“Did you know…,” TikTok user Shannen Michaela asks in the kind of conspiratorial tone typically used for small-town gossip over who’s gotten engaged or just broken up, “…that birth control can literally change who you’re attracted to?”
It’s an attention-grabbing statement—and one that’s appeared in multiple other videos on the app that have racked up thousands, sometimes millions, of views. The videos always tout the same general message, that horomonal birth control could make you less sexually attracted to the person you’re sleeping with, though the nuances differ. Several videos are purely anecdotal, presented as a first- or (more common) secondhand experience with the cadence of a friend spilling a salacious story. Even more dubiously cite studies as evidence without proper context. In most, the comments sections consist of users accepting the information as fact or recounting how hormonal birth control affected their own attraction to their partners, with statements like: “Yes! My taste in men had completely changed since being off of the pill.” “This happened to my ex-partner.” “This needs to be talked about more!”
People are talking about it, actually. A number of these videos are hashtagged #postbirthcontrol, a subgroup of TikTok videos with more than 6 million views. In addition to the claim that birth control alters your sexual attraction, you’ll find negative anecdotes about commonly discussed side effects of birth control—missed periods, weight gain, nausea—as well as more sinister perceived ramifications on using what has long been considered a highly effective contraceptive method. It’s not only TikTok where these conversations are happening, either. On Emily Ratajkowski’s podcast, High Low, a recent episode titled “Can the Pill Impact Your Decision Making?” discussed some of the same topics seen in these videos.
For New York–based ob-gyn Alyssa Dweck, MD, it’s no surprise that people have latched onto the idea that birth control can alter who you’re sexually attracted to. “This has been a concept in [the evolutionary] psychology world for a long time,” she tells Glamour, adding that the studies typically cited on social media are known as “sweaty” T-shirt tests in the field. Essentially, behavioral scientists in these studies performed olfactory tests on clothing worn by male counterparts for a night and then asked women to rate their potential attraction based solely on the shirt’s scent. Findings did suggest a change in odor preferences for those actively taking hormonal contraceptives as compared with those of nonusers.
But does this mean the birth control pill has been subconsciously deceiving us? Dr. Dweck says that, while there is an association, it’s “really difficult” to conclude there’s a 100% cause and effect.
Like TikTok user @shannen.michaela (and several others with the viral videos), Ratajkowski cites a study in which researchers had heterosexual women come into a lab to assess computer-generated faces, asking them to rate their attractiveness. Published in the peer-reviewed scientific journal Psychoneuroendocrinology, the study’s researchers found that women who were not taking oral contraceptives generally preferred faces that appeared more “masculine” by evolutionary psychology standards—think brow ridges, broad shoulders, and square-cut jaws. Those who were taking oral contraceptives did not, thus suggesting that birth control can alter mate preference.
Where the laws stand today, how they could change—and where to find free birth control in your state right now.
But when we asked Karen Tang, MD, a board-certified gynecologist at Axia Women’s Health in Pennsylvania, about the studies cited in these TikTok videos, she expressed a deep concern over growing birth control skepticism and how the online discourse often presents this information out of context, ultimately leaving patients confused. After all, TikTok has been known to be a hotbed of birth control misinformation before. An impressionable person watching these videos pop up on their FYP might have the same concerns as Ratajkowski, who says we “don’t talk enough about…how hormones impact the decisions we make.”