Sydney Morning Herald

Even good girls are burning up

By Julie Robotham, Medical Writer
September 12 2002
Sydney Morning Herald

Women go into "heat" just like every other female mammal, scientists have found.

But social constraints and the desire to be good may have all but destroyed many women's urge to have sex when they are at their most fertile.

The research, based on brain scans, shows women respond more dramatically to pictures of nude men when they are ovulating.

Writing in the science journal Human Reproduction this week, Juan Tarin and Vanessa Gomez-Piquer, of Spain's University of Valencia, said: "Recent evidence ... suggests that women experience recurring periods of increased attractiveness and [desire around ovulation]."

Scientists had previously thought humans lost the heat period when they started to gain conscious control over their sexual urges.

Other studies, from Britain and Japan, show women find classically masculine faces more attractive around ovulation, but not at other times.

And in the United States, men rated a woman's scent more attractive when she was ovulating than when she was at other times of the menstrual cycle.

Professor Marita McCabe, a psychologist at Melbourne's Deakin University, said the subject was controversial and unpopular because "a lot of people do not want to see humans as being subject to biological drives".

Women's awareness of being in heat varied, she said, and could be wiped out by "social overlays - monogamy, personality, compatibility, all those loving, caring, nurturing aspects of women".

"There's no doubt ... a lot of social and psychological factors affect [women's] arousal, such as fatigue, stress, level of engagement with partner, body image, self-esteem and mood," she said.

Professor McCabe's own research has shown women in long-term relationships were more likely to want sex with their partners around the time of ovulation if they found them very physically attractive, and were more likely to want sex at other periods if they saw the man as a steady, good provider but not especially attractive. Heat in humans "may still be playing an evolutionary role," she said.

Copyright © 2002. The Sydney Morning Herald