What fertile women really want: a macho man with a strong odour
• Scientists find women attracted to different men over ovulation cycle
• Study says 'dominant men' attractive short-term, but 'carers' long-term
• Study criticised for adopting approach of genetic determinism to attraction
"We like to think we are thinking human beings, but most of us are not that all the time - especially after we've had a few drinks" - Christine Northam, of Relate marriage guidance
Story in full WOMEN are biologically programmed to adopt a "mixed mating strategy" of having affairs with dominant men when they are most fertile and sleeping with their caring husbands for the rest of the time, according to a new study.
Scientists at universities in Liverpool and Prague tested women's response to the smell of underarm sweat. They found that women in a relationship who were ovulating were most attracted to the aroma of a dominant man's armpit. Single women and those not ovulating were not overly aroused.
The researchers concluded that this was a sign of an evolutionary strategy of "mixed mating" in which women formed relationships with caring, sharing types likely to be good husbands and fathers, but also had affairs with dominant men with good genes.
In the report, due to be published today by the Royal Society, the three scientists - an anthropologist, a behavioural ecologist and an evolutionary biologist - wrote: "We found a positive correlation between male psychological dominance and odour-sexiness when rated by women in their fertile phase, but not in other phases of their cycle.
"A strong association between male odour-sexiness and psychological dominance was only found for non-single women in the fertile phase of their menstrual cycle."
They added: "A mixed-mating strategy may have evolved in females - they prefer genetically superior males for short-term or extra-pair sexual partners while, at the same time, they seek males who are more willing to invest in their offspring as long-term or social partners."
The scientists used questionnaires to rate 48 men for dominance and they then wore cotton pads under their armpits for 24 hours. These were given to 30 women, who rated them for sexiness, masculinity and intensity.
One of the authors, the anthropologist Dr Jan Havlicek, of Charles University in Prague, admitted that smell was just one factor, but added: "Our and other recent evidence strongly suggest that body odour plays a major role in mate choice. It is, however, difficult to compare with other cues, as facial appearance and smell operate to some extent on an unconscious level."
He also said that while women in relationships might be attracted to a dominant man's smell, they would usually resist the urge to sleep with him.
Christine Northam, of the marriage guidance body Relate, said many people would not like the findings. "We like to think we are thinking human beings, but most of us are not that all the time - especially after we've had a few drinks."
The psychologist Dr Linda Papadopoulos, a columnist for Cosmopolitan and author of The Man Manual, said the report's conclusions were the kind of theories liked by evolutionary psychologists, "if you go along with the belief that the whole point of everything is to ensure your genes' survival".
But she said social psychologists would point to other factors.
"It's not as simplistic as if I smell someone, I'm going to jump on him. A woman might find a man who's really dominant interesting, but I doubt everything else she's been socialised into believing will go out of her head and she'll have sex with him."
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