By Vinita Mehta, Ph.D.
When it comes to men, do women use their gait as bait?
When a woman is ovulating, watch out. In keeping with the evolutionary aim of reproductive success, whether she likes it or not, she will be gripped by the urge to mate. Like other mammals, it seems that human females also experience sexual heat, or estrus. Unlike some of our primate relatives, however, they do not publicize their ovulation through swelling of the genital area. Rather, it has been long believed that females evolved “concealed ovulation” in order to keep a male guessing as to when she was most likely to conceive — essentially a tactic to maintain his long-term sexual interest. If a male doesn’t know when a female is most fertile, the theory goes he will keep trying to impregnate one woman over time rather than stray, and then stick around to help raise the child. But as it turns out, the human version of female estrus may not be so hidden after all. A burgeoning body of research reveals that women experience an array of changes that dial up the sexual heat at mid-cycle.
As a woman succumbs to the hormonal cocktail served up by ovulation, she will experience a range of involuntary shifts that signal her sexual receptivity. Physically, she will speak in a higher pitch,smell better, and appear more flushed as a result of increased blood vessel activity. Behaviorally, she will wear more sexy and revealing clothes. Cognitively, she can delude herself into believing that an appealing cad could be a good potential dad. In other words, she’s a lot more Saturday night than Monday morning.
Women also engage in nonverbal communication as a way to express sexual interest. And like any mating dance, choreography is key. Previous research has found that women — more so than men — convey sexual intent nonverbally through, for example, nodding, leaning forward, self touching, hair flipping, and hair tossing during courtship or whenflirting. But what French researcher Nicolas Guéguen wanted to know, quite simply, is whether or not a woman has a sexier gait when she is ovulating. This had yet to be studied.
In order to investigate whether a woman’s walk changes, Guéguen devised a clever study that involved some undercover work.
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