angular stronger jaw line. And I think there was a difference with lips.

Molly Edmonds: And certain behaviors. In some of these studies, they would have the men pretend they were competing to win a dinner date. So they would do things like ask the men to convince the woman that they should take him on a date. And they'd make factors out of whether he trashed the other guy, whether he was very confident in himself or more self-deprecating. And they took all of these factors and assigned them to variables. And that's how they got this idea of what masculinity was. But it's confusing, some of the things we've talked about in this podcast, about women are looking for the guy that will actually stay there and raise the children. You would think they would want that long-term person. But they were actually more attracted to guys who, in the short term, give them the genes they needed to have the best possible baby. And they were less concerned about who would be there to actually help them raise it. And I guess that's a whole other study entirely.

Cristen Conger: And while all of this is going on with women having a little bit more of a wandering eye in our follicular phase of our menstrual cycle - men react to this subliminally as well by mate guarding more. They noticed that couples will tend to fight a little bit more. Men become a little bit more jealous. It makes sense if all of a sudden for a couple of days your lady friend seems to be talking to other dudes. But there does seem to be the male innate response to this. And again, I have to come back to it again and again - with all of these studies it makes the assumption that women and men want to get together as opposed to women and women or men and men and also that it's all driven by this need to reproduce.

Molly Edmonds: But we're already up to subliminal sign number five or six, of all these things we've found of ways that women exhibit these things and how men somehow pick up on them. And it is interesting to see that four people who do fit into that male/female chase, the ways that we do pick up on each other bodies. One study that we're not even talking about because there were so many studies about this behavior was how men could sniff the women that were ovulating. And the women who were ovulating smelled better to them.

Cristen Conger: Yeah. And it was the reverse of another study that we talked about before. But they actually had wear undershirts without any additional deodorant or perfume and then had men smell them. And the women who had been ovulating while wearing these shirts smelled better to the guy. So we've talked about sight, sound of voice, scent - it's everything. And while women do tend to be more flirtatious, there's also a flipside of this behavior where women become a little more self-protective at the same time.

Molly Edmonds: Right. And this is a phenomenon I became familiar with when I was looking at one of our listener sites, Diana Fleishman - she's written in before because she does research on this. It's about ways women protect themselves from sexual assault when they are most fertile. Because if you have to take out the trash at night, you probably don't think, "Oh, gosh. I'm ovulating. I shouldn't go outside because if I get raped I'll get pregnant." But apparently subconsciously we do that. We go, "Oh, man. This is the time I need to guard myself for my beloved, for the best sperm donor I can find. And I don't want to put myself in any danger at this risky time." And other researchers have done studies that show that women will adapt more so-called non-risky behaviors like staying in and studying or -

Cristen Conger: Or maybe sticking with groups of people instead of going out alone.

Molly Edmonds: Women tend, even though they are being flirtatious and sending out all these signals, they don't do things like invite a strange man into their home just for the sake of getting pregnant. We still have, thank god, some ability to discern good versus bad choices. So they've done a few studies where they show that women - if they're going out to a club, they'll stay with a group. Or if they're going to a bar, they'll go with a group. And they won't walk at night alone or go jogging in the park at night. So it's interesting how women do protect themselves, despite the fact that studies have found that we're more mobile, that we are out there mingling and singling.

Cristen Conger: Wearing our fanciest clothing and doodads.

Molly Edmonds: That we still are protective of ourselves.

Cristen Conger: And I feel like this study is a nice balance to all of these other things where it's like, "Our egg has dropped in our fallopian tubes and now we're just going bonkers and buying things and wearing frilly dresses all of a sudden."

Molly Edmonds: Impregnate me now.

Cristen Conger: When did I start wearing lipstick? I don't know. It's nice to know that we are practicing some self-protective behaviors as well and that maybe we do have a little bit of control over this whole apparent pregnancy drive. And I should also say that Molly and I are not sitting here trying to disparage the quest for having a child at all. It's just this constant theme in all of these studies. At the end of the day, the only driver is reproducing.

Molly Edmonds: Right. And let's talk about how women walk. This is another interesting self-protective thing that we do.

Cristen Conger: And this is unexpected. You would think when we put on our -

Molly Edmonds: Our fancy duds.

Cristen Conger: - fancy duds and we go out because we want to be social, and for some reason we just have an itch to talk to some masculine faced men, you'd think that we might shake it a little bit.

Molly Edmonds: We might amp our saunter up, maybe give them something to look at while we walk away.

Cristen Conger: Swing our hips. Yowsah, Molly.

Molly Edmonds: But they actually have done a study in 2008 in the Archives of Sexual Behavior where they turned the lights out and did light points on the women's bodies so the men could just watch how the lights moved. And the men found the least sexy walks - just the straightforward not hippy walks - the most attractive.

Cristen Conger: Yeah, and that corresponded to the women who were ovulating. So while we are doing ourselves up, apparently we're just all about business. We're not thinking about having some catwalk saunter or whatever through the party or down the street. We're walking a little bit differently.

