Women Have Reduced Ability to Discriminate Body Odors During the Withdrawal Period of Oral Contraception

Yaara Endevelt-Shapira, Liron Pinchover, Ofer Perl, Ella Bar, Ayelet Avin, Noam Sobel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Introduction Women's olfactory perception varies across the menstrual cycle. The influence of oral contraceptives on this variability remains unclear. Methods To further estimate this, we assessed discrimination performance for both body odors and ordinary odorants in 36 women, 18 naturally ovulating, and 18 using oral contraceptives. Each participant was tested once a week over the course of a month, and data was then parsed into menstrual phases. Results In naturally ovulating women, at the transition from follicular to luteal phases, there was a decline of 19% (p = 0.003) in olfactory discrimination of body odors but not ordinary odorants. In turn, in women using oral contraceptives, only at a later time of the month, at a point corresponding to the late luteal phase and shift from post-ovulation to pre-menstruation, was there a decline of 20% (p = 0.002) in olfactory discrimination performance. Moreover, when we reorganized the data from women using oral contraceptives in order to separately assess the contraceptive withdrawal period (the few days off pills), we observed a 23% reduction (p = 0.01) in discrimination accuracy of body odors but not ordinary odorants during this time alone. Conclusions Women have reduced ability to discriminate body odors during the withdrawal period of oral contraception. Implications If women indeed consider men’s body odor in their mate selections, then the oral contraception withdrawal period may not be the best time to make such decisions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)123-131
Number of pages9
JournalChemosensory Perception
Issue number2
StatePublished Online - 6 Dec 2019


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