Evolutionary Psychological Science

, Volume 4, Issue 2, pp 179–190 | Cite as

Disgust, Sexual Cues, and the Prophylaxis Hypothesis

  • Amanda D. Timmers
  • Jennifer A. Bossio
  • Meredith L. ChiversEmail author
Research Article


Women’s susceptibility to infection has been found to vary across the menstrual cycle. During the luteal phase of the menstrual cycle, when progesterone levels are at their peak, women experience a downregulation in inflammatory immune responses to tolerate the presence of foreign paternal genetic material. The prophylaxis hypothesis holds that, during such periods of physiological immune vulnerability, women will engage in increased prophylactic behavior in response to cues associated with pathogen transmission (like sexual cues) to guard against infection. The current study examined disgust and other proposed prophylactic responses (i.e., attention and desire for solitary and dyadic sexual activity) in response to sexual and nonsexual films among naturally cycling women (N = 21) during the follicular and luteal phases of their menstrual cycles. No significant differences were found during the follicular and luteal phase on disgust, attention, or desire for solitary or dyadic sexual activity. Strong negative associations were found between feelings of disgust to sexual stimuli and proposed prophylactic behaviors (attention, desire for sexual activity with a partner) that were most prominent during the luteal phase of women’s menstrual cycles, suggesting that they may have served as a prophylactic mechanism, protecting women’s bodies from infection during a period of immune vulnerability. However, contrary to hypothesis, no significant associations were found between progesterone (the hormone that regulates changes in immune functioning) and proposed prophylactic responses. Further research examining prophylactic effects in response to sexual stimuli is warranted.


Disgust Menstrual cycle Progesterone Sex Prophylaxis 



Many thanks are given to the study participants for their invaluable assistance in completing this study.

Funding Information

This research was supported by grants from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (Grant No. 386198-10) and the Queen’s Senate Advisory Research Council, awarded to M. L. Chivers and an Ontario Women’s Health Scholar Award (funded by the Ministry of Health and Long Term Care) and a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada Joseph Armand Bombardier Canada Graduate Scholarship awarded to the first author.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Study procedures were approved by our Health Sciences and Affiliated Teaching Hospitals Research Ethics Board. All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki Declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards. Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflicts of interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG, part of Springer Nature 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Amanda D. Timmers
    • 1
  • Jennifer A. Bossio
    • 2
  • Meredith L. Chivers
    • 1
    Email author
  1. 1.Department of PsychologyQueen’s UniversityKingstonCanada
  2. 2.Department of Obstetrics and GynaecologyUniversity of British ColumbiaVancouverCanada

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