Wednesday, February 07, 2024

She’s Just Not That Into You

He’s Just Not That Into You was a 2009 romantic comedy that explored why relationships fail or succeed, and why a romantic pairing that appears to have “worked” for years suddenly stops working for one of the partners, whether it’s the man “falling out of love” with the woman or vice versa.

In the various couple-scenarios trotted out by the movie’s producers, it apparently never once occurred to them to introduce one in which the woman was on hormone-based birth control when she first became attracted to her future life partner, then stopped using the pill once they had committed to each other.

Maybe research into all “the pill’s” many side effects wasn’t quite there in 2009.

Sixty Years of Data Considered

The pill has been around in various incarnations for over sixty years, long enough to study its effects on four generations of women. These are really just coming out now. Sarah Hill’s book This Is Your Brain on Birth Control documents scientific research into the side effects of hormone-based birth control.

Yesterday we looked at the pill’s effects on how its users learn and how they feel. Today, I’d like to consider how Hill says hormonal birth control may influence sexual attraction.

3/ Influencing Attraction

Hill on what attracts women to men:

“What happens if a woman is on hormonal birth control and is never in the estrogen-dominant phase of her cycle? Researchers have started to ask that question, and what they tend to find is that women who are on hormonal birth control desire a somewhat less masculine male face and male voice.”

This explains something I had previously never understood: why so many unsaved leftist women pair up with transparently soft, unmasculine men, marry them and then subsequently come to despise them. If they were on hormonal birth control when they met their husbands, the answer may actually be that their attraction to soft men was quite possibly artificial. Their unlikely sexual chemistry is actually the result of … chemicals!

Again, Hill says:

“Researchers have been finding that women’s normal cycling plays a role in who they are attracted to. What they found was that women who chose their partners while on the pill, when they discontinued the pill, it is associated with changes in how attracted they are to their partner, their sexual satisfaction and their relationship satisfaction.”

So, okay then. Picture a young Christian girl who has had the pill prescribed to her for her acne or irregular periods. She meets a young Christian man who checks all the spiritual boxes on her list, becomes sexually attracted to him, marries him … and then, at some point later on, stops taking the pill.

How is that likely to turn out for the poor guy? Hill gives us the research data:

“What was really fascinating about it was that whether it got better or whether it got worse depended on how attractive their partner was. Women who were partnered to attractive men, when they went off the pill, it was like the blinders came off, and all of a sudden they are having these estrogen changes again, and they are like, ‘Oh, yes!’

But they found that for women who were partnered to less attractive partners, that the opposite happened.”

So then, if the husband looks like Tom Brady, according to Hill he will probably do just fine. He might find his wife is even more attracted to him than she was while on the pill.

Unfortunately, if she was attracted to him for his feminine qualities, weak chin, wide hips, lack of body hair and pouty lips, she may find herself no longer understanding what his appeal ever was to her in the first place, or, as in one case Hill describes, viscerally repelled by factors as obscure as his personal body scent. (Yes, this actually led to divorce in a case with which Hill was personally acquainted.)

The Issues for Christian Couples

Now, of course, the obvious question this brings up for regular Christian readers of our blog is this: Shouldn’t believers be able to overcome a change in their visceral reaction to the attractiveness of their spouse? The answer we would hope to hear is yes, absolutely. Is Christ sufficient for the situation in which a married couple is spiritually compatible but one or both of the parties is no longer sexually attracted? I should certainly say he is.

All things being equal, with a little counseling, commitment and self-control being exercised, the problems created by an abrupt change in hormone-based attraction level should be resolvable in a Christian marriage. After all, hormonal changes occur in every marriage later on in life for both male and female at the onset of menopause, though more noticeably in the wife than in the husband. We do not expect, nor do we usually see, high levels of gray divorce among Christians, even though in many marriages menopause brings its challenges.

