Shifts in Masculinity Preferences Across the Menstrual Cycle:
Still Not There
Christine R. Harris
Published online: 19 October 2012
Springer Science+Business Media New York 2012
Abstract Harris (2011) failed to find support for the popu-
lar hypothesis that women are attracted to masculine-faced
men when conception is likely but attracted to feminine-
faced men during other menstrual cycle phases. In response,
DeBruine et al. (2010) wrote a commentary criticizing
Harris theoretical analysis and data (e.g., sample age). The
current paper addresses those criticisms with new data anal-
ysis, additional literature review, and logical arguments.
Harris’ results are not attributable to her sample’s age; no
preference shift was found for the subsample of women
under 30 years old and no hint of an interaction existed
between participant age group and menstrual cycle phase.
This work also revisits the questionable assumptions inher-
ent in the cycle shift hypothesis and reviews literature that
suggests such assumptions are not tenable.
One evolutionary psychology hypothesis that has received
enormous attention in both popular press and academic
outlets proposes that women’s preference for different types
of men changes across the menstrual cycle (e.g., Penton-Voak
et al. 1999; Penton-Voak and Perrett 2000;Littleetal.2002).
Advocates of this view posit that women are wired up to
engage in infidelity with particular types of men—for exam-
ple, those high in masculinity, symmetry, and testosterone—
and that such infidelities primarily take place during the fertile
phase of the menstrual cycle. The current paper focuses par-
ticularly on one instantiation of this menstrual cycle shift
hypothesis, namely, that women’s attraction to men with
masculine faces changes across the menstrual cycle.
According to the cycle shift hypothesis, women have an
evolved psychological mechanism that leads them to find
masculinized faces more attractive during the phase of peak
fertility but to find feminized faces more attractive during
the rest of the menstrual cycle (e.g., Penton-Voak et al.
1999; Penton-Voak and Perrett 2000). The theory offered
by evolutionary psychologists working in this area to ac-
count for purported menstrual cycle effects is that such
preference shifts evolved because of some type of fitness
trade-off between choosing mates with more masculinized
faces relative to those with more feminized faces (e.g.,
Penton-Voak et al. 1999; Little et al. 2002). In particular,
they postulate that masculine-faced men have better genes,
but also have other characteristics that would make them
less suitable as permanent mates and caregivers (e.g., they
are perceived as less cooperative, warm, and honest; Perrett
et al. 1998). In contrast, men with more feminized faces,
according to Penton-Voak and colleagues, purportedly have
worse genes but make better full-time partners and parents.
Therefore, to maximize inclusive fitness, women should
pair-bond with more feminine-faced men and thus reap the
benefits of having them as permanent partners, but
should seek to mate with masculine-faced men when
conception is likely in order to obtain the best genes
for their offspring.
In sum, the menstrual cycle shift hypothesis offered by
Penton-Voak and colleagues assumes not only that women’s
preferences for different types of men shifts across the
menstrual cycle, but also that differences in male traits such
as facial masculinity/femininity reflect differences in fitness.
Logically, there are also several other assumptions inherent
C. R. Harris (*)
Psychology Department, University of California, San Diego,
9500 Gilman Dr. #0109,
La Jolla, CA 92093-0109, USA
Sex Roles (2013) 69:507–515