Hormonal oral contraception may impact on female motivational drive.

by The REJIGIT Blog

August 2022

A recently published Australian medical study seems to indicate that the birth-control pill may impact on female drive to achieve at varying degrees at different times of the month.

The University of Melbourne study involving two hundred and seventy eight women suggested that some participants who were not using hormonal contraception experienced an increase in their motivational drive to achieve during times of ovulation. It was six times larger than the motivational increase that was experienced by hormonal contraceptive users during equivalent times of the month.

A link to the published study. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s40750-022-00198-4

Dr Khandis Blake and PhD candidate Lindsie Arthur-Hulme headed up a world-first study which examined what impact hormonal contraceptives may have on women’s competitive drive.

Lindsie Arthur-Hulme commented,“It’s crazy, it blows my mind, about the fact that, until now, no one has known much about the psychological impact of the contraceptive pill on more than one hundred million women internationally who take it each day.” This is the first time in the sixty one years that hormonal contraceptives have been available that any study has focused on how it might affect a woman’s competitive drive. More research is required to precisely understand how women might be disadvantaged by losing their competitive drive while they are in a fertile phase. The researchers are aware that during the second part of the menstrual cycle, the immune system is compromised therefore if women were physically competing during the second half of the cycle, they may be putting themselves at risk of illness.

The study’s peer-reviewed findings, published in an international science journal “Adaptive Human Behaviour and Physiology” this month arose out of a nine-month study which examined nearly four thousand diary entries recorded by women in twenty one countries.

Each day during a 28-day cycle, study participants were asked to rate the accuracy of various questions about a series of topics, including about their sex drive, impulsiveness, self-esteem, and their competitive drive. Comments included: “In the past day, I was willing to do whatever it took to win”, “I enjoy competitions because they allow me to discover my abilities” and “I didn’t care about competitions”.

Lindsie Arthur-Hulme.observed that collecting and collating so much data was problematic by comparison with other forms of psychological research and that “most psychology research is just one time-point, someone does a survey once. Ours is a better quality of research because it asks the same question of one person at multiple time points. It’s richer.”

The data demonstrated a clear motivational peak around the time of ovulation for women not using hormonal contraception.

In practical terms, the study suggested that mid-cycle may be an ideal time for naturally cycling women to book a job interview or undertake a particularly challenging task. Nearly 75% of the study’s participants who were using contraception, took the contraceptive pill, the remaining participants relied on either a vaginal ring, contraceptive implant or contraceptive patch.

The researchers acknowledge the work was not a randomised control study, and while the results are significant, more work needs to be done in the space.

Dr Khandis Blake, a co-author of the study, indicated the authors are already preparing themselves for a backlash.

Some GPs are failing to inform women about contraception options, which includes long-acting reversible contraceptives (LARC) because they may not be well informed about them.

Associate Professor Alex Polyakov in the medicine and health sciences department at the University of Melbourne Alex Polyakov commented that the study is “very interesting”, but has a variety of limitations which makes him question the usefulness of the findings.

“It’s an interesting sort of idea that hormone levels influence behaviour, and it certainly is true as a general comment,”. “But whether you can actually determine how hormone changes influence particular behaviours such as aggressiveness or competitiveness, I’m not quite sure they have done a good job at that.”

A number of studies of hormonal contraceptives have revealed worrying results.

One 2020 study published in the journal Hormones and Behaviour showed that naturally cycling women persist longer at cognitive tasks such as doing an anagram, than women who take hormonal contraceptives. Another of Blake’s studies, published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology in November, found that naturally cycling women experienced an increase in the belief that they could achieve a goal around the time of ovulation. (This finding was not found among women taking hormonal contraceptives.)

Lyndsie Arthur-Hulme cautiously notes that the latest diary study doesn’t overly damn hormonal contraceptives and that she just wants women to be empowered to make an informed choice.

“It’s just about understanding what they do and women have the right to make those decisions. But if we don’t have the research, then we can’t make informed decisions.” The study did not demonstrate, she adds, that naturally-cycling women felt more competitive against other people mid-cycle than women using hormonal contraceptives. It does not suggest that hormonal contraceptives make women less achievement motivated overall.

Rejigit is reminded of the age-old discourse about how if the male of the human species were to have been charged with the bodily responsibility for the perpetuation of the species, matters such as contraception would have evolved entirely differently.