Molly Edmonds: We have done things to garner sexual attention, but we don't want the unwanted sexual attention. Again, it's a protective thing where we can modulate who is going to pay attention to us.

Cristen Conger: And finally, while all of this is going on - just to throw one more subliminal behavior into the mix - apparently we are so busy getting ourselves done up, walking in a very straightforward manner, that we don't even have time to eat.

Molly Edmonds: No. We eat much less when we are ovulating - 5-25 percent less.

Cristen Conger: A lot of times when women will talk about gaining a little bit of weight or feeling bloated around their period - and it's awful - but the good news is, girls, when you ovulate you're just going to drop that weight right off. So don't worry about it.

Molly Edmonds: And this word comes from Daniel Fessler who is our old friend from the foot size podcast.

Cristen Conger: Oh, Fessler.

Molly Edmonds: He looked at all these other studies. The researchers had reported that the women were eating less, but didn't make the connection as to why they might be doing that. And he thinks that if you go back to our hunter-gatherer times, which all of this does - back when we were hunting for mates and gathering babies. That because food was a scarce commodity back then, if you only had this very small window to get pregnant and continue the species, somehow your body would've adapted so that you had more attention to getting pregnant than the attention that would've been necessary to go hunt or gather berries. It was just a way to keep you mindful that this was a pregnancy time, not a sit by the fire and eat time.

Cristen Conger: Not a romantic dinnertime. There's no time for a romantic dinner. And they've done similar studies in female baboons, monkeys, dogs, pigs, goats, sheep, and deer. Suffice it to say, it happens in animals, too. When female animals go into heat, they tend to eat less. And they've done studies trying to figure out the biochemical reason why this is happening and they've found that a certain molecule in our gut that tells our body that it's had enough to eat - it signals us that we're satisfied and we don't need to eat anymore. When estrogen concentrations go up, the amount of this satisfaction molecule, if you will, drops.

Molly Edmonds: And it still does that even though we live in a time of plenty, where it's not like you have to worry about going out and hunting your own food. So he's saying this is a pretty strong instinct the body has to make you focus on getting pregnant. So that's a lot of subliminal signs that it's baby-making time.

Cristen Conger: Yeah. And we want to know listeners' thoughts on this. Because like we've said, it's kind of take it all with a grain of salt. But the most amazing thing that you just might not believe is the amount of research that's been done. Because we're just tossing out different examples, but a lot of these examples are comprised of multiple studies from multiple researchers at different institutions. People are very interested in how women act when we ovulate - like really interested.

Molly Edmonds: So you might as well get on that abundance of writing about it.

Cristen Conger: Yeah, if you're a researcher and you need a grant, apparently ovulating women is the way to go.

Molly Edmonds: I've already given you that one idea about podcast voices.

Cristen Conger: Yeah. You should work on that.

Molly Edmonds: But don't use that. All right, listener mail. I've got one here for Liz. This is about the penis size podcast.

Cristen Conger: Okay. This was a very controversial podcast.

Molly Edmonds: Well, this is one of the funniest emails I think we got. She writes, "I worked in an ice skating rink for the past two years, and part of my job was handing out rental skates for the public skate sessions. Every session, the higher size men's skate - size 12 and up - would always rent out much sooner than the other sizes, even though I could tell that the renter was only a nine or a ten. These men who rented too big sizes were always the ones with pretty girls on their arms. And they were obviously trying to impress their dates by ordering large sizes. I have heard the, "You know what they say about men with big feet," joke so many times I could scream. But then these men would spend the whole night falling on their butts and looking like idiots. Every session, I would have to wrap at least one ankle just because Mr. Macho Man was ashamed to admit his shoe size in front of a girl. What do you think is a better date? Skating with your man or sitting on a bench and applying Icy Hot to his ankle."

Cristen Conger: A question for the ages.

Molly Edmonds: A real problem for men who try to exaggerate.

Cristen Conger: Well, I've got one here sort of along the same lines. This is in response to our condoms podcast. And this is coming from Tracy. And she says, "Since I don't tolerate hormonal birth control well and I'm also allergic to spermicide, condoms are pretty much the only option for my husband and myself. I did notice that while you mentioned sheepskin or animal membrane condoms, you left out a very important piece of information. Animal membrane condoms only protect against pregnancy. They don't protect against most STDs, including HIV. I think it's important for people to be aware of that if they choose animal membrane condom. And they should do so only if their partner is monogamous and has been recently tested for STDs." So thank you, Tracy, for the public health announcement. And if you have anything you'd like to share with us, feel free to shoot us an email. It's momstuff@howstuffworks.com. Also, write on our Facebook. That's a great place to not only get our feedback but also engage other listeners as well. And Molly and I love reading what you guys have to say on our Facebook account. So find us on there, Stuff Mom Never Told You. You can also follow us on Twitter. And alas, we also have a blog that you can read. And it's on howstuffworks.com.

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