Women not on the Pill might be more drawn to the guys we've all known: dangerous, exciting and unreliable rogues
Published 29/10/2011 | 05:00
I have always disliked that famous Irish classic, 'The Playboy of the Western World' by John Millington Synge. As everyone knows, there were riots at the Abbey Theatre in Dublin when it was first performed in 1907, and I still defend the rioters, and those who so strongly objected to 'The Playboy'.
The drama presented the unedifying stereotype of the drunken and violent stage Irishman just when cultural nationalists -- Sinn Féin in particular -- were trying to advance wholesomeness, industriousness, self-worth and sobriety (with the slogan 'Ireland Sober is Ireland Free!').
'The Playboy' made out that the lawless flake who murders a parent -- or who pretends to have murdered a parent -- is a great fellow altogether, to be praised and admired and celebrated. Is that any way to discourage family violence?
The worst of it is, I have always considered the drama -- regularly revived as an adornment of the Irish theatre -- to be a slander on women.
'The Playboy' implies that women are such airheads that they love any eejit who appears in the village tavern bragging of his violent way with a loy (a kind of spade).
Thus does the feckless Christy Mahon become a great hero to the central female character, Pegeen Mike, and the supporting village wenches, including the sexually predatory Widow Quinn.
By contrast, the hard-working, sober and conscientious young farmer Shawn Keogh is regarded with contempt and no match for the wild glamour of Christy Mahon, the braggadocio patricide (or would-be patricide).
The message is obvious: women prefer homicidal criminals to staid, respectable men.
Do they, though? One hundred and five years later comes some interesting research from the University of Stirling in Scotland which throws light on the sexual psychology behind the scenario of 'The Playboy'.
Dr Craig Roberts has carried out a study of 2,519 women in Britain, Canada, the United States and the Czech Republic, who were continuously on the contraceptive Pill. Most were in relationships and had at least one child.
And he concluded that women who were on the Pill were more likely to choose steady, stable and reliable men for their husbands and partners, while women not on the Pill might be more drawn to the kind of guys we've all known: dangerous, exciting and thoroughly unreliable rogues.
A character such as the late movie star Errol Flynn, of whom it was so notoriously said in Hollywood: "You always knew where you were with Errol Flynn. He'd always let you down."
And, lamentably, there's evidence that women are often excited by bad eggs, and not infrequently admire psychopathic criminals.
Aren't the serial killers who dwell on death row or in high-security prisons bombarded with letters from women proposing marriage and lifetime devotion to them?
Jeffrey Dahmer, rapist and serial murderer with a penchant for dismemberment, had a whole coterie of such female followers.
But, it seems, from Dr Roberts' findings, that the Pill tends to tame or tranquilise this sexual chemistry. It shifts women's moods and hormones to such a degree that they are more likely to be drawn to safe and secure men, rather than the cads and blighters who'll always let them down.
Dr Roberts has found that the Pill alters women's preferences for men's body odour: instead of liking genetically different -- and riskier -- men, the Pill prompts women to seek out genetically similar mates who are likely to be the steadier type.
Could this provide a clue in addressing the question of domestic abuse? Domestic abuse is a curse -- Minister Frances Fitzgerald hopes to do away with it altogether during the period of her tenure. But not enough biological research has been done, until now, on why some women choose violent men in the first place.
In a parallel project, Craig Roberts has shown that during a natural ovulation cycle, females are more drawn to macho and aggressive men. But the Pill neutralises that.
Fifty years ago, when it first became available, we knew that the Pill was a revolutionary invention because it gave women control over their fertility.
But it may be even more revolutionary than first imagined: it changes the very chemistry between men and women, and advances the romantic chances of the 'good' man over the bounder.
Dr Roberts' work suggests that the Pill is a stabilising force in general. The reliable, caring, steady males chosen by Pill-taking women were -- predictably -- more likely to remain committed to their relationships and the children they had fathered. While the scoundrels love 'em and leave 'em.
This is a paradoxical outcome when you remember that those who opposed the Pill originally considered it a licence for promiscuity and 'free love'. Craig Roberts' findings indicate quite the contrary.
Not that I have an uncritical view of the Pill myself. It can have side-effects, it may be contributing to male infertility by introducing female hormones into the ecology, and there are health risks such as deep vein thrombosis. And conscience issues, too.
Moreover, I've known plenty of women who chucked away their Pill, claiming that it reduced libido.
Who would have imagined that JM Synge could have this tenuous link with the contraceptive Pill? But now it's clear Pegeen Mike and her peers were all excited by bad boy and macho model Christy Mahon because the Pill had not yet been invented.
If it had been in circulation, they'd have given preference to Shawn Keogh, with his pioneer pin and his gold fáinne, because the chemistry would be doing the talking.