Natural Hormone Changes vs. Artificial Manipulation of the Body

Then again, menopause occurs, on average, around age 51, roughly twenty to twenty-five years into a marriage, when a couple have built their lives together in such a way that they have multiple reasons beyond simple obedience to the word of God to give it their best shot at continuing to make their marriage work. They usually own a house together. Unless there is some physical abnormality in one of the partners, Christian couples usually have one or more children together at this point. They have gotten used to one another’s quirks. They have established a public testimony for Christ that, if they are thinking rightly, both will want to preserve. They also have years of sitting under and personally reading the scriptures to remind them that divorce is not likely to end well, and plenty of experience observing other failed marriages to remind them of the potential economic, spiritual and relational disasters that acting on one’s emotions can produce. (Further, hormone treatment is now available for women undergoing menopause that can ease the transition from one stage of life to the next, and, unlike hormone-based birth control, the hormones available to treat menopausal women are derived from and entirely compatible with the body’s own natural hormones.)

A Christian couple two to five years into a marriage has none of these support systems. One or both may be comparatively immature or worldly. These days, it is likely both husband and wife are working, and are being presented with temptations daily in the form of co-workers who might be interested in pursuing a relationship. There are also likely to be unprecedented financial stresses early in a marriage caused by school debt, inadequate income or lack of savings.

Understanding the Temptation

Most importantly, if a woman experiences an abrupt change in her level of sexual attraction, sexual satisfaction and relationship satisfaction in her marriage immediately after going off long-term use of hormonal birth control, it is axiomatic that the couple has no children at that point to bind them together and create a sense of mutual obligation.

We will not agree with the reasoning of a Christian woman who leaves her husband in such circumstances. She is still choosing to break vows made before God. But with the research data Sarah Hill has provided here, we may at least recognize that the level of temptation she is experiencing may be well beyond anything we have encountered in our own marriages. The poor woman probably hasn’t the slightest idea what is going on in her brain. We can pretty much guarantee her doctor has never told her.

The Post-Wedding Surprise

So then, what can Christian parents and prospective spouses do to avoid such unfortunate post-wedding surprises, and to help alleviate stresses on a new marriage? Several obvious things:

  • Christian mothers need to counsel their Christian daughters not to use hormonal birth control for anything other than birth control. A young believer who is practicing her faith does not need the pill for birth control, and there are other ways to help alleviate acne, irregular cycles and cramps. That way, when she meets a prospective spiritual head, your daughter will not be doing it through a hormonal fog.
  • Young Christian women who have not had good advice, and have been using the pill for its other effects, ought to come off it for a few months before even considering entering into a serious relationship. Unless you are so spiritually oriented that you are prepared to factor out sexual attraction entirely in your choice of a mate while committing yourself to meeting his sexual needs for life, you may be wasting your time.
  • If you see a young couple in trouble early on in their marriage, here’s a question for counselors to discreetly bring up to the wife: Have you recently stopped using hormonal birth control? It may not fix the problem, but sometimes knowing what you are experiencing is biological rather than spiritual or emotional can be very liberating. At very least, the young woman can come to understand that the feelings she is having are rationally and medically explicable. In themselves, they are not sin, even if acting on them is.
  • Women who change suddenly tend to alienate their uncomprehending husbands, making the problems between them worse. For counselors dealing with an alienated husband, here’s a question for him: Has your wife’s behavior toward you changed inexplicably of late? The answer may be spiritual. Then again, it may be entirely hormonal. If it is, then knowing what his wife is experiencing through no fault of her own may go a long way to helping understand her perspective and managing the sense of frustration and loss of intimacy he is currently feeling.

The Next-to-Last Word

I’ll let Sarah Hill have the next-to-last word, with a couple of necessary editorial insertions:

Anabolic steroids are illegal [without a prescription] because of the impact they can have on men’s health, because they’re sex hormones and they have these non-specific effects all throughout the body.

Hormonal birth control has all these non-specific effects throughout the body and it’s available over the counter [Progestin is at least, and it has the worst side effects of all hormone therapies]. So we’ve got a total blind spot on the way that we treat these two things.”

No kidding. Hopefully Christians at least will wake up to it.